At this distance, on the eve of the twentieth anniversary on 20 March, it seems to matter less whether the war was launched on a deceit, a distortion, a wilful misapprehension, or a sincere false premise. It was a blunder that looks worse with every passing anniversary and memoir. Barack Obama drew one lesson from the episode: “Don’t do stupid shit.”
Early in 2003 Katharine Gun, a young GCHQ translator, leaked a document, subsequently passed to the Observer, showing how the US had asked GCHQ to bug the phones of diplomats from the so-called UN “swing states” – countries believed to be open to persuasion to back an invasion of Iraq.
She was charged under the 1989 Official Secrets Act which had replaced the discredited “catch-all” statute. The case against her was suddenly dropped when the prosecution realised that evidence would emerge at Gun’s trial that even British government lawyers believed the invasion was unlawful.