Who can stop Bush on Iraq? Not the UN security council, it seems, where US diplomatic kneecapping and punishment beatings proceed apace. Not an intimidated US Congress where, with honourable exceptions, the call to arms trumpets irresistibly over November's hustings. And not any number of international lawyers, vainly brandishing the UN charter and pre-emptively disregarded by high counsel to the White House hyperpower. In Whitehall, worried marchers scare pigeons but not the Pentagon. As the drum beats and the rhetoric rises, respected analysts opine that nothing now can prevent the war. Bush will have his way because, whatever bishops and imams vicariously preach, no power on earth can stop him.
This is not entirely true; in truth, not true at all. Americans can stop America's next war as they have stopped similar planned or actual idiocies in the past. That the Bush clique pays scant heed to Arab and Muslim concerns, has no time for "euro-wimps" and other appeasers is brutally clear. But domestic public opinion is a different story - and that story is changing. Slowly, inconsistently but palpably, ordinary Americans are making their voices heard. This is no anti-war movement to compare with Vietnam. Their motivations are often practical, even mundane. But a strange phenomenon is now apparent in which Karl Rove, Bush's top electoral strategist and poll-watcher, may yet emerge as a more potent force than the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis and all the other full-spectrum dominators combined.
Each time Bush ups the ante, makes another, ever more far-fetched, fearsome claim about the Baghdad bogeyman, domestic support wavers or slips. It certainly does not rise, as this week's Pew Center survey confirms. Far from uniting his nation, as he claims, Bush's demagoguery is discernibly exposing and deepening its divisions not just on Iraq but along the deep, still heaving faultlines of the 2000 election. More and more of the 76% of voters who did not support him then (he won 47% of the popular vote on a 51% turnout) find their judgment vindicated now. "The public is deeply split," says the Pew survey. Be sure that Rove is watching, with a weather eye to the 2004 election, even as the hawks fly high and blind.