In the end, I think we are just tired of being lied to. Tired of being talked down to, of being bombarded with Second World War jingoism and scare stories and false information and student essays dressed up as "intelligence". We are sick of being insulted by little men, by Tony Blair and Jack Straw and the likes of George Bush and his cabal of neo-conservative henchmen who have plotted for years to change the map of the Middle East to their advantage.
No wonder, then, that Hans Blix's blunt refutation of America's "intelligence" at the UN yesterday warmed so many hearts. Suddenly, the Hans Blixes of this world could show up the Americans for the untrustworthy "allies" they have become.
The British don't like Hussein any more than they liked Nasser. But millions of Britons remember, as Blair does not, the Second World War; they are not conned by childish parables of Hitler, Churchill, Chamberlain and appeasement. They do not like being lectured and whined at by men whose experience of war is Hollywood and television.
Still less do they wish to embark on endless wars with a Texas governor-executioner who dodged the Vietnam draft and who, with his oil buddies, is now sending America's poor to destroy a Muslim nation that has nothing at all to do with the crimes against humanity of 11 September. Jack Straw, the public school Trot-turned-warrior, ignores all this, with Blair. He brays at us about the dangers of nuclear weapons that Iraq does not have, of the torture and aggression of a dictatorship that America and Britain sustained when Saddam was "one of ours". But he and Blair cannot discuss the dark political agenda behind George Bush's government, nor the "sinister men" (the words of a very senior UN official) around the President.
Those who oppose war are not cowards. Brits rather like fighting; they've biffed Arabs, Afghans, Muslims, Nazis, Italian Fascists and Japanese imperialists for generations, Iraqis included--though we play down the RAF's use of gas on Kurdish rebels in the 1930s. But when the British are asked to go to war, patriotism is not enough. Faced with the horror stories, Britons--and many Americans--are a lot braver than Blair and Bush. They do not like, as Thomas More told Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons, tales to frighten children.
Perhaps Henry VIII's exasperation in that play better expresses the British view of Blair and Bush: "Do they take me for a simpleton?" The British, like other Europeans, are an educated people. Ironically, their opposition to this obscene war may make them feel more, not less, European.
Palestine has much to do with it. Brits have no love for Arabs but they smell injustice fast enough and are outraged at the colonial war being used to crush the Palestinians by a nation that is now in effect running US policy in the Middle East. We are told that our invasion of Iraq has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--a burning, fearsome wound to which Bush devoted just 18 words in his meretricious State of the Union speech--but even Blair can't get away with that one; hence his "conference" for Palestinian reform at which the Palestinians had to take part via video-link because Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, refused to let them travel to London.
So much for Blair's influence over Washington--the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, "regretted" that he couldn't persuade Sharon to change his mind. But at least one has to acknowledge that Sharon--war criminal though he may be for the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacres--treated Blair with the contempt he deserves. Nor can the Americans hide the link between Iraq and Israel and Palestine. In his devious address to the UN Security Council last week, Powell linked the three when he complained that Hamas, whose suicide bombings so cruelly afflict Israelis, keeps an office in Baghdad.
Just as he told us about the mysterious al-Qa'ida men who support violence in Chechnya and in the "Pankisi gorge". This was America's way of giving Vladimir Putin a free hand again in his campaign of rape and murder against the Chechens, just as Bush's odd remark to the UN General Assembly last 12 September about the need to protect Iraq's Turkomans only becomes clear when one realises that Turkomans make up two thirds of the population of Kirkuk, one of Iraq's largest oil fields.
The men driving Bush to war are mostly former or still active pro-Israeli lobbyists. For years, they have advocated destroying the most powerful Arab nation. Richard Perle, one of Bush's most influential advisers, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld were all campaigning for the overthrow of Iraq long before George W Bush was elected--if he was elected--US President. And they weren't doing so for the benefit of Americans or Britons. A 1996 report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm ( http://www.israeleconomy.org/strat1.htm ) called for war on Iraq. It was written not for the US but for the incoming Israeli Likud prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and produced by a group headed by--yes, Richard Perle. The destruction of Iraq will, of course, protect Israel's monopoly of nuclear weapons and allow it to defeat the Palestinians and impose whatever colonial settlement Sharon has in store.
Although Bush and Blair dare not discuss this with us--a war for Israel is not going to have our boys lining up at the recruiting offices--Jewish American leaders talk about the advantages of an Iraqi war with enthusiasm. Indeed, those very courageous Jewish American groups who so bravely oppose this madness have been the first to point out how pro-Israeli organisations foresee Iraq not only as a new source of oil but of water, too; why should canals not link the Tigris river to the parched Levant? No wonder, then, that any discussion of this topic must be censored, as Professor Eliot Cohen, of Johns Hopkins University, tried to do in the Wall Street Journal the day after Powell's UN speech. Cohen suggested that European nations' objections to the war might--yet again--be ascribed to "anti-Semitism of a type long thought dead in the West, a loathing that ascribes to Jews a malignant intent." This nonsense, it must be said, is opposed by many Israeli intellectuals who, like Uri Avnery, argue that an Iraq war will leave Israel with even more Arab enemies, especially if Iraq attacks Israel and Sharon then joins the US battle against the Arabs.
The slur of "anti-Semitism" also lies behind Rumsfeld's snotty remarks about "old Europe". He was talking about the "old" Germany of Nazism and the "old" France of collaboration. But the France and Germany that oppose this war are the "new" Europe, the continent which refuses, ever again, to slaughter the innocent. It is Rumsfeld and Bush who represent the "old" America; not the "new" America of freedom, the America of F D Roosevelt. Rumsfeld and Bush symbolise the old America that killed its native Indians and embarked on imperial adventures. It is "old" America we are being asked to fight for--linked to a new form of colonialism--an America that first threatens the United Nations with irrelevancy and then does the same to Nato. This is not the last chance for the UN, nor for Nato. But it may well be the last chance for America to be taken seriously by her friends as well as her enemies.
In these last days of peace the British should not be tripped by the oh-so-sought-after second UN resolution. UN permission for America's war will not make the war legitimate; it merely proves that the Council can be controlled with bribes, threats or abstentions. It was the Soviet Union's abstention, after all, which allowed America to fight the savage Korean war under the UN flag. And we should not doubt that--after a quick US military conquest of Iraq and providing 'they" die more than we die--there will be plenty of anti-war protesters who will claim they were pro-war all along. The first pictures of "liberated" Baghdad will show Iraqi children making victory signs to American tank crews. But the real cruelty and cynicism of this conflict will become evident as soon as the "war" ends, when our colonial occupation of a Muslim nation for the US and Israel begins.
There lies the rub. Bush calls Sharon a "man of peace". But Sharon fears he may yet face trial over Sabra and Chatila, which is why Israel has just withdrawn its ambassador to Belgium. I'd like to see Saddam in the same court. And Rifaat Assad for his 1982 massacre in the Syrian city of Hama. And all the torturers of Israel and the Arab dictatorships.
Israeli and US ambitions in the region are now entwined, almost synonymous. This war is about oil and regional control. It is being cheer-led by a draft-dodger who is treacherously telling us that this is part of an eternal war against "terror". And the British and most Europeans don't believe him. It's not that Britons wouldn't fight for America. They just don't want to fight for Bush or his friends. And if that includes the Prime Minister, they don't want to fight for Blair either.
Robert Fisk is an award winning foreign correspondent for The Independent (UK), where this article first appeared. He is the author of Pity Thy Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (The Nation Books, 2002 edition)