The Baker report on Iraq has been placed in the public domain. There are many sources which are starting to undermine its findings, and Bush and Rice are making distancing comments here and there. Amongst other things, the report has suggested that there should be dialogue with Syria and Iran, which has seemed to me to be a sound idea from the beginning.
The White House are refusing to talk to Iran unless they stop their nuclear programme - which we all know is not going to happen. What seems blindingly obvious to me is that if the West had engaged with Iran without preconditions we might be a lot nearer to peace than we are now, and if we could bite the bullet, sink our pride or whatever, and talk to the Iranians, surely the results could be worthwhile. Neither Syria nor Iran has any interest in continued instability in Iraq. To link any discussion with a cessation of the Iranian nuclear programme is counterproductive - a tactic from the Cold War which is pretty much discredited.
The new Defence Secretary has admitted that the war in Iraq is not being won, and that a whole new approach is necessary. There is much manoeuvring towards withdrawal of troops.
What has seemed obvious to me for some time, in purely practical terms, is that if we had not made this foolish commitment to Iraq when we did, we would have had sufficient troops (not to mention UN support) to fulfil our promises to Afghanistan from the outset - instead of which the situation in that sad country has got considerably worse than when we first went in, and we have manifestly failed to meet the commitments to nation-building which we made at that time. The efforts and resources which are required now to carry out those promises are hugely more than would have been needed at the time, before the Iraq diversion, and the resources are simply unavailable.
It is a simple matter for Blair to promise that whatever the troops need to do the job they shall have. Because to do the job with the resources they have needs time - about 50 years. You shorten the time by increasing the resources - which means more troops which we haven’t got, and more hardware which we can’t afford. Why can’t we afford it? Because of Iraq.
Of course, messrs. Bush and Blair say that no matter what our originally declared reasons for invading Iraq, deposing Saddam was sufficient justification for the invasion.
But consider this: Under Saddam, services were reasonably efficient, and average life expectancy averaged about 68, even in the face of blanket and corrupt sanction policies.
In Zimbabwe, on the other hand, there are no services. Life expectancy for women is 34 and for men 37, although the majority of men are leaving the country. A pack of 20 tampons costs two weeks wages at the minimum wage level (as a result of 1000% inflation) - which, with the consequent risk of infection and prevalence of HIV, could reduce this average life expectancy to 20. The number of people who are dying in Zimbabwe as a direct result of the state of the economy is three times as great as was the death toll under Saddam Hussein.
I am not suggesting that Saddam was a good man - he was a monster. But how could supposedly intelligent national leaders have made such an appalling series of mistakes and wrong priorities.
Without Iraq, we could have made a real and beneficial impact on Afghanistan and against the Taliban, and now we may be too late.
Without Iraq, we might have been able to pay more attention to Zimbabwe - and done what? I don’t know - but something.