With moulting hawks all around squawking their forlorn chorus of "I'm No Longer Such An Ugly Duckling", it's tempting to join the mass ecdysis. But this is one leopard who won't be changing his spots. Fourteen months ago, there were respectable cases to be made for and against the war. None of the big stories of the past few weeks alters either argument.
The bleats of "Include me out!" from the fairweather warriors isn't a sign of their belated moral integrity but of their fundamental unseriousness. Anyone who votes for the troops to go in should be grown-up enough to know that, when they do, a few of them will kill civilians, bomb schools, abuse prisoners. It happens in every war. These aren't stunning surprises, they're inevitable: it might be a bombed mosque or a hospital, a shattered restaurant or a slaughtered wedding party, but it will certainly be something.
Okay, a freaky West Virginia tramp leading a naked Iraqi round on a dog leash with a pair of Victoria's Secret panties on his head and a banana up his butt, maybe that wasn't so inevitable. But, that innovation aside, the aberrations of war have nothing to do with the only question that matters: despite what will happen along the way, is it worth doing?
I say yes. It is already worth it for Iraq. There are more than 8,000 towns and villages in the country. If the much predicted civil war had erupted in any of 'em, you'd see it. Not from the Western press corps holed up with its Ba'ath Party translators at the Palestine Hotel, but from Arab television networks eager to show the country going to hell. They cannot show it you because it isn't happening. The Sunni Triangle is a little under-policed, but even that's not aflame. Moqtada al-Sadr, the Khomeini-Of-The-Week in mid-April, is al-Sadr al-Wiser these days, down to his last two 12-year-old insurgents and unable even to get to the mosque on Friday to deliver his weekly widely-ignored call to arms.
Meanwhile, more and more towns are holding elections and voting in "secular independents and representatives of non-religious parties". I have been trying to persuade my Washington pals to look on Iraq as an exercise in British-style asymmetrical federalism: the Kurdish areas are Scotland, the Shia south is Wales, the Sunni Triangle is Northern Ireland. No need to let the stragglers in one area slow down progress elsewhere. Iraq won't be perfect, but it will be okay - and in much better shape than most of its neighbours.
So I've moved on. I am already looking for new regimes to topple. And here's where the events of recent weeks may have done some damage. In my corner of northern New England, as in Highgate and Holland Park, it is also stressful being a Bush apologist. Most of the guys I hang out with demand to know why he's being such a wimp, why's he kissing up to King Abdullah about a few stray bananas in some jailhouse, why's he being such a pantywaist about not letting our boys fire on mosques, why hasn't he levelled Fallujah. In other words, don't make the mistake of assuming that Bush's poll numbers on Iraq have fallen because people want him to be more multilateralist and accommodating. On my anecdotal evidence, they want him to be more robust and incendiary.