Words such as “conscience” and “honor” have pretty much disappeared from the American political lexicon in this age of Bush Administration lies and leaks. But when the histories of this time are written, it will be remembered that those precious characteristics were not wholly absent.
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair was maneuvering Britain into Bush’s Iraq War coalition, one of the most prominent leaders of his Labour Party–a former foreign minister who then served as the party’s leader in the House of Commons–resigned from the government and took a place on the back benches to deliver a blistering condemnation of the irrational arguments that Bush and Blair were making for an unwise and unnecessary war.
Robin Cook, who made international headlines with that act of conscience, died Saturday at age 59. To his last days, he remained an ardent foe of the war. Britain’s Observer newspaper called him “the most incisively potent of the war’s opponents.”
Cook’s resignation speech remains one of the most noted parliamentary addresses of the contemporary age. And rightly so, as Cook’s words have proven to have been remarkably prescient.
Here is a portion of what he said on March 17, 2003, shortly after he left Blair’s government to cast a historic vote against the invasion and occupation of Iraq:
I have chosen to address the House first on why I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support.
The present Prime Minister is the most successful leader of the Labour Party in my lifetime. I applaud the heroic efforts that the Prime Minister has made in trying to secure a second resolution [at the United Nations]. I do not think that anybody could have done better than the Foreign Secretary in working to get support for a second resolution within the Security Council.
But the very intensity of those attempts underlines how important it was to succeed. Now that those attempts have failed, we cannot pretend that getting a second resolution was of no importance.
The reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading partner–not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the Security Council.
Only a year ago, we and the United States were part of a coalition against terrorism that was wider and more diverse than I would ever have imagined possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition.