The Bush administration has a siege mentality, but it’s not the attitude of a besieger; it’s the paranoia of the besieged.

Take, for example, George W. Bush’s recent trip to Europe, where he assured a roomful of European diplomats that all talk of the US attacking Iran was “ridiculous” (never mind the fact that the US is already attacking Iran diplomatically in the UN). Bush said, “This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said all that, all options are on the table.”

The Reuters wire service, unrestrained by American editors who vigilantly expunge anything that could embarrass the President, blithely reported that Bush’s comments drew laughter from the assembled diplomats.

Laughter? They thought the threat of military action against Iran was funny? Well, yes and no.

Of course they were laughing, in part, at George Bush’s clumsy delivery, the one that makes nearly half of America wince and ask ourselves how a moron could rise so far. But they were laughing for other reasons, too. For one thing, European politicians see more clearly from across the Atlantic that George W. Bush’s regime is bankrupt–and they see it far more clearly than American elites can see it here, inside the gates of the fortress.

Where will another $200 billion come from to finance an invasion of Iran? Iran, unlike Iraq, actually has a functioning government, army, and a populace that hasn’t suffered through more than a decade of crippling sanctions. So let’s be conservative and double that figure. Where will the $400 billion come from? Where will the troops come from, when US military analysts have said that our current army is on the verge of collapse?

If only the Europeans would agree to shoulder the US’s imperial burdens in Iraq, as they’ve done in Afghanistan, then George W. would be free to go on conquering to his heart’s content. But weeks of sustained pressure and personal visits by Bush administration officials–from Condoleeza Rice to Donald Rumsfeld to the President himself–have made no progress in getting a NATO commitment of troops for Iraq.

NATO will continue its small mission to train Iraqis for the new Iraqi army, but France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Greece–all the countries who can afford to contribute troops and money–are still refusing to send police or military personnel into Iraq. So truckloads of young Iraqi men must make their way across the most dangerous highway in Iraq, which spans Anbar Province, to reach training facilities in Jordan. The insurgents, of course, have killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Iraqi recruits by stopping these trucks, lining up the men, and machine-gunning them.

Yet who can blame the Europeans for not wanting to send their own sons and daughters into that kind of danger? Any NATO training facility inside Iraq would be a target for insurgent attacks, with frequently fatal results.

In the meantime, the Bush administration has requested another $82 billion in the largest “emergency” spending bill in history, most of it a backdoor way to fund the continuing war in Iraq. If this bill passes–and what “emergency” spending bill will ever be closely examined or voted down by this Republican-controlled Congress–the Iraq war costs will reach $300 billion in three years. By comparison, the Vietnam War cost a little more than 600 billion in today’s dollars, over the course of more than a decade.

Surely this is part of the insurgent strategy to win the war in Iraq: make it too expensive for the invaders to stay. But the insurgents have another plan which the interim Iraqi government calls the “Encirclement Strategy.”

The insurgents, over the past few months, since the destruction of Fallujah, have abandoned any efforts to stand and fight US troops. Instead, they’ve chosen to step up attacks on Iraqi government officials and the bombing of key infrastructure, particularly to disrupt the fuel supply, water supply, and electrical supply to Baghdad.

And they’ve been largely successful so far. Severe gasoline shortages coupled with long electrical blackouts every day have made it hard for Baghdad residents to heat their homes, refrigerate their food, operate computers, and even cook meals. For a whole week in January, most of Baghdad had no running water, when a single bomb disabled the water treatment plant that supplies 70% of the city. Furthermore, as the water plant attack proved, the insurgents have extremely good intelligence about Iraqi infrastructure and the routines of the new Iraqi government. The bomb at the water treatment plant was placed at just the right junction to undermine water pressure in the whole system. Attacks on oil pipelines and refineries appear to be timed to coincide with the lack of replacement parts in local warehouses.

Pull out a map of Iraq, one that shows the major highways through the country, and you’ll see right away that all roads leading to Baghdad are in the hands of the insurgents. The highway north from Kuwait is safe as far as Basra, but Amarah is no longer in control of the British and north of Kut the highway belongs to bandits, who shakedown passengers or shoot them if they don’t stop. The same is true of the highway that runs through the Shiite heartland: once north of Hilla, it’s too dangerous. The route from Jordan that passes through Anbar and near Ramadi and Fallujah is nearly impassible. So is the main highway south from Turkey, which is safe as far as the border to the northern Kurdish province of Dahuk, but south of Mosul is insurgent territory. The same is true of the route through Kirkuk. In fact, the only safe way to get in and out of the country is to fly, which is why the Iraqi war is so expensive for the US military: all supplies and troops must be flown in and out. Baghdad is literally encircled.

As is the Bush administration.

South American nations are deserting the US sphere of influence, setting up people’s democracies (how dare they!), and trading with nations other than the US. For example, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela recently announced he would cut back on oil shipments to the US and search for markets elsewhere in the world, and Argentina is now sending beef to China.

Russia is re-nationalizing its oil infrastructure–something the Bush administration can only view as a backward step for Capitalism–and cutting lucrative energy deals with Japan and China. Japan, of course, used to get all of its oil from the Middle East. China, also ravenous for energy supplies, appears more interested in supplies from Africa, South America, and Russia than US-dominated sources in the Middle East.

China is courting multinational corporations and feted by futurists and macroeconomists the world over as the Next Big Empire. Which means the US Empire is already on the wane–bad news for George W. Bush, who patently enjoys being Emperor.

Surrounded on all sides, the Bush administration is aware of the threats, but is unable to respond, trapped within its own ideological restraints. Narrowly focused on a holy crusade in the Middle East, the Bush administration continues to exhort the world to join us in our “belief” that we can, and should, bring democracy to the Middle East. But world history shows that prayers and faith and foolish illusions have never save a besieged people; only earnest negotiations and the mercy of the encirclers have.

Thank God they’re laughing.