As the battle for Basra progresses (Richard North has been the best at covering it), I'm not quite sure what is more depressing: The fact that Britain left Basra in such a mess or the fact that no British politician of any colour appears publicly concerned at what is happening there now.
In an interview for American TV yesterday the Director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, made it clear the extent to which Basra had been left in the hands of "militia, armed gangs [and] criminal elements" when British troops withdrew:
TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR OF MSNBC'S MEET THE PRESS: "About 70 percent of the city of Basra controlled by Shiite militia. Is the goal to have that entire city controlled by the Iraqi government?"
CIA DIRECTOR GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: "Of course it is. But, but this is going to have to happen in stages. And, and you're right, about 70 percent of the city controlled by militia, armed gangs, criminal elements. It's, it's, it's a real stew down there, Tim, in terms of the different factions. And they were in a bit of an equilibrium between and among these armed factions over the past several months, and violence had been reduced. But I don't think anyone could think that that equilibrium was an acceptable long-term solution."
TIM RUSSERT: "The prime minister said that the elements that were controlling Basra were "worse than al-Qaeda." Do you agree with that?"
GEN. HAYDEN: "Their activity has mirrored some of the atrocities of al-Qaeda. I don't know that I'd try to sit back here and put a moral calculus on, on either of them. But I do know this, all right? They were beyond the writ of the Iraqi government, they were exercising the attributes of sovereignty, I mean, exclusive use of violence, for example. It should be the province of the Iraqi state."
It is not clear if the US troops surge will ultimately succeed but it is to America's credit that it had the will and means to try and leave Iraq in a tolerable state. It is no reflection on British servicemen - whose bravery is being proved beyond any doubt in Afghanistan - that Britain did fail in Basra.
(Hat-tip to Alex Barker at FT Westminster blog for spotting the Hayden interview).
5.30pm update: CentreRight's Nile Gardiner has written for National Review Online about it being time for the British surge