WATCH: Robin Cook's resignation speech, 15 years on

by Kit

Today marks the 15 year anniversary of Robin Cook MP’s resignation from the Cabinet, in protest over the US/UK plan to invade Iraq. The speech, given just two years before his death, is impressive for its honesty, and – in hindsight – soberingly tragic.

It is apparent, when you watch the speech, that no one understood the horror that was about to be unleashed on a comparatively stable world. All told, the speech is just very, very sad.
It’s sad to see that even the harshest, strongest parliamentary critics couldn’t come close to guessing the scale of the destruction. When Mr Cook spoke of a projected death toll “at least in the thousands”, he thought he was giving a grisly warning. We now know it to be a dramatic understatement.
It’s sad to hear him refer to “suggestions the war may last only a few days” when it lasted years. Iraq is a fractured mess to this day.
It’s sad to witness stark warnings about the breakdown of international law fall on deaf ears. When Mr Cook talks of American “eagerness for regime change”, no one in the House knows just how much damage that eagerness will do. Is still doing.
It’s sad to witness the quality and honesty of the speech, when there is not one MP in the current Tory government – and very few in the opposition – with the intelligence, erudition or dignity to make this speech today…let alone the moral conviction to resign on a point of principle.
It’s sad to realise how much things have changed. Mr Cook references the French and German resistance to American pressure on the Security Council, the lack of support from NATO and the EU. Any resistance to US/UK warmongering has long been stamped out of those countries now.
And it’s sad to realise how much is still the same. France, Germany and Russia were berated and mocked by the majority of the western press over their lack of support. France’s government, under President Chiraq, came in for special punishment. The Simpsons branded them “cheese eating surrender monkeys”, and Steve Martin called them out at the Oscars. Domestic opponents of the war – on both sides of the channel – were also slandered. Dubbed cowards, and “Saddam apologists” who “didn’t care about our troops”. The civilian protests – millions strong – were ignored.
It’s important to remember this speech, and this moment. The people were forced into a war they did not believe in or want, on the back of cynical lies about a threat that never existed. The war was more dangerous, more costly and lasted longer than even the most pessimistic of forecasts could guess at the time.
The lessons are there to be learned.

Kit Knightly is co-editor of OffGuardian. The Guardian banned him from commenting. Twice. He used to write for fun, but now he's forced to out of a near-permanent sense of outrage.

Filed under: empire watch, Kit, latest, video


Kit Knightly is co-editor of OffGuardian. The Guardian banned him from commenting. Twice. He used to write for fun, but now he's forced to out of a near-permanent sense of outrage.

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Francis Lee
Francis Lee

In ”Godfather of the Kremlin” the Russian-born American writer Paul Klebnikov set out a brilliant critique of on Boris Berezovsky setting out the grand theft of Russia by the corrupt clique of oligarchs, often using violence to achieve his and their ends. ”Klebnikov brought to light the indiscriminate looting of a country by a handful of businessman and corrupt politicians. By dissecting the meteoric business career of Berezosvky the leaders of the so-call oligarchs Klebnikov unlocks the mystery of what many are calling ”the robbery of the century’. Berezovsky sought and gained asylum in the UK in 2003. But he still nonetheless had still had a long reach. Klebnikov was assassinated mob style by a Chechen hit man in Moscow in 2004 widely suspected on Berezovsky’s orders.
Why this blatant mobster was allowed into the UK in the first place is beyond belief. But that’s HMG for you. The doormat will be dusted down and laid out for all and any thus or murderer who fits the bill.

