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Robin Cook, the British cabinet minister who resigned from the government over Iraq, is at his snarky best in today's Guardian.

He is offering some sympathy for Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, who provided legal advice to the British government regarding the legality of the proposed war:

On Iraq he was expected to find a basis in international law for Downing Street to perform as the loyal ally of a Bush administration that consistently rejected even the concept of international law.

More below:

Cook divides the evolution of Goldsmith's opinion in to three phases. Phase one lasted six months, up to the eve of war.  At the end of this phase, Goldsmith:

... agreed with the legal advisers to the Foreign Office that invasion would require a second security council resolution to be lawful. This view was dropped only when it became clear that there would be no second resolution.

After a second 10 day phase, Goldsmith:

...argued that invasion might be lawful on the basis of existing resolutions, but that the British government could be vulnerable to being challenged in court.

Unfortunately, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of defence staff, refused to commit troops to action without an unequivocal guarantee that it would be lawful. So, in a final three day phase, Goldsmith provided

...a written statement that authority to use force could be exhumed from the ceasefire resolution of the first Gulf War over a decade earlier.

You've gotta love exhumed.  But Cook is on a roll, and the snark continues:

The official line is that this opinion was Lord Goldsmith's "genuinely held, independent view". But presumably his two earlier opinions were also genuine and independent, albeit flatly in conflict with his final one. What is missing is any explanation of why his genuine and independent opinions changed so often.

Cook finds it in him to regard Goldsmith as perhaps more sinned against than sinning:

[Goldsmith's] final statement on the legal case for war rests on the assumption that Saddam Hussein was in breach of his obligations to disarm his imaginary weapons of mass destruction. .

So Goldsmith obtained from Blair an "unequivocal assurance that Iraq was in breach of its disarmament obligations".

And the rest of the story we know.  However, to Brits, and most of all to British Labour supporters, like me the mystery is why Blair should ever have taken such a risk, especially in support of a US president with whom he shares so little, ideologically.  Later in the article, Cook (who is in a position to know) puts his finger on at least one part of the answer.

I suspect also that as Tony Blair turned out the bedroom light last night, he was mystified that the controversy over Iraq still haunts him. In the many conversations we had in the run-up to the war, he always assumed that the war would end in victory, and that military triumph would silence the critics. In his worst nightmares Tony Blair never dreamt that Iraq would dog him a whole two years later.

As to why Iraq is still dogging both Blair and Bush two years later is, Cook puts attributes the reason in part to:

...the breathtaking naivety with which both the White House and Downing Street believed the easy promises of Iraqi exiles that foreign occupation would meet with no resistance.

However, here is where Cook put in his final, classy boot:

But the major reason why Iraq has remained such a source of constant controversy is the slow seepage of the information that was kept from us when we were being sold the case for war.

We were told that the threat was current and serious, but we now know the intelligence was limited and the sources unproven.

We were told that occupying Iraq would be a defeat for terrorism, but we now know the joint intelligence committee warned, correctly, that it would give a boost to terrorism.

And now we learn that the legal case for war was cobbled together at the eleventh hour after months of equivocation.

Read the whole article - no-one snarks quite like Cook.  

The tragedy is that snark is not a quality that people look for in a party leader.  
Update: A short bio of Robin Cook here. He was Blair's first foreign secretary, and launched into an "ethical foreign policy" but was something of a disappointment. He was edged out of the centre of power by being demoted to "Leader of the House". He resigned from the government in March 2003 and sits as a Labour backbench MP. He looks like a gnome.

Originally posted to Febble on Fri Mar 25, 2005 at 05:33 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I don't suppose "flip-flop" (none)
    has much currency in Britain--in the US, it would certainly contribute to the snark factor.

    Thanks, Febble.

