International lawyers and anti-war campaigners reacted with astonishment yesterday after the influential Pentagon hawk Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal.
In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."
President George Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq - also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defence permitted by international law.
One would hope that this might make things uncomfortably sticky for Bush especially since he and Perle are both in London, but these days it's hard to say. Just look at how Perle followed up.
But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.
This is the problem with Perle and people like him. They wrap themselves up in moral certitude to a point where they poo poo at the rule of law. And that is dangerous. Going against the rule of law for a so-called greater good only works if the results are positive. And if you are going to make that stand and take risk, then you had better be ready to take the consequences when things go horribly wrong.