Tuesday, March 18, 2003

From the resignation speech of Robin Cook, who stepped down as leader of the House of Commons in the UK to protest the Iraq situation.

"The threshold for war should always be high. None of us can predict the death toll of civilians in the forthcoming bombardment of Iraq. But the US warning of a bombing campaign that will "shock and awe" makes it likely that casualties will be numbered at the very least in the thousands. Iraq's military strength is now less than half its size at the time of the last Gulf war. Ironically, it is only because Iraq's military forces are so weak that we can even contemplate invasion. And some claim his forces are so weak, so demoralised and so badly equipped that the war will be over in days.

We cannot base our military strategy on the basis that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a seri ous threat. Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of that term - namely, a credible device capable of being delivered against strategic city targets. It probably does still have biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions. But it has had them since the 1980s when the US sold Saddam the anthrax agents and the then British government built his chemical and munitions factories.

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? And why is it necessary to resort to war this week while Saddam's ambition to complete his weapons programme is frustrated by the presence of UN inspectors?"

On the one hand, Saddam is so weak that we are predicting a quick and easy military victory. On the other hand, we are being told that Saddam is an imminent threat to U.S. security and therefore we must embark on a pre-emptive attack with or without the support of international allies.

Last night in his speech, Bush spoke of a "broad coalition" that will use military force to disarm Saddam. But that coalition includes just two nations - the U.S. and Great Britain - Spain is not even providing any troops, just diplomatic cover such that it is. Bush went on to criticize France for its opposition to the war, but Cook makes it clear that France is not alone in its opposition.

"In recent days France has been at the receiving end of the most vitriolic criticism. However, it is not France alone that wants more time for inspections. Germany is opposed to us. Russia is opposed to us. Indeed at no time have we signed up even the minimum majority to carry a second resolution. We delude ourselves about the degree of international hostility to military action if we imagine that it is all the fault of President Chirac.
The harsh 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 member. Not Nato. Not the EU. And now not the security council. To end up in such diplomatic isolation is a serious reverse. Only a year ago we and the US were part of a coalition against terrorism which was wider and more diverse than I would previously have thought possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition. "

I think that "diplomatic miscalculations" is putting it rather mildly.

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