Every time I go to Washington – I returned from there this week – I find a seriousness and depth of thought about terror, the Middle East and the nature of power that, whether one agrees with it or not, is not matched by an alternative vision this side of the Atlantic.

As long ago as the 1980s, thinkers such as Andrew Marshall, the head of the Office of Net Assessment in the Pentagon, were predicting the global re-ordering that would follow the end of the Cold War. They spoke of what has been termed the “revolution in military affairs”, in which technology mattered much more for Western superiority, and the enemies of the West, unable to win any spending race, would resort increasingly to terrorism. . . .

It followed from all this that the hawks were the only Westerners not surprised by September 11. The attacks that day fitted with how they thought the world was going, and they were therefore ready with the analysis and with the counter-attack. The “war against terrorism” and the “axis of evil” were not mere phrases – they were formulations of doctrine.

Because the hawks are so dark in their view of what is happening, European elites make two mistakes about them. The first is to suppose they are “gung-ho” and rush unilaterally into action. This is not so. President Bush got Nato and the world behind him before the attack on Afghanistan, and yesterday’s performance by Mr Powell was only the latest whirl in a long diplomatic dance with the UN that, he hopes, will at last sweep even the French off their feet. Yes, America reserves its right to act unilaterally, but it bases its policy on the paradox that it is only by convincing people of your readiness to be unilateral that you can win multilateral support. . . .

To the European cynic, an Iraqi leader such as the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, who shares Western values, is a mere “saloniste”. To the hopeful hawk, he is a big step in the right direction. And if Iraq can be reborn, the same optimist reasons, something similar might start to happen in all the broken polities of the Islamic world.

Is some of this rather starry-eyed? Perhaps. Is it a rhetoric that seeks to justify in moral terms the bald assertion of American power? Certainly. But if the conflict is between extremists who hate the West and want to destroy it and the political and cultural values that all European nations claim to share, why is it so wrong? And what, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder, is the alternative?

The rest of the article is far from a claim that the hawks have everything right. But it does point out that failing to engage their ideas (what, those papier-mache statues of Bush don’t count?) is foolish and unserious.