The occupation of Iraq has turned into a disaster for George Bush as well as for the people of that country. And disaster for Bush can be catastrophic for Blair. Just four months ago Bush made a special, triumphant 'mission accomplished' television address and Blair went to Basra to congratulate British troops. On Sunday Bush made another broadcast, this time to claim that Iraq was the 'centre' of a global 'fight against terrorism' in which the very future of 'civilisation' was at stake.
This, he said, required the sending of more troops and spending a further $87 billion. This comes on top of a similar sum already spent on the war. By comparison, the 1991 war against Iraq cost only $70 billion. Four fifths of that cost was not paid by the US but by Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The scale of the new expenditure threatens to destabilise an already ailing economy and is encouraging even previously reticent Democratic Party politicians to queue up to challenge Bush in next year's election. Bush's central dilemma is that the US does not have nearly enough troops on the ground to control Iraq and smash the growing resistance. The country is in chaos. The promised 'reconstruction' is not being delivered and guerrilla groups attack US and British troops every day. The oil bonus expected by US companies of three million barrels a day has been reduced to a mere trickle.
And the other part of the US plan to stabilise the Middle East, the so called 'road map' for Palestine, has fallen apart with the resignation of the US nominee Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister.
The only answer Bush and Blair have to this is to pour still more troops and more resources into the occupation of Iraq. But powerful voices within the US ruling class are warning this is exactly the same mistake made in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. On that occasion it took five years for a powerful section of the US ruling class to grasp that sending in more troops was not going to achieve its goals. This time it has only taken four months for the scale of the problem to become clear. The result has been to produce deep splits within the 'neo-conservative' architects of the war.
One group, associated with defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, still want to insist that their initial strategy can be successful. This was to use only a relatively small, 160,000-strong force-a third of the size used in the last Gulf War.
They believe that sending more troops will make their goal-the US being able to wage two or three wars at the same time-impossible. Another group wants to use the United Nations as a cover for getting troops from other countries. That means getting agreement to what they are doing from France, Russia and Germany. This is the path Bush has begun to follow.
He now talks of France and Germany as 'old friends', saying, 'We cannot let past differences interfere with present duties.' This is a long way from the language used by the Bush gang in the run-up to war of 'old Europe' and 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys'.
But any reliance on the European powers through the cover of the United Nations is anathema to the hard core of the Project for a New American Century, headed by Robert Kagan and William Kristol.
They saw the war as a way of the US asserting its ability to dominate the world's other capitalist states militarily and economically. They see any retreat from this approach as a disaster. They wrote in the Project's magazine, Weekly Standard, last week: 'It is an illusion that this mess can be handed off to someone else and we can go about our business. The choices are stark: Either the US does what it takes to succeed in Iraq, or we lose in Iraq. If we lose we will not leave behind blue helmets, but radicalism and chaos, a haven for terrorists, and a perception of American weakness and lack of resolve in the Middle East and reckless blundering around the world. That is the abyss we may be staring into if we do not shift course now.'
Yet it is difficult to see how Bush can ward off a serious defeat for US imperialism without UN cover. He will believe that if he gets it, he can resume his plans for pre-emptive assaults against other countries on the Project's list-from Syria, through Iran to North Korea, and even Venezuela and Cuba.
But defeat, like that defeat 28 years ago in Vietnam, will make it very difficult for the US to engage in such further barbaric military adventures. That is why we have to step up our pressure to get the British troops out and to oppose adamantly any scheme to keep the occupation going under a United Nations guise.
Continuing and increasing the opposition to the occupation of Iraq can see Bush's project buried. That could be as significant as the US defeat in Vietnam.