Danger to World Peace

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Why is it a surprise to anyone that the public fear real wars more than the hypothetical possibility of attack?

George Bush is apparently furious at Europe - again. This time it's the result of a poll which found that Europeans consider the US more of a danger to world peace than North Korea or Iran.

That's the North Korea which, according to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Authority, is estimated to possess enough reprocessed plutonium for up to six bombs - hardly in Bush's league. And that's the Iran which by general agreement has no nuclear weapons at present, although it is developing nuclear power, as it is legally entitled to do under international treaty.

The poll shows a healthy scepticism for the views of the "international community". This community makes disapproving noises about these relatively small fry in the weapons of mass destruction stakes. But it allows the US to develop more weapons than anyone else in the world, and use them in a series of deadly wars.

This "war on terror" or "long war", as the Bush administration has renamed it, has already been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. It is also responsible for a growth in terrorism, and for a level of misery and instability in the war torn countries which belies the notion that peace or democracy can ever be a product of these wars.

No wonder the average person in Europe is more likely to conclude that these actual manifestations of war - rather than hypothetical possibilities of attack - are the greater danger.

This is reinforced by a growing lack of credibility among those playing up these hypothetical threats. There is talk of satellite pictures which show North Korea about to carry out a long-range missile test with the Taepo Dong II missile, which in theory can hit Alaska. But these pictures may actually show North Korea about to launch a satellite, not test a missile - a rather different eventuality.

Much noise is also being made about Iranian president Ahmadinejad's threats that Israel should be "wiped off the map" - evidence that Iran is indeed part of the "axis of evil" according to pro-war columnists like David Aaronovitch. He offered me £50 on the television programme Newsnight if I could substantiate my claim that this quotation had been mistranslated. Not being a gambler, and certainly not wanting to take a Times columnist's Murdoch money, I declined.

But the Guardian's Jonathan Steele has investigated this question thoroughly, following US professor Juan Cole who first highlighted the controversy over translation. Steele concludes that "the consensus is that Ahmadinejad did not talk about any maps".

On the offensive

Those of us who followed the build-up to war in Iraq will find all this eerily familiar. Then we had the claims that weapons of mass destruction could hit Cyprus in 45 minutes, that the weapons were concealed in Saddam's palaces, and that Iraq had bought uranium from the African state of Niger, and was developing nuclear weapons.

All false.

George Bush was aggrieved by the poll because he felt that Europe didn't understand the impact of 9/11. But that's the biggest lie. The hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis and Egyptians - two of the most repressive pro-US regimes in the Middle East. Iraq had nothing to do with them or Al Qaida. Iran had nothing to do with them either and in fact helped the US in its war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

As a response to 9/11, the war on terror has been a dreadful failure, only increasing the political problems which caused that disaster. Even its supposed success story, Afghanistan, is unravelling fast. The Taliban is growing and going on the offensive. The government controls little of the country. And Afghans are dying - 600 in four weeks in May and June - in a war that supposedly ended nearly five years ago.

Even the Afghani president, Karzai, has called on Western troops to "reassess the manner in which the war on terror is conducted". Britain's armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, said, "If the Karzai government were to fail and Afghanistan were to be an unpoliced and impoverished black hole, there could be no greater boost for worldwide Islamic extremism."

Isn't this where we came in?