The departure of Tony Blair is a huge gratification to all those who want a quiet life and all those who wish that Britain would be a mediocre power. Ever since his Chicago speech in 1999, when he celebrated the downfall of Milosevic and warned of an inevitable confrontation with Saddam Hussein - this at a time when George W Bush was governor of Texas - he has been important to all of us who believe that peaceful coexistence with totalitarian and aggressive regimes (and ideologies) is neither possible nor desirable. It is this point of principle that ought to eclipse all others. Alas, and thanks to those who temporised on that question, Iraq was allowed to decay to a stage where a ruined and maimed and traumatised society was in our future no matter what we did. The critical thing was to be certain that we, and not Saddam, chose the timing of the confrontation. Up until then, the initiative had always been left to him. If Coalition forces had not arrived in Baghdad, the imploded country would by now have been invaded by Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia and become a Rwanda or a Congo on the Gulf. Bad as things are, they would have been infinitely worse, and have necessitated a later international intervention on much more adverse terms.
Of course, in a large swathe of Iraq, things are enormously better than they were in 2003. I allude to the three northern Kurdish provinces. In these areas, the mullahs and the militias do not hold sway, and open fratricide between Kurds has ceased. Building sites are busy, schools are full and a form of democracy and free press prevails. In the few successful Iraqi ministries and army units, Kurds are prominent. The forces of "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" and their Ba'athist allies tend to avoid confrontation with Kurdish peshmerga forces, who really did conduct an "insurgency" against the former dictatorship and who truly deserve the name of a "resistance". When I hear people calling for our withdrawal from Iraq, I always want to know how they feel about abandoning a people who are much more numerous than the Palestinians and who have made much better use of their opportunity for self-determination. I might add that the Kurds, even when they were being gassed and deported en masse, never made use of disgusting tactics such as suicide-bombing.
The bogus row over the award of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie has none of the drama of the original one. People seem to be going through the motions of being "offended". It made me feel almost nostalgic to see characters such as George Galloway complaining about how much Salman's security had once cost all of us taxpayers. If the chairman of BP had been hit by a fatwa from a theocratic dictator, I doubt we would have heard that same mean-spirited talk about the price of his safety. And if Salman had turned down the offer of a knighthood, I could have written the headlines myself ("Rushdie snubs Queen shock").
A rising tide lifts all boats
British journalists seem to make the vulgar assumption that if they can find the lowest motive, they have identified the correct one. I gave a blurb to Tina Brown's Diana book and found myself attacked by some creep who described it as a quid pro quo for all the largesse she has heaped on me. I think I wrote for her three times in 30 years.
Tina is no longer commissioning pieces and in any case I have a best-seller of my own to promote. God Is Not Great has proved to me that a rising tide can lift all boats: the ground for it was seeded by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, whose superior work has put the godly on the defensive and cheered up secular America. (Polls show that unbelievers are now the country's fastest-growing minority.) It's an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as these men. If there were seven of us, the clever press would call us dwarves. As we are a quartet, we are doomed to be called the Gang of Four or the Four Musketeers. My own nomination - the Four Horsemen of the Counter-Apocalypse - is a bit cumbersome and I'd welcome suggestions.
"God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion" is published by Atlantic Books (£17.99)