I have a persistent mental image of US foreign policy, which haunts me even in my sleep. The vanguard of a vast army is marching around the globe, looking for its enemy. It sees a mass of troops in the distance, retreating from it. It opens fire, unaware that it is shooting its own rear.
Is this too fanciful a picture? Both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were groomed and armed by the United States. Until the invasion of Iraq, there were no links between the Ba'athists and al-Qaida: now Bush's government has created the monster it claimed to be slaying. The US army developed high-grade weaponized anthrax in order, it said, to work out what would happen if someone else did the same. No one else was capable of producing it: the terrorist who launched the anthrax attacks in 2001 took it from one of the army's laboratories. Now US researchers are preparing genetically modified strains of smallpox on the same pretext, and with the same likely consequences. The Pentagon's space-based weapons program is being developed in response to a threat which doesn't yet exist, but which it is likely to conjure up. The US government is engaged in a global war with itself. It is like a robin attacking its reflection in a window.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in its assaults on the multilateral institutions and their treaties. Listening to some of the bunkum about the United Nations venting from Capitol Hill at the moment, you could be forgiven for believing that the UN was a foreign conspiracy against the United States. It was, of course, proposed by a US president, launched in San Francisco and housed in New York, where its headquarters remain. Its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, characterized by Republicans as a dangerous restraint upon American freedoms, was drafted by Franklin D Roosevelt's widow. The US is now the only member of the UN security council whose word is law, with the result that the UN is one of the world's most effective instruments for the projection of American power.
The secret deals in Iraq for which the United Nations is currently being attacked by US senators were in fact overseen by the US government. It ensured that Saddam could evade sanctions by continuing to sell oil to its allies in Jordan and Turkey. Republican congressmen are calling on Kofi Annan to resign for letting this happen, apparently unaware that it was approved in Washington to support American strategic objectives. The US finds the monsters it seeks, as it pecks and flutters at its own image.
So we could interpret the activities of Bush's government at the climate talks in Buenos Aires last week as another vigorous attempt to destroy its own interests. US economic growth depends on the rest of the world's prosperity. The greatest long-term threat to global prosperity is climate change, which threatens to wreck many of America's key markets in the developing world. Coastal cities in the US -- including New York -- are threatened by rising sea levels. Florida could be hit by stronger and more frequent hurricanes. Both farms and cities are likely to be affected by droughts.
In February, a leaked report from the Pentagon revealed that it sees global warming as far more dangerous to US interests than terrorism. As a result of abrupt climate change, it claimed, "warfare may again come to define human life... As the planet's carrying capacity shrinks, an ancient pattern re-emerges: the eruption of desperate, all-out wars over food, water, and energy supplies." The nuclear powers are likely to invade each other's territories as they scramble for diminishing resources.