  •  Suggestion (4.00)
    Maybe you should make more explicit what role Cook had in the Cabinet prior to his resignation and put it in the title of the diary - plus he was foreign minister for 4 years prior to that, which is not unsignificant!. I am not sure that many people around here are all that familiar with him.
    And add " Blair's Iraq nightmare"

    Good snark indeed. Was he in one of your universities debating teams at some point?

    in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

    by Jerome a Paris on Fri Mar 25, 2005 at 05:49:42 AM PST

  •  Thanks (none)
    For pointing out the article, it is intereting to watch as the shit keeps hitting the fan for Tony.  I expect that Cook will be back in the Cabinet come the next PM if only as a signal that the new government is opposed to the war.

    Has anyone started to lodge suits against the government to try to prove that the war was indeed illegal.  That seems to be an issue that the Brits care about quite a bit.

    BTW it is a shame that Robin Cook looks like such a gnome, he would make a great PM.

    The only international crime is losing a war

    by Luam on Fri Mar 25, 2005 at 05:59:10 AM PST

    •  he would make a great PM (none)
      The fact that his speaking style resembles that of the adults in the Peanuts cartoon is another hindrance to higher office.

      I'd be perfectly happy to see Gordon Brown, or Charles Kennedy, as the next PM.


      •  Liberal Democrat (none)
        Is Cook likely to stand as a Liberal Democrat this election? I cannot imagine why Labour would want him with commentary like that.
        •  He is old-labour (none)
          The majority of Labour supporters will agree with Cook and not Blair on this...
          He has no reason to jump ship. In the long term, the Labour party will return to his point of view and reject Blairism.
          •  huh ? (none)
            "Blairism" is the only thing keeping Labour in Power.

            Gordon Brown is the obvious next successor, no change of direction there. As for Robin Cook, he was part of the creation of New Labour, not keeping old labour alive.

            Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

            by Pounder on Fri Mar 25, 2005 at 08:19:53 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  What about a hung parliament or small majority? (none)
              There's an outside chance that tactical voting could lead to Labour winning only a plurality of seats, or a slender majority with the balance of power in old Labour.

              In that case, particularly the former case with a hung parliament, a Blair resignation as party leader is a strong possibility. While Gordon Brown is the obvious replacement, there's an opportunity for someone else given the right balance of seats.

              As an American, I don't pretend to understand the details, but couldn't a government be formed out of a coalition of Labour and the Liberal Democrats if Labour fails to get an outright majority? It probably wouldn't be stable and a new election would follow in short order, but it's an intriguing possibility nevertheless.

              Proud citizen of the provisional Canadian province of Cascadia since November 3, 2004

              by seaprog on Fri Mar 25, 2005 at 10:27:14 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  It's happened before. (none)
                Not good news though.  Very messy.

                What we want is for Labour to win with a perfectly workable but reduced majority, for the Lib Dems to make a huge surge in Tory seats and win a few labour ones too, and become the official opposition.  Then they keep Labour on their toes from the opposite benches, and possibly win the following election if Labour messes up.

                Blair resigns, sooner rather than later, Gordon Brown becomes the next prime minister, and the Tories stay permanently out of the loop.


                •  No, that isnt what WE want (none)
                  it's maybe what you want, but lurching any country to one side of the political spectrum or the other is BAD for that country.

                  It is EVEN WORSE is a parliamentry system, where yuo genuinely must have an opposition

                  Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

                  by Pounder on Fri Mar 25, 2005 at 08:31:48 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I was using the royal "we" (none)

                    and in any case my dream scenario was not intended to "lurch" anything, but to get back to a situation were two moderate parties trade power.  At present we have one moderate party messing up, but unable to be challenged effectively, because one of the two minority parties is too extreme (the Tories, well to the right of the UK population's current views) and the other is too small (in terms of seats if not votes).

                    •  huh ? (none)
                      How can the conservative party be too far to the right for the british people when they are the nations second party and the libdems are the 3rd ?

                      by sheer logic, the conservatives are more mainstream than the libdems in the eyes of the british, yet you advocate elevating them to a mainstream position ?

                      Your argument makes no sense, and is simply injected with opinion and not fact.

