When did the rationale for the Iraq War – which began in 2003 and still rumbles today – go from being a mistake, to a self-deception, to an outright lie? When did it dawn on the Bush Jr administration and its key allies in London and Canberra that the ostensible reason for the invasion of Iraq had disappeared, probably literally, under the sands of Mesopotamia? By the time of the invasion, Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed no weapons of mass destruction that could threaten another country. The Iraqi dictator may have desired such weapons, but a combination of international sanctions and the mere fear of retribution thwarted his plans.
Spare a thought for the other existential crises. Remember climate change? Wealth inequality? The rising tide of fascism? Then there’s our newest apocalypse: bad technology. When we look back, the three years from late 2016 to early 2020 will go down as the time the scales fell from our eyes. Maybe the devices we have insinuated into nearly every moment of our lives had their own aims for us all along – our time, our attention, our outrage. In 2018, the runner-up for the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year was ‘techlash’: ‘A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley.’
I sometimes wonder whether David Combe’s detractors have ever read the legend of his sins – the transcript (even as officially bowdlerised) – of his conversation with Ivanov on 4 March 1983. It is upon the fact of this event (but certainly not upon the record of its substance) that Combe is widely charged, not with treachery, but with greed, intolerable ambition, and amazing indiscretion.