John Brady Kiesling, political counsellor to the US embassy in Athens, faxed a resignation letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell in which he accused the administration of destroying a web of delicate international relationships cultivated over decades. ‘We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two years done too much to assert to world leaders that narrow and mercenary US interests override the cherished values of our neighbours,’ the letter said.

Besides alienating other governments, in the long-term Washington’s aggressive foreign policy would be counterproductive, Kiesling argued. ‘The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests,’ he wrote. ‘Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offence and defence since the days of Woodrow Wilson.’

The letter continued: ‘Even where our aims were not in question, our consistency is at issue. The model of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies wondering on what basis we plan to rebuild the Middle East, and in whose image and interests.’