NO ONE should have any illusions about the fact that the occupation of Iraq is in deep trouble. To see why you have only to look at the chaotic formation of the new 'provisional government' in Baghdad last week. As sold by George W Bush and Tony Blair, this was meant to be a decisive step towards Iraq regaining its sovereignty.
But who will be the new 'prime minister' of Iraq? Ayad Allawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord (INA), an exile group strongly backed by the CIA. The INA was responsible for the notorious claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes. United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi tried pushing for more independent candidates as president and prime minister.
But the Americans and their toadies on the now disbanded Iraqi Governing Council blocked these nominations. In January, Bush had to call in Brahimi to help give the planned interim government a veneer of legitimacy. The Americans had been shaken by mass demonstrations across Iraq demanding immediate elections.
Nevertheless, when push came to shove, the Bush administration was prepared to overrule Brahimi in order to ensure it maintains its grip on the country. Brahimi claimed on the BBC's Today programme that Allawi will be 'in charge' of Iraq on 1 July, when sovereignty is meant to be transferred from the occupation authorities.
Anyone who believes that is kidding themselves. The real ruler of Iraq will be John Negroponte, US ambassador to Iraq.
He is a right wing Republican with a sinister record from the US-sponsored reign of terror in Central America during the 1980s. The occupation will continue. It's widely suspected Blair is only waiting till after the 10 June elections to announce the deployment of more British troops to Iraq.
Allawi says a 'premature' withdrawal by the US and Britain 'would be a major disaster'. The big powers are haggling at the UN over the precise terms on which the Security Council will sanction the new puppet regime. France, Russia and China probably won't block an eventual resolution. But they refuse to help the US and Britain clean up the mess in Iraq by sending their own troops there.
The Bush administration's determination to hang on to Iraq has exposed what the Roman historian Tacitus called 'the secret of empire'. An overstretched US military has proved incapable of dealing with growing popular resistance in Iraq.
Even the stooge governing council rebelled against a full-scale assault on the rebel city of Fallujah. In Fallujah, and now perhaps in Najaf as well, the US forces have ended up making deals with local popular militias. 'The consequences of US defeat in Iraq are, in the words of President George W Bush, 'unthinkable',' the Financial Times reported last week. 'Even so, some in the administration have started to contemplate the prospect, while other outspoken war advocates in Washington are already proclaiming failure.'
'Let's face it,' wrote Fouad Ajami, a prominent Arab cheerleader for Washington's neo-cons, 'Iraq is not going to be America's showcase in the Arab-Muslim world.'
A paper by the strategic analyst Simon Serfaty was commissioned by a Bush administration official to explore the implications of a US defeat in Iraq. Serfaty predicts that Europe may view a 'strategic separation' from the US as 'a viable response to an unnecessary cultural clash with an Islamic world progressively united by the misuses of American power and the misrepresentation of Western values'.
He adds that 'prospects of a renewed Russian empire, building around a new alliance with Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, might prove irresistible' to Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian Moscow regime.
The Anglo-American adventure in Iraq was meant to assert US primacy over Europe and Asia and to intimidate potential 'peer competitors' from becoming too independent. But Serfaty's paper suggests that failure in Iraq could have the very consequences that the neo-cons were trying to prevent.
Only a fool would underestimate the economic and military power at the command of US imperialism. But the Bush administration, quite contrary to its own intentions, is dramatically demonstrating the limits of that power.