RIP, Robin Cook

Robin Cook, 1946-2005 Former UK Foreign Secretary and House of Commons leader Robin Cook is dead at the age of 59 afer suffering a reported heart attack. His passing Saturday was sudden: Cook collapsed while partaking in one of his favorite pastimes, walking with his wife over a mountain in the highlands of northern Scotland.

Cook is being remembered as a formidable politician of principle, conscience, and integrity. That mettle was on display to the world when Cook resigned his post in March 2003, to show his disgust with Britain’s role in the US invasion of Iraq. As part of his farewell speech to the House of Commons, he asked a question many people would still like to have answered: “Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create?”

Personally, I respected the hell out of Robin Cook for taking a stand and for doing what was right. I recall reading an op-ed he wrote for the UK’s Independent on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion. The paper was kind enough to reprint the piece as a posthumous homage; here is an excerpt:

It says much about the nervousness in government over Iraq that they have no plans to mark tomorrow’s anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. This is very sensible on their part. Any retrospective examination would inevitably draw attention to questions that they find increasingly difficult to answer, such as why they ever believed Saddam was a threat since he turns out to have had no nuclear programme, no chemical or biological agents, and no delivery system with which to fire them.

A fitting way to mark the anniversary would be to drive a stake through the doctrine of pre-emptive strike and bury it where it cannot be disinterred to justify another unilateral military adventure. The new Bush doctrine claimed the right to make war on any country that could be a potential threat some years down the road. Iraq has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that intelligence cannot provide evidence reliable enough to justify war on such a speculative basis.

Later, ministers do not justify our presence in Iraq by the hunt for those elusive weapons of mass destruction, but by the need, as the Prime Minister put it yesterday, to be “steadfast against terrorism”. Yet the conversion of Iraq into an extended battlefield between the West and al- Qa’ida is a measure of the failure of our policy, not a justification for invasion.

The Islamic fundamentalists regarded Saddam with as much hostility as anyone else, and he reciprocated by keeping them out of Iraq. It was our occupation that gave al-Qa’ida the motivation to target Iraq, and the incompetence of our plans after Saddam, that offered them the open door through which they entered it. …

Iraq has become the defining issue of this parliament and Tony Blair has honestly admitted it will be remembered as the most divisive decision of his second term. It has alienated our key allies in Europe. It has undermined the principle of collective security through the UN, which a previous Labour government helped design to provide a multilateral world forum. And it has set back dialogue with the Muslim world and given a boost to the fundamentalists.

Here is a link to another Cook op-ed; this appeared in the UK’s <I<Guardian in July 2004.

Reports say that Cook was preparing a return to government; alas, that was a wish denied to the politician himself and for those clamoring for his return. Outside of his family and friends, the loss may be hardest for leftist Britons, many of whom believe that when Robin Cook died, so too did the Labour party’s conscience.

Politics aside, this is tragic news. But because of politics, the tragedy is magnified.

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