Like the guy in the movie yelling pointlessly out the window how he's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore, American voters have a persistent fantasy about their own transformative powers. 

They want out of Iraq, which is understandable. Beyond all the corpses, walking wounded and destruction, George W. Bush's expeditionary adventure in social engineering is costing Americans $2 billion a week and there are all sorts of good uses for cash like that here at home.

But most Americans don't understand what is going on right now, urgently and secretly, in Baghdad and Washington. Nor do they realize it may be part of a grand plan, hatched by the same conservative group that brought about the war on Iraq in the first place.

The story began to emerge in a report last week by Patrick Cockburn, the authoritative Middle East correspondent for the Independent.

The gist of it is this: As Bush's term winds down, the administration is urgently pushing for a new "status of forces agreement" with the Iraqi government that would effectively set up an indefinite occupation of Iraq. American negotiators want the deal signed by the end of July. The Iraqis aren't happy.

The United States is reported to be demanding the right to establish up to 58 military bases, jurisdiction over Iraqi airspace up to 30,000 feet, permanent immunity from prosecution for American troops and civilian contractors, and the continuing right to arrest and imprison Iraqis that the U.S. authorities deem a threat, even if the Iraqi government doesn't.

A plan foretold

Cockburn reported that the Bush administration is strongly opposed to any Iraqi referendum on the proposal, for obvious reasons.

Most Iraqis want the Americans gone as soon as possible, not entrenched indefinitely, and everyone there knows better than to go anywhere near the private-sector mercenaries who guard American diplomats and American interests. When they harm and even kill Iraqis, they get to walk away without so much as a by-your-leave. (Usually, they're just transferred back to the U.S.)

"We are being asked to sign for our own occupation," Iraqi lawmaker Jalal al Din al Saghir told McClatchy Newspapers. "Is there sovereignty for Iraq — or isn't there? If it is left to them, they would ask for immunity even for the American dogs."

Neither the negotiations, nor their implications, have received much ink or attention here in the U.S. The Bush administration refuses to discuss the matter and is taking the view that Congress has no role.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who believes the U.S. can "win" the Iraq war, has refused to comment on the plan. His opponent, Democrat Barack Obama, who favours a "careful" withdrawal of U.S. troops, has said only that he opposes creation of any permanent American bases in Iraq.

But none of this should be any surprise. In fact, the conservatives who surround Bush explicitly telegraphed their intentions years ago.

The blueprint

Back in 2000, with a Democrat still in the White House, a neo-conservative think tank called the Project for a New American Century produced a document titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses."

PNAC was sponsored by some stellar conservatives. Among them, the current vice-president, Dick Cheney; the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld; a war planner named Paul Wolfowitz; and a pantheon of other hawks from the political and Christian right.

Among other things, the September 2000 manifesto proposed military solutions for anything standing in the way of a worldwide Pax Americana.

The PNAC plan called for regime change as a tool of U.S. foreign policy and a strengthening of American military might so as to enable the fighting of simultaneous wars, all in pursuit of an American "benevolent hegemony," to borrow the phrasing of columnist William Kristol, another PNAC stalwart.

It proposed the removal of Saddam Hussein and envisioned the establishment of "forward operating bases" abroad, especially in the Middle East. Iran, noted the report, could well turn out to be an even bigger threat than Saddam and would need to be dealt with accordingly.

In a particularly prescient sentence, the report predicted that such a transformation was likely to take a long time, "absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor."

Well, the catalyzing event took place a year later when al-Qaeda operatives flew passenger jets into the World Trade Centre. The PNAC club had their regime change in Baghdad a year and a half after that.

Now, it appears, the time has come to negotiate the forward operating bases and turn American attention further eastward.

Forward Base America?

The Iranians, who pay closer attention to such details than the average American, are pushing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reject the arrangement Washington is proposing.

But Iraq is now so thoroughly broken that al-Maliki may not have any choice but to sign. It doesn't matter what the Iraqi people might want, any more than it matters what the American people want.

"Do you know what you call a country in that part of the world with no real air force or army?" asks John Pike, a military expert with globalsecurity.org. "You call it a protectorate.

"Americans are the Republican Guard now," says Pike, referring to the Iraqi special contingent that was responsible for protecting Saddam Hussein. "As long as they are in Baghdad, nobody is going to try to steal the government when no one is looking.

"How many fighter aircraft did Saddam have? Hundreds. How many does al-Maliki have? None. How many tanks did Saddam have? Thousands. How many does al-Maliki have? Dozens."

To Pike, Iraqi unhappiness with the continuing American presence is very nearly irrelevant.

"They're just going have to get used to it," he says. "There's a lot of people on this planet who've gotten used to a lot of things they didn't like."

That assessment would have to include American voters, stuck with the implementation of militarism foretold.

As President Bush himself likes to remind people (when he is talking about America's enemies): When somebody threatens to do something, you should pay attention.