America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War. The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press. The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the worlds poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions. But bin Laden conveniently swept all that under the carpet. The Bushies are riding high. Now 88 per cent of Americans want the war, we are told. The US defence budget has been raised by another $60 billion to around $360 billion. A splendid new generation of nuclear weapons is in the pipeline, so we can all breathe easy. Quite what war 88 per cent of Americans think they are supporting is a lot less clear. A war for how long, please? At what cost in American lives? At what cost to the American taxpayers pocket? At what cost in Iraqi lives? How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting Americas anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. But the American public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election. The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of Americas Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist. In 1993, while ex-President George Bush was visiting the ever-democratic Kingdom of Kuwait to receive thanks for liberating them, somebody tried to kill him. The CIA believes that somebody was Saddam. Hence Bush Jrs cry: That man tried to kill my Daddy. But its still not personal, this war. Its still necessary. Its still Gods work. Its still about bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed Iraqi people. What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil but oil, money and peoples lives. Saddams misfortune is to sit on the second biggest oilfield in the world. Bush wants it, and who helps him get it will receive a piece of the cake. And who doesnt, wont. If Saddam didnt have the oil, he could torture his citizens to his hearts content. Other leaders do it every day think Saudi Arabia, think Pakistan, think Turkey, think Syria, think Egypt. Baghdad represents no clear and present danger to its neighbours, and none to the US or Britain. Saddams weapons of mass destruction, if hes still got them, will be peanuts by comparison with the stuff Israel or America could hurl at him at five minutes notice. What is at stake is not an imminent military or terrorist threat, but the economic imperative of US growth. What is at stake is Americas need to demonstrate its military power to all of us to Europe and Russia and China, and poor mad little North Korea, as well as the Middle East; to show who rules America at home, and who is to be ruled by America abroad. The most charitable interpretation of Tony Blairs part in all this is that he believed that, by riding the tiger, he could steer it. He cant. Instead, he gave it a phoney legitimacy, and a smooth voice. Now I fear, the same tiger has him penned into a corner, and he cant get out. Blairs worst chance is that, with or without the UN, he will drag us into a war that, if the will to negotiate energetically had ever been there, could have been avoided; a war that has been no more democratically debated in Britain than it has in America or at the UN. By doing so, Blair will have set back our relations with Europe and the Middle East for decades to come. He will have helped to provoke unforeseeable retaliation, great domestic unrest, and regional chaos in the Middle East. Welcome to the party of the ethical foreign policy. There is a middle way, but its a tough one: Bush dives in without UN approval and Blair stays on the bank. Goodbye to the special relationship. Last Friday a friend of mine in California drove to his local supermarket with a sticker on his car saying: Peace is also Patriotic. It was gone by the time hed finished shopping.