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.