                      Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

                      by Pounder on Sat Mar 26, 2005 at 07:45:40 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  No it's not opinion (none)
                        and I'm trying to find the link for you.  There was a very good poll done a few months ago that asked people to plot their political position on a spectrum, and then to plot the position of a range of politicians.  The interesting thing was that the average self-rating was slightly to the left of centre,whereas Tony Blair was rated slightly to the right. Brown was rated considerably further to the left.  But the interesting thing is that all the Tory politicians were rated far further to the right.  In other words,  Tony Blair was pretty close to the population mean, Brown and the most of the party to the left of the  mean, but the Tories were perceived as far further to the right.

                        I'll try to find the link.  But the lesson drawn by the report I read was that the Blair and his Labour government were seen as roughly where most people see themselves on the political spectrum, and even "left" wing politicians like Brown are seen as closer to the population mean than any of the Tories.

                        Got the link (well, a link): Guardian Oct 5th 2004

                        •  Well Actual elections prove where people are (none)
                          and more people sit to the right than the left of the lib dems is my point. which is why right now the conservatives are the #2 party.

                          Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

                          by Pounder on Sat Mar 26, 2005 at 09:17:55 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  You could argue (none)
                            that people who sit to the right of Labour say they'll vote Tory because the don't think the Lib Dems are a viable option, because, given our voting system, and their even (as opposed to concentrated) pattern of spread of support, they aren't.

                            Lib Dems are generally lower on people's radar, at least at general elections.  That was why that poll was so interesting, suggesting that if only the Lib Dems could make real headway, Labour and Tory dissidents might flock to them.

                            But, for now, I agree, Libs are running third. (Current polls: Labour 37%, Tories 32%, Lib Dem 23%).  But Labour is still ahead, and if these polls are correct, it is difficult to deduce that more people sit to the right than the left of the lib dems. Especially as the Lib Dems are seen to the left of Tony Blair.

                            Honestly, Pounder, I'm not making this stuff up.

                          •  People have been arguing (none)
                            that he lib dems justneed to make headway, since they formed as a party. It hasnt happened, because htey are too left wing for most people, ie out of the mainstream.

                            Both Labour and the conservatives sit to the right of them.

                            Those are facts, not polls.

                            Labour clearly doesnt garner the support it once did, in 97, and the conservatives has risen in support since then. To argue they are getting weaker when their election performances are getting stronger is bizzare.

                            And as you also point out, much of the lib dem support is fake, since it's tactical voting and not genuine support. Which is why they have never been able to break through, their support simply isnt deep enough.

                            Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

                            by Pounder on Sun Mar 27, 2005 at 08:11:50 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Agree with your points re the Lib Dems (none)
                            Except for:

                            Both Labour and the conservatives sit to the right of them, which I would dispute as a "fact".

                            Left-right is an abstract construct, and the poll I referred to simply reflected people's understanding of that construct as applied to British MPs and themselves.  There is no "fact" to which it approximates, the whole thing is a metaphor.  What the poll elucidated is how the people of Britain insert themselves into the metaphor.

                            Frankly, I think the left-right axis is outliving its usefulness.  You probably know about this site, which postulates an additional and orthogonal Libertarian-authoritarian axis (you can take a test and find out where you fit).  In addition one might speculate as to where "green" fits into the spectrum.  Lib-dems tend to be both greener and more libertarian than Labour, greener than the Tories (and more libertarian than some Tories), but to the right of "old" labour as defined by the ownership of the means of production and exchange.

                            My own take on it all is that people (rightly in my view) rejected the "greed is good" culture that had accompanied (even if it had not been endemic to) Thatcherism when they voted "new" Labour in May of 1997.  I suspect this was at least partly because the economy was relatively stable at the time (after the Lawson boom-bust) and they felt "safe" voting with their conscience rather than with their pockets.  Because the economy has remained stable under Brown, they don't yet feel inclined to do anything different, except that Blair is no longer the recipient of their better feelings.  But people still seem loathe to park their better feelings back with the Tories

                            Not sure what you mean by to argue they are getting weaker when their election performances are getting stronger is bizzare.  I didn't argue they are getting weaker, although they have not got noticeably stronger.  Labour is losing support, but it is not going to the Tories.  Labour started with a horrible campaign, and the Tories had a brief upward blip, but they remain solidly points behind.  They haven't made serious headway since 97,and the longer they stay out of power the worse it is likely to be IMO.

