Ah well, here we go again. The leading article in the Times this morning (£):
Tony Blair was the one person who could have stopped President Bush starting the Iraq war had he tried to do so, Kofi Annan has claimed in an interview with The Times.
“I think I will for ever wonder what would have happened if, without a second [UN] resolution ... Blair had said ‘George, this is where we part company. You’re on your own’,” the former UN Secretary-General says of Mr Blair in an interview published today to mark the launch of his memoirs: Interventions — a Life in War and Peace.
“I really think it could have stopped the war ... It would have given the Americans a pause. It would have given them a very serious pause to think it through ... All this would have raised a question: ‘Do we go this alone?’ ”
Mr Annan argues that neither his own resignation as UN Secretary-General, or that of Colin Powell as US Secretary of State, would have dissuaded Mr Bush. But Mr Blair could have done so, had he spoken out, “because of the special relationship and also the fact that ... when you think of the big countries, Britain was the only one that teamed up with him.”
Mr Annan insists that he did everything in his power to forestall a conflict that replaced Saddam Hussein with a fragile democracy, but plunged Iraq into eight years of sectarian strife, cost more than 100,000 civilian and nearly 5,000 allied lives, and never found the weapons of mass destruction that were the pretext for the US-led invasion.
He disagrees with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel peace laureate who recently suggested that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should be hauled before the International Criminal Court. He says that they were democratically elected leaders acting in what they believed were their national interests.
But he makes no effort to hide his disappointment with Mr Blair, for whom he says he still feels affection. “Blair had the potential to be one of the most brilliant politicians of his time and really for a period was a star. And now you ask me the questions, ‘What went wrong? What changed him?’ It is very difficult to say.”
Of course Kofi Annan's many triumphs as UN Secretary-General - the details escape me for the moment - are the reason he can adopt such a superior tone.
I wonder how long it'll be - 20 years? 30 years? 50 years? - before some bright young historian will publish a ground-breaking book on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein suggesting, to general astonishment and disbelief, that it may not perhaps have been quite the disaster that commentators ever since have assumed: that newly uncovered documents show, against all conventional wisdom, that the cause of the Allied invasion wasn't in fact the false belief that Saddam had WMDs, but rather his non-compliance with UN resolutions over a number of years, plus the fact that the UN sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War had turned into a farce which hurt the people of Iraq while doing nothing to curb Saddam's grip on power - not to mention the invasion of two neighbouring countries. And that Saddam was, all in all, a man who made Bashar al-Assad look like a teddy bear. And, moreover - this revolutionary book might go on to suggest - the idea that the alternative to invasion would have been a smooth and bloodless transition to a mature democracy while neighbours like Iran and Syria stood back and applauded was always, after decades of the most intense repression which included a genocidal campaign against the Kurds and the systematic and brutal suppression of the Shi'ite majority, and with Saddam's deranged psychopathic sons waiting to take over, a ludicrous fantasy.
And then this:
Mr Annan also attempts to discard the show of neutrality that he had maintained during the six fruitless months that he spent trying to end the Syrian conflict as the UN’s special envoy this year. “Assad has to go,” he says. “It’s a question of when and how. You cannot kill that many people and expect to remain legitimate and in charge of your people.”
He defends his mediation efforts in the face of charges that the UN gave the regime of President Assad more time to crush the rebels. “If you don’t talk to these people, if you don’t even try, how do you influence them?” he says.
But in both his book and during the interview, he offers a bleak assessment of Syria’s prospects. The cleavages in that country are “as deep and bitter as those of Lebanon and on a scale that threatens a clash of sectarian animosities that could dwarf even those that shook Iraq after 2003”, he writes.
“It is a conflict that threatens the disintegration of a state at the crossroads of numerous regional and international forces, of religious and sectarian rivalries, and in a region stalked by extremism.”
Asked what will happen, he replies: “Thousands will die.”
And how, exactly, will Assad go then?
No awareness that he might just be twisting himself into knots here. But then he does have a book to sell.