WHATEVER THE ups and downs of media coverage, the planned war on Iraq remains top of the Bush administration's agenda. Once the United States went to the United Nations Security Council for authority to attack Iraq the immediate drama went out of the story. There have been weeks of negotiations over the text of a resolution.
Finally Washington proposed this week to submit its resolution to the Security Council. It had been watered down somewhat to meet the objections of France and Russia, but still allowed an attack on Iraq. France, Russia - and China which, like them, has a veto over Security Council decisions - are caught in a dilemma. They don't want to give Bush a blank cheque to attack Iraq.
All have different interests from the US, and China in particular fears that it is becoming a target of a new strategy of encirclement. US military bases have sprung up near its western borders in central Asia and further east in the Philippines. But the rulers of the Great Powers also have common interests with their US counterparts.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has just had his brutal war in Chechnya exposed before the world's media. The Russian and Chinese regimes have both used 11 September to have their own repression of Muslim separatists rebranded as part of the worldwide 'war on terror'.
Putin was quick to claim that the Chechen hostage-takers in Moscow were acting in cahoots with Al Qaida. Tony Blair, who has consistently backed Putin ever since Boris Yeltsin tipped him as his heir, was the first to congratulate him for ending the siege - an act that he may yet regret.
Neither Russia nor China can afford to go too far out of line with a US that is currently miles ahead of its rivals militarily, and that is currently pursuing an aggressive global strategy based on its claimed right of 'pre-emptive defence'. Now the Bush administration has pressed for a vote on its resolution. 'We can't just have a rolling debate without end,' Secretary of State Colin Powell said last weekend.
According to the Financial Times, 'Pentagon staff are also reluctant to see the diplomatic process drift on, having said that the optimal time to start military action in the Gulf would come some time between late November and early February. 'Defence department officials say the preferences of military planners are not affecting the diplomatic process.
'The discussions so far have proceeded while the US military has been putting logistics for military action in place in the Gulf.' In other words, although the diplomatic delays have not interfered with the military schedule up to now, they may start doing so soon. At the beginning of this week George Bush was expecting Russia to abstain on the US resolution and France not to veto it.
The other smaller states that make up the majority of the membership of the Security Council are hardly likely to brave Washington's wrath when the bigger powers run for cover. Only Syria seemed certain to vote against the US resolution. Such is what passes for democracy at the UN, a body that is supposed to be the beginnings of a world government but is in fact, in George Galloway's admirable phrase, 'a thieves' and beggars' kitchen'.
These moves come at a time when opposition to war in Iraq is growing in the US itself. The Observer last Sunday carried a long article by the writer Gore Vidal, a longstanding critic of US imperialism.
In it he implies that 11 September required the collusion of the US authorities. The main evidence that Vidal cites concerns the apparent negligence with which, contrary to standard procedures, fighters weren't scrambled to shoot down the hijacked airliners, especially after the first had been flown into the World Trade Centre. I'm sceptical about the conspiracy theories.
I think history involves far more cock-ups than secret designs. But Vidal is right that the Bush administration has used 11 September to pursue a long term strategy to advance what it sees as the US's economic and geopolitical interests.
In that sense there is a conspiracy. It's not a secret one, though. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, written by Bush's adviser Condoleezza Rice, spells out the aim of using military power to maintain US global pre-eminence. One thing history shows is that conspiracies often fail. We need to make sure this one does.