Big B
Big B

I for one do not get all gooey and sentimental when thinking of Cook’s volte face speech. After all, it was Cook’s shameless propaganda and immoral justification of operation Desert Fox that led (a million dead Iraqis later) to this situation. It is nevertheless apposite to consider Cook’s so called ‘ethical foreign policy’: in the light that the next Labour government intend to return to it. [1]
To me Cook’s diplomacy could be epitomised by his participation in interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo: both without UN authorisation. This was the genesis of the ‘Blair Doctrine’: the fruition of which was R2P …which is now the standard humanitarian pretext (the so-called ‘Third Pillar’) to circumvent the UNSC and possible Chinese or Russian veto. The effect in Kosovo was to create a genocide, in order to prevent a fictitious genocide. This was done with the help of the British trained and supported (human organ and heroin smuggling) KLA: the leader of whom, Hashim Thaqi, Cook was in direct telephone contact. [2] The genocide of ethnic Serbs continues, under Thaqi, to this very day. Cook also co-chaired the Rambouillet Diktat – let NATO occupy Serbia and Montenegro; or we will bomb you until you do. It was an ultimatum Milosevic could not accept: and so the illegal, unprovoked bombing began – for 78 days.
Other notable ethical diplomatic highlights include selling arms to totalitarian dictators (Suharto and Mugabe); turning a blind eye to human rights abuses (Turkish incursions into Iraq against the Kurds) to endorse Turkey’s EU inclusion; and taking an “even handed” attitude to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians when Israel re-invaded the Occupied Territories.
It is also apposite to note the dignified atmosphere in the House when Cook rose to give his speech. Compare and contrast with the current bloodsport Bedlam asylum atmosphere of the last weeks. So all in all a dignified stand, and an emotional Resignation …so long as one keeps it in the context of a blood-soaked and amoral career. From which he developed a conscience far too late. To which I truly hope there can never be a return.
[1] http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2005/404-the-dark-heart-of-robin-cooks-ethical-foreign-policy-part-1.html (If you navigate from ‘Archives > 2005 >’ – you will quickly find Part 2.)
[2] http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/11/24/britains-collaboration-with-pro-extremist-forces-in-kosovo-a-formula-being-repeated-in-syria/
[For reference: I also used Mark Curtis “Web of Deceit”.]


Well said all of that.
As you say, the hushed reverence offered to Cook by the House on delivering his speech (‘hear hear’) is a mark of respect from a bunch of gangsters.
It all becomes normalised psychopathy once in high office.
‘Ehtical foreign policy’ – kill, steal, sell.


Perhaps the most telling part of Cook’s speech given the current crisis of hysteria regarding chemical weapons is about 8 mins in, when he talks about who supplied [sold] Saddam his CHEMICAL WEAPONS. No prizes for guessing who it was…
[Spoiler alert… it wasn’t Russia]
As if almost prophetically, Jeremy Corbyn is sitting at Cook’s right shoulder too.


P.S. I seem to recall in 2012 that it was the US who were behind the shipping of Sarin Gas and other weapons from Libya to Syria.

Terje M

Before we get too high thoughts about the French, German or any other continental governments, it is worth remembering that they didn’t officially oppose the war due to some noble dedication to international law, but purely as a show for internal electoral reasons. In fact, behind closed doors, the French told the US that they were not opposed to the invasion and would help where they could.
So each European government compensated in deeds for what they proclaimed in words, opposing the war in public, while colluding with it discreetly.
Behind closed doors in Washington, France’s ambassador Jean-David Levitte gave the White House a green light for the war, provided it was on the basis of the first vague UN Resolution 1441, as Cheney wanted, without returning to the Security Council for the second explicit authorisation to attack that Blair wanted, which would force France to veto it.
In diplomatic telegrams from Baghdad, German intelligence agents provided the Pentagon with targets and co-ordinates for US missiles to hit the city. Once the ground war began, France provided airspace for US bombings of Iraq, and Germany was a key transport hub for the campaign. Both countries voted for the UN resolution ratifying the US occupation of Iraq, and lost no time recognising the puppet regime created by Washington.
There are similar stories of servility from other European governments.

George Cornell
George Cornell

Is that why the US termed them “surrender monkeys” and stopped using the term French fries? The Germans just wanted their gold back.

