Can this bloody government stop spinning for five minutes? Apparently not. Read this superficially innocuous comment by Jack Straw following the kidnap of Ken Bigley and the death of two American hostages in Iraq:
'I would like to express my profound condolences to the families and colleagues and friends of those two Americans who were working in Iraq for the benefit of Iraqis.'
Even a simple expression of the government's regret about the latest hostage deaths has to have a little bit of spin added on. 'Those two Americans who were working in Iraq for the benefit of Iraqis' - a comment following two brutal, macabre killings has to reinforce the American/British line that the war in Iraq is just one massive aid project.
There's also a weird element of slightly childish outrage to the comment. Straw seems to be saying: 'Our kindly American and British contractors go out there to help them and what do they do? The mad mullahs just chop their heads off! Ooh! They're such a bunch of ungrateful little SHITS! It's not fair! It's just not
Of course, the reconstruction workers in Iraq ARE helping Iraqis, in the way that Wimpey Homes is helping families in the UK put a roof over their heads. Iraqi reconstruction is a blood-spattered beanfeast for the lucky construction companies favoured by the Bush administration. Of course, someone has to rebuild Iraq, and contractors have every right to be there, but it's a fairly sick joke to demolish someone's country then expect them to be grateful while you get rich rebuilding it for them.
Most worryingly for Bush and Blair, the hostage-takings are yet more evidence that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake. After the more-or-less weekly kidnappings, they've retreated into the roles of decisive leaders who simply will not give concessions to terrorists. If this reduces the number of people being kidnapped, it's the right thing to do, but in the bigger picture, Bush and Blair are increasingly looking like absolute fools for instigating the whole mess in the first place.
It's not an exaggeration to say that, for the time being at least, the 'insurgents' are winning. Colin Powell has said that the widespread violence has made elections in January extremely unlikely. The interim [replace with 'puppet' or 'placeman' according to taste] government won't be getting the legitimacy it wants from elections, with the side-effect of Iraq remaining a global symbol of American imperialism. The tactics of the insurgents have been shown to be effective, although their goals remain nebulous.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, the reasons for going to war are finally being shown to have been muddled and wrong, despite the weird, almost childish, political culture we live in, where the painfully obvious is obscured by pathetic rhetoric. As you might expect, Blair still maintains the charade that he was right to support the invasion, like some desperate twat involved in pyramid selling who clings to the belief that they're eventually going to start making a profit. (Despite the fact that their garage is full of overpriced shampoo that noone wants to buy. And their friends and relatives won't answer their calls because they've already been coerced into buying a decade's supply of floor cleaner.)
Looking back, the playwright David Hare was probably on the money when he said that Bush probably didn't really know why he invaded Iraq. Certainly there were plenty of individual reasons to choose from: oil, 'finishing the job' against Saddam, a desire to reshape the Middle East, concern about Saddam developing nukes, even a genuine desire to liberate the Iraqis. But none of them on their own seem to be compelling, certainly when you weigh them against the risk of the whole project going wrong.
And if the war was questionable, there's also a moral haze surrounding the occupation. The war has ousted a brutal dictator and the insurgents can be seen as opportunistic, anti-democratic individuals seeking to impose their own particular religious/political views on Iraq as a whole. But it doesn't take a historian to see that what's happened in Iraq is part of a pattern. As in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Afghanistan again for good measure, all that American military intervention has achieved in the long-term is to destabilise countries.
Things undoubtedly will get better in Iraq eventually, and it's wrong to imagine that the whole country is a battle zone. But how Tony Blair can keep pretending that the war was necessary is genuinely unfathomable.
Whether he wins or loses the next election, Blair's legacy may turn out to be not only destabilising Iraq for years to come, but also ushering in a new era of worldwide fundamentalist terrorism. He's looking less and less like the decisive leader of Britain and more like a deluded village idiot who most of us wish would go and hang around somewhere else.