                            And the trouble is, when they struggle, they tend to appeal to their base, which is to the right of the leadership, and lose even more support from moderates.  Hague and Duncan Smith both tried it, and Howard looks as though he's tempted.  However, if he does, I think they are doomed.  That's what I meant by becoming a "rump".  If they move to the left, they may stand a chance of regaining their position as a moderate right-of centre alternative (although it will be hard while Blair occupies that spot) but they have failed so far.  Their right wing-nuts always call foul.

                            Largely over Europe.

  •  Great Article (4.00)
    Thanks for bringing to the attention of everyone.  Robin Cook is one of those men who, I hope, will stick around to pick up the pieces of the world after these schmoes are long gone.  Because we will be in a world of hurt long after they have stolen their cabillions of dollars and gone home.

    I can only hope that England still has a free and active media to pursue these items.  Or is it a one day story to be weathered?

    •  UK media (4.00)
      Is fairly free and active.  Whilst Rupert Murdoch owns a fair number of newspapers (the Sun, the News of the World, the Times, the Sunday Times) and there is the obligatory far-right tabloid (Daily Mail), there is a healthy left-wing press, that publishes this kind of thing regularly - the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer and even the tabloid Daily Mirror.

      The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is tasked with handling complaints against print media (newspapers).  It has a code of practice, to which newspapers must comply (and, if they don't, you can make a complaint) - see here.

      Television is always pretty balanced and fair.  Whilst the Fraudulent News Network (Fox) is available on certain satellite services (also owned by dear Mr Murdoch), news programmes are impartial and always give room to opposing views, including those of crackpot parties like the UK Independence Party (which wants the UK to withdraw from Europe for some reason) and even - very occasionally - far-right nationalist parties such as the British National Party (BNP).

      The UK regulator of television (and other broadcast media), Ofcom, is obliged by law (the Broadcasting Act) to maintain impartiality in "matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy" and to prevent editorialising, requiring the "exclusion of the licensee's views and opinions on controversial matters".  In broadcasting news programmes, "news, given in whatever form, must be presented with due accuracy and impartiality... [r]eporting should be dispassionate and news judgements based on the need to give viewers an even-handed account of events. In reporting on matters of industrial or political controversy, the main differing views on the matter should be given their due weight in the period during which the controversy is active". (Source).

      Ah, us Brits and our quaint ways.  Is there anything like this in the U.S., or is it a free for all?  I seem to recall the demise of the "doctrine of fairness" some time ago...

      "[f]ree societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat." Geo. W. Bush, 2004

      by VincentVega on Fri Mar 25, 2005 at 06:41:57 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am not an expert (none)
        but it would seem that it is a free for all over here.  And that anything goes as far as what one can get away with.  We even have fake newscasts being paid for the republicans to pose as news.

        that's how far we have gotten off the path of journalistic ethics.  Our T.V. media heads are scared to death of even speaking one negative word or the wrath of Rove will come down on them.

        They pick the worst dems (redstate ones who couldn't argue themselves out of a paperbag) to argue against 3 republicans.  Yuk.

        I am very sorry to report that America needs a bit of rescuing.  We at least need to get the real news out to the main public.  But how?  We are working on it.

  •  More Cook ... (none)
    Thanks Febble. We must have been writing simultaneously on the same subject, and you fairly beat me to it by a few seconds.


  •  Snarky Party Leaders (none)
    "The tragedy is that snark is not a quality that people look for in a party leader."

    He should move to America:

    GW Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bob ("Democratic wars") Dole...

    •  Brit's snarkiness ... (none)
      may be due to the result of a failing political system when "leadership" can get away with just about anything. Blair's stronghold is the last election result, a strong parliamentary majority and the conservatives voting with Labor for the Iraq war.