Terje M

It just goes to show that not everything is what the general populace thinks is the case, especially when it comes to foreign policy.
Other examples:
Supposedly peace loving Sweden gave the US construction plans for bunkers Swedish companies had built in Iraq in the 80ies.
Norway, despite not supporting the war, was quick to send an occupation force once a pro forma UN approval was in place after the attack.

George Cornell
George Cornell

Since they bent to US pressure to charge Assange when the alleged victims did not want to do so, Sweden has earned the title “whore of Scandinavia”.

Terje M

It isn’t whoring when you do it voluntarily. The core parts of the Swedish military/security establishment are stone cold psychopaths, just like their brethren in US/UK/France.
It is amazing what they are able to brush under the carpet (a decade of fake reports of Soviet submarines, the real causes for why the passenger ferry ‘Estonia’ sank in 1994. And God knows what they are hiding on the Palme-assasination.


@Terje. Thanks, that explains something which puzzled me at the time: If the French foreign ministerm was so opposed to gang rape of Iraq why did not tell the world (eg, when interviewed on BBC) that UN weapons inspectors had done their job under that terrier Scott Ritter, so Iraq had no WMD? De Villepin must have known the truth just as well as his opposite numbers did (Jack Straw of Britain and Rumsfeld of the USA) so why not give an authorititive voice to the millions of little people like me and fellow bloggers BTL who said there were no WMD but had no voice ATL? From your information — that the Chirac regime were secretly riding the Bpst / BLiar band wagon — I now conclude that de Villepin did not play his best card because the French were pulling their punches. “Cheese eating surrender monkeys” indeed! Homer Simpson sussed them better than Vexard did at the time.

Harry Stotle
Harry Stotle

I can’t give Cooky any more than 5 out of 10 for this little bit of theatre.
He was pro-Blair insisting he would not support any attempt to oust the baby-faced assassin.
He was pro-Nato during the Balkan conflict.
I don’t think we can even say he was truly against the war; he just seemed worried about the lack of a NATO resolution, and EU support.
Had such a resolution been forthcoming would Cook have still objected to the invasion of Iraq – possibly not given the fact he was prepared to maintain the illusion about Blairs motives for intervening in Kosovo?
He was just the least worst as I see it.
Cook allowed misplaced loyalty to his comrades get in the way of revealing the truth about the dark forces that were about to envelope Iraq, and its neighbouring states, not to mention those that recently preceded it in the former Yugoslavia.

George Cornell
George Cornell

Mostly agree with you ‘ari , but not here. Who else spoke up like this besides Short? And he was dead right. 5/10? Not a Russian judge.


The entire entertainment field seemed to be bent on whoring themselves for the warmongers on the build up to the invasion of Iraq. I recall an episode of Richard and Judy when the odious Amanda Platell said that the “French were famous for their brie but not their bravery” and an American woman whose name I forget gave us the sanctioned counter view which was a feeble summation of French bravery in the past – all of which was irrelevant. Instead she should have asked what was so brave about siding with the US, the most powerful country in the world, against one of the smaller ones.
I also recall a similar discussion where a critical Jeremy Hardy found himself being told loudly to shut up by Judy Finnigan. Her aggression surprised him as much as it did me and I wonder if backstage she had been made the proverbial offer she couldn’t refuse.


I seem to recall that the Guardian purged themselves of Jeremy Hardy [sacked him] in early 2001 as they found his then cutting satire too much to bear.

George Cornell
George Cornell

A moving and evocative talk , the likes of which we rarely see anymore. And don’t forget Clare Short who was martyred by the Blairite reptiles.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
I also remember when Robin Cook explained that Al Qaeda was a CIA creation:
Shortly before his untimely death, former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons that “Al Qaeda” is not really a terrorist group but a database of international mujaheddin and arms smugglers used by the CIA and Saudis to funnel guerrillas, arms, and money into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
Source: https://www.globalresearch.ca/al-qaeda-the-database-2/24738
Oh, and it is Chirac. 🙂