The Sketch: John Reid's doctorate in delusion

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The ministerial answer was: "History demonstrates that a sustainable military victory over the tribal fragments of a quasi-medieval country is, broadly speaking, unlikely. So we are encouraging the new governments to announce they are capable of carrying on without us. Thus, democratic representatives in Afghanistan and Iraq will be able to torture and murder terrorists, freedom fighters and every sort of dissident in the name of security while we at home proselytise for democracy as a universal human value.

"After we cut and run, naturally, we will leave behind an expert cadre of the most innovative statisticians our government can spare to prove that security and other public services in these countries enjoy exponential improvement as soon as we leave."

That was the answer but it wasn't the answer the minister gave. John Reid stood up and searched for something funny to say (I sympathised). He said he didn't mix in such exalted company as the Tory knight (there was a joke in there somewhere but it was stubborn). Then he suggested that the traffic advice was very sensible which told us not to enter the yellow box unless the exit was clear.

In that case, what in the name of our suffering saviour were we doing in Afghanistan? Let alone Kosovo? Let alone Iraq? He made clear that before the cutting and the running (around the middle of next year, probably) we had to do a number of things. "Build the infrastructure of a democratic state", for one thing. "Build up the economy, legal system and civil society" for another. And finally, "expel the terrorists but leave a sustainable Afghanistan for the short and medium term". By May.

The prolixity that John Reid has adopted means he won't have finished his sentence before May. Only someone with a doctorate in self-delusion could assert that we'll be leaving these countries more stable, prosperous, law-abiding than we found them. And as for the minister's repudiation of our old Taliban allies - does he not remember how they helped bring about the fall of the Soviet empire? And how they suppressed the heroin production? Who's he calling "evil"? But of course, his doctorate is in rewriting history.

Julian Lewis offered to get Trident approval through the House with Conservative support. The Parliamentary Labour Party rose up hissing; they made crosses with their fingers and scrambled for the exits. Operation Toxic Support is under way. Mr Lewis, with his fleshy lips, Tory voice and radioactive intellect is an ultimate weapon in these, the final days.