      Only correction can be made by the electorate in NEXT election.

      Parliament nor any of its commissions worked to uncover the shortcomings in foreign policy, the deceit and lies. One would turn to a bit of old-fashioned Brit's snarkiness when in the end you're proven right.

      In 2005 - Be liberal: Support our Allies of Democracy on Human Rights, the Environment, Gay and Minority Rights & EU and UN Third World Development Programs & Our Friends

      •  Nah! Question Time Says It All (none)
        The snarkiness in Parliament during question time is better than just about anything you'll see on US TV. I think it reflects attitudes, expectations and practices that go to the very heart of British political culture, even British culture itself. It's not just a situational thing in light of the factors you've pointed to. They're just the icing on the cake, IMHO.

           -- What Homer Would Say

  •  Double Whammy Hits Blair (none)
    One may question the endurance of Teflon Tony, as he keeps losing friends and prestige at home, and as Europe's Intermediar on Foreign policy to George. Did Tony ever pick up his Medal in DC?
    Elizabeth Wilmshurst - Missing Paragraph Revealed by TV4 - Blair embarrassed
    by creve coeur  Thu Mar 24th, 2005  

    The US-led coalition failed to plan properly for Iraq's insurgency after the ousting of Saddam Hussein, a committee of MPs says in a report.

    In 2005 - Be liberal: Support our Allies of Democracy on Human Rights, the Environment, Gay and Minority Rights & EU and UN Third World Development Programs & Our Friends

  •  Cook (none)
    always struck me as a bit of an opportunist (tho nowhere near as bad as Claire Short).  i wonder if blair et al had given him a bit more power or say in the government or something along those lines, if he would have resigned.

    but ever since he has resigned he's been a steady critic of Blair in the British press and that is a good thing.

  •  "He looks like a gnome" (none)
    Whilst you write of him in such disparaging terms, you fail to 1- give the details of his notoriety for being at the centre of yet another "Labour Mistress" scandal 2- explain the fascination of the British press over the issue of just how an earth a bloke who looks like him could be such a successful romancer  :)

    Cook is no hero. He went into the Foreign Office amid great fanfares proclaiming he would introduce a new era of truly ethical foreign diplomacy.

    What a joke. Another in a long line of Labour rhetoric that is an empty noise. It makes Bush's "Blue Skies" legislation look almost accurately titled. Almost :)

  •  Why Tony got on board (4.00)
    By accident, by design, or by the urge to remain in the history book (probable)...

    I recall just days before the invasion when the they gave up on the second resolution, news suddenly came out of the White House or Pentagon that US might have to go to war alone without UK, because Blair couldn't act without a second resolution. That news upset Downing Street and the NYT reported then there were "angry phone calls" placed from UK.

    You know what? The leak must have been intentional. They suspected Blair might cop out, and publicly challenged him to see if he would be willing to go all the way to a bitter end.  With all those efforts, blood, sweat and tears together after 9/11, they never trusted Blair.  Blair must have realized then what kind of ally he had.  And, it was too late. Blair couldn't admit publicly he had been fooled. Now Blair needs to carry on.  To whatever.

  •  My claim to fame (none)
    I once went through the lunch line in a House of Commons cafeteria with Robin Cook.  

    I was an intern for a member of Parliament in 1996, and always ate lunch in the cafeteria--good food, at HIGHLY subsidized prices!  Anyway, he wasn't a Cabinet member yet, since the 1997 election hadn't happened yet, but he was a prominent MP, and I recognized him.  I was ahead of him in line, and he asked me what was for lunch.

    I answered, "Fish."

    That was the extent of our conversation.  :-)  But it was pretty cool to see him on TV in the years following, knowing that I'd once told him what was for lunch.

    P.S.  I also once held the door open in a basement corridor for Jack Straw, who is the present Foreign Secretary.

    P.P.S.  I almost forgot--while I had that internship, I also rode in an elevator with Ken Livingstone, the current mayor of London.  (He was an MP at the time.)

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