Current US strategy in the "war on terrorism" is a kind of zombie. It has been killed, slowly and painfully, by the Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgency of recent months. Its rotting corpse still walks around as if alive but as time goes by more and more bits are going to fall off. The question for uncommitted European governments, such as Gerhard Schroder's in Germany, is whether they should join this spectacle.
It is their duty to their citizens to be very careful in this matter. As the Istanbul bombings showed, close support for US strategy brings with it an increased risk of terrorist attack. Governments can legitimately ask their citizens to undergo this risk only if they themselves have genuine confidence in US strategy. At present, it is impossible to have such confidence.
It is not just in Iraq that US strategy is bankrupt. Despite tactical successes such as Sunday's battle in Samarra, the fighting there, and the number of US troops needed to contain it, have also in effect killed off the entire "Bush doctrine" of pre-emptive war. As US soldiers and officials acknowledge in private, the US simply does not have the troops or will for another war elsewhere. If Washington were crazy enough to launch another war without having itself been attacked, the result would be political revolt not just among US allies but also within the US itself.
This is therefore a good moment for European and other governments to insist that in return for help in Iraq and the Middle East, the US must develop a new overall strategy. This is all the more important because European countries are already making a vital contribution to the war in Afghanistan, and losing lives in the process.
This Afghan commitment should continue because, unlike the occupation of Iraq, it enjoys real legitimacy within Europe and in the international community and because denying Afghanistan to al-Qaeda is in any case just as important as winning in Iraq.
Change to America's Middle East strategy is essential in two areas. The first is US relations with Iran and Syria. In a recent address to the Middle East Institute in Washington, Kenneth Pollack — one of the principal advocates of the Iraq war and therefore no "dove" in the war against terrorism — stressed the critical importance of Iranian policies to Iraqi stability and drew an extremely positive picture of Iranian restraint and helpfulness so far. In a move that gives strong support for this view, the Iranian government recently recognised the Iraqi Governing Council as legitimate.
In return, Iran has received nothing from the US except a moderation of threats that have in any case largely lost their power to frighten. There may a case for Europe and the US putting on a "good cop, bad cop" act over Iran's nuclear programme but this is valid only if, in return for Iranian good behaviour, the US itself is prepared to seek detente.
The same is true of relations with Syria, where Damascus's reward for intelligence help against al-Qaeda has been a move by the US Congress, pressed by the Israeli lobby, to impose further sanctions. In its approach to the Muslim world the US is repeating the terrible errors that helped to drag it into the debacle of Vietnam: lumping a range of mutually hostile states and forces into one category of enemy, and completely underestimating the importance of nationalism, in Muslim states as in communist ones.
More important, however, is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the issue that tends to unite the Muslim world in hostility to the US and its allies. This is the best moment for a long time to press for a genuine, two-state solution to this conflict. As prominent figures in both Israel and the US have begun to warn, it may also be the last possible moment.
If Israel continues on its present course, what will emerge will in effect be a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean in which a future Palestinian majority will be held down by apartheid methods. Those making such a warning have included four former heads of Israel's Shin Bet security service; one of their number, Ami Ayalon, has declared that Israeli policy is "taking sure, steady steps to a place where the state of Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people". Meanwhile Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, is looking increasingly weak and isolated at home.
It is essential therefore that Washington does not allow itself to be led into approving, even as an interim measure, Mr Sharon's apparent plan to withdraw a symbolic handful of Israeli settlements while continuing a strategy of restricting Palestinians to what are essentially Bantustans. The only possible viable peace between Israel and the Palestinians is something along the lines of the Geneva accords, the unofficial agreement drawn up by moderates on both sides and signed yesterday. Unless the US commits itself to such a settlement, it will be impossible to have confidence in US strategy in the war against terrorism and European governments will have no right to ask their citizens to make further sacrifices in that war.
Originally published in the Finanacial Times.