The propaganda war has now spread from the war to the diplomacy of post-war. To listen to British briefers you would think that Tony Blair had been leading a fully mechanised brigade over to the US to force Washington to admit the United Nations to the task of reconstructing Iraq, and to reverse its pro-Israeli stance.
It's largely flim-flam, of course. Just as the Pentagon had prepared its war plans for nearly a year before this invasion, so it has prepared its peace plans for almost as long. In the same way that George Bush was prepared to go to the UN in the run-up to war so long as it backed his plans, so he is prepared to see the UN participate in relief and fundraising for reconstruction so long as it in no way dilutes US control. "He who holds the stick, owns the buffalo," as the old Indian saying has it.
If Bush has been prepared to be rather more positive (although still not committed to a date) about publishing the "road-map" to Middle East peace, it is not so much because of Blair but more in answer to the demands of the Arab states providing facilities in this war that the US do something to appear more even-handed (if only to help them to pacify their populations). Whether Bush is actually prepared to face down Ariel Sharon depends partly on the course of war. If it ends in dramatic victory, the administration may be emboldened to push for real progress; if it doesn't go so well, Bush won't risk antagonising the domestic Jewish vote.
Yet in a real sense it no longer matters just what Washington thinks or plans for post-war Iraq. Just as it struggles to win the war, and still seems certain to do so, so it is losing the peace, and is probably too late to save it. America, and with it Britain, may try to project the war as one of "liberation" for the Iraqis, but the rest of the world has largely made up its mind to the contrary. This, in their eyes, is an American invasion fought for American reasons.
In the Allies' Central Command HQ in Doha, they produce images to show the precision of Western bombing and the rapidity of the US push on Iraq. Walk down the road and the studios of al-Jazeera are pumping out images of a Third World country trying vainly to fight back against a hyperpower of infinite technological superiority. There is no doubt which version most of the world believes. Even in India, where anti-Muslim feelings lie close to the surface, you don't meet a single person who thinks this is anything other than an American enterprise fought for selfish reasons. "Why," they ask you in genuinely concerned terms, "is Blair going along with it?"
It's difficult to know what would shift this view. An early victory would only confirm the image of humiliating Western technological superiority. Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons might raise a counter-reaction, although even here many in the Third World would regard this as understandable given the technical disparity. But an outpouring of Iraqi delight at being freed from Saddam won't change opinion, as it would be taken as a byproduct of American actions, not its main intention.
Donald Rumsfeld's suggestion that victory will bring a thousand friends misses the point. Of course small countries, and even quite large ones, must accommodate America's position as the world's only superpower. But to boast, as President Bush did in yesterday's press conference, that this "is a larger coalition than in the last Gulf war" is self-deluding nonsense.
The 1991 war was fought with the active participation of half-a-dozen Arab armies (including Syria) and the support of almost every country in the UN aside from Russia and China (who both accepted it at the end). This war is being fought by the Americans and British, with a few thousand Australians and a couple of special forces companies from Poland an entirely Western enterprise.
Other countries have acceded to American requests for facilities, but if they have wanted to keep their help discreet, it is for good reason. Public opinion is clear and unambiguous and the war is only making the streets angrier at their governments' sell-out. It is not for nothing that the ruler of Qatar acts as host to the Allied headquarters and al-Jazeera at the same time, or that Turkey finally failed to give the US more than rights of overflight. Democracy in the Middle East should not be understood to presuppose pro-Americanism. Just the opposite.
If that is what Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney believe then they are fooling themselves, never mind anyone else. When this war is over, Washington will be faced by a single demand throughout the Middle East, including many in Iraq itself, at least among the Shia. And that is to get out of the region as quickly as possible. And they mean weeks, not months never mind the years that the Pentagon is talking about. Whatever it may seem to Iraqis, a continuing military presence by the Americans will be seen by its neighbours as a US occupation, with all the instability and invitation to terrorism that it this will invite. Yet a prolonged occupation is seen as necessary by Washington as the only means of ensuring order in Iraq and keeping it as a unitary state.
That is America's dilemma. Tony Blair's is that he knows it and there is nothing he can do except make the right noises of passionate concern.