Tony Blair always said that British troops would only leave "when the job was done." A cynic, which of course I am not, might suggest that what he meant was when his job was done. Can it be a coincidence that the announcement of large scale British troop withdrawals from Iraq will mean, according to the news tonight, over 2000 troops will have left by the time Mr. Blair leaves office at the end of the summer? so that the last memory connecting Blair to the Iraq War will be of a prime minister who had done the job in Iraq well enough to feel confident of a huge downscaling of British forces there?
Blair is certainly suggesting that things are under sufficient control in Basra for the Iraqis to assume responsibility for policing the violent civil war we have helped create, though that is not what analysts are reporting.
But whatever the reasons for the withdrawal, we are coming home, in fairly large numbers, just as the American Government sends in its much-trumpeted and much-maligned surge of troops further north in Iraq. And what will happen then? Some speculation has it that without the British presence the situation will deteriorate, leaving a bloodbath that will stain the already-dirty British conscience for generations. Perhaps. Perhaps, equally, we need to stop being colonialist and anti-Islamist and have confidence in the government we installed there to handle its own internal problems, though we played a large part in creating them. Sometimes when you make a pig's ear of something, the most honourable thing you can do is stand back and let somebody else sort out the mess.