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Profile: Robin Cook

Positions that Robin Cook has held:

  • British foreign secretary

Quotes

September 24, 2002

“No 10 believed in the intelligence [summarized in the September 24 dossier] because they desperately wanted it to be true. Their sin was not one of bad faith but of evangelical certainty. They selected for inclusion only the scraps of intelligence that fitted the government’s case and gave them an edge that was justifiable. The net result was a gross distortion.” [Cook, 8/2/2004; Independent, 10/6/2003]

Associated Events

February 6, 2003

“Tony was far too clever to allege that there was a real link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. But he deliberately crafted a suggestive phrasing which in the minds of many viewers must have created an impression, and was designed to create the impression, that British troops were going to Iraq to fight a threat from Al-Qaeda.” [Cook, 8/2/2004; Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003]

Associated Events

February 15, 2003

“The latest report by Hans Blix registers a lot of progress in co-operation from Iraq, fails to identify any evidence of weapons of mass destruction and expresses confidence that, with time, more progress can be made. Far from being welcome news to Tony, this will be his nightmare come true. The truth is that he does not want the UN inspections to work. He needs them in order to prove that Saddam will not co-operate and that he is therefore justified in going to war as Sancho Panza to George Bush’s Don Quixote.” [Cook, 8/2/2004; Independent, 10/6/2003]

Associated Events

March 5, 2003

“The most revealing exchange came when we talked about Saddam’s arsenal. I told him [Tony Blair], ‘It’s clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?’” [Cook, 8/2/2004; Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003]

Associated Events

Late May 2003

“Chemical and biological weapons have a limited shelf life. All the materials that Saddam had in 1991 (at the end of the gulf war) would have degraded to the point of being useless long before 2003, whether or not he had destroyed them.” [Newsweek, 5/30/2003]

Associated Events

June 2003

“When they looked at intelligence, they weren’t looking at intelligence to try to get a balanced judgment, a guide to policy, out of it, they were looking to intelligence to support a conclusion they had already come to—which is that they were going to go to war.” [New York Times, 6/9/2003]

Associated Events

September 24, 2003

“I was surpised that there was so little new material in it [the September 2002 British Dossier on Iraq]. There is no new evidence that I could find of a dramatic increase in threat requiring urgent invasion.” [Cook, 8/2/2004; Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003]

Associated Events

Robin Cook was a participant or observer in the following events:

Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 2003, will later say that “al-Qaeda” was originally the name of a database. In a 2005 article, Cook will write that bin Laden was “a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the ‘80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda, literally ‘the database,’ was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujaheddin who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.” Cook will give no explanation as to how he might know this. [Guardian, 7/8/2005] Al-Qaeda the organization will be founded in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988).

Entity Tags: Robin Cook, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

During a British cabinet meeting, Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a discussion about Iraq. During the discussion, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook mentions that most of the Arab world considers Ariel Sharon, rather than Saddam Hussein, to be the largest threat to peace in the Middle East. Describing the subsequent reaction to his comments, Cook later writes in his diary: “Somewhat to my surprise this line provides a round of ‘hear, hearing’ from colleagues, which is the nearest I heard to mutiny in the cabinet.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] During the meeting, Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, says “We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush.” [Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Patricia Hewitt, Robin Cook, David Blunkett

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

British Foreign Minister Robin Cook is personally given an intelligence briefing by John Scarlett, head of the British joint intelligence committee. Cook later says in his diary that Scarlett’s summary was “shorn of the political slant with which No. 10 encumbers any intelligence assessment.” After the meeting with Scarlett, Cook concludes that “Saddam probably does not have weapons of mass destruction in the sense of weapons that could be used against large-scale civilian targets.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Robin Cook, John Scarlett

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to Robin Cook, Tony Blair says, “Left to himself, Bush would have gone to war in January. No, not January, but back in September.” [Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Robin Cook

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Leader of House of Commons Robin Cook meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has the “most revealing” discussion about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons arsenal. During the exchange Blair essentially acknowledges that Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction that could be used against his enemies like the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003] Cook says to Blair: “It’s clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?” Blair responds, “Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: John Scarlett, Robin Cook, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Robin Cook.Robin Cook. [Source: BBC]House of Commons leader and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook resigns from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet, in protest over the imminent invasion of Iraq. Cook announces his decision as the cabinet holds an emergency meeting at Downing Street. Cook says after his resignation is announced: “It is with regret I have today resigned from the cabinet. I can’t accept collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support.” Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett says she respects Cook’s decision to resign, and that everyone in the cabinet, including Blair himself, has anxieties about the upcoming invasion. However, Beckett says, “[N]one of the rest of us feel that they are enough to make us judge that the government is doing the wrong thing.” [BBC, 3/17/2003]
Resignation Speech - Cook retains his seat in the House of Commons. In his resignation speech to the House, Cook says in part, “I cannot support a war without international agreement or domestic support.” France, Russia, and Germany, who are battling to give UN inspectors more time to operate inside Iraq, cannot be blamed for stirring up what Cook calls “the degree of international hostility” towards the invasion. “The 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 partner—not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the [UN] Security Council. To end up in such diplomatic weakness is a serious reverse.” Unlike the US, Britain cannot “afford to go it alone” in the international community. “Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules,” he says. “Yet tonight the international partnerships most important to us are weakened: the European Union is divided; the Security Council is in stalemate. Those are heavy casualties of a war in which a shot has yet to be fired.”
Containment Worked - For himself, Cook says: “For four years as foreign secretary I was partly responsible for the western strategy of containment [of Saddam Hussein and Iraq]. Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and halted Saddam’s medium and long-range missiles programs. Iraq’s military strength is now less than half its size than 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 its invasion.”
If Iraq Is a Danger, Why Would an Invasion Be So Easy? - It would be a mistake to assume that an invasion will be an easy and relatively bloodless affair: “Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam’s forces are so weak, so demoralized and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days. We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.”
No Weapons of Mass Destruction - “Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term,” Cook says, “namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British government approved 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? Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam’s ambition to complete his weapons program is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?”
Comparing Iraq to Israel - Some have said Iraq has had 12 years to comply with UN resolutions demanding disarmament, Cook notes, but goes on to say that Israel has had over 30 years to comply with UN resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Palestinian territories, and has not yet done so. “We do not express the same impatience with the persistent refusal of Israel to comply,” he says. “Britain’s positive role in the Middle East does not redress the strong sense of injustice throughout the Muslim world at what it sees as one rule for the allies of the US and another rule for the rest. Nor is our credibility helped by the appearance that our partners in Washington are less interested in disarmament than they are in regime change in Iraq. That explains why any evidence that inspections may be showing progress is greeted in Washington not with satisfaction but with consternation: it reduces the case for war.”
Different Outcome under President Gore - Cook says, “What has come to trouble me most over past weeks is the suspicion that if the hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way and [2000 US presidential candidate] Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops.”
Conclusion - “The longer that I have served in this place, the greater the respect I have for the good sense and collective wisdom of the British people,” Cook says. “On Iraq, I believe that the prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and present danger to Britain. They want inspections to be given a chance, and they suspect that they are being pushed too quickly into conflict by a US administration with an agenda of its own. Above all, they are uneasy at Britain going out on a limb on a military adventure without a broader international coalition and against the hostility of many of our traditional allies.” Cook is troubled that the House of Commons has never voted on whether or not to commit troops to Iraq, and he calls on Parliament to “stop the commitment of troops in a war that has neither international agreement nor domestic support.” [BBC, 3/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Robin Cook, Tony Blair, United Nations Security Council, Margaret Beckett, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. [Independent, 5/30/2003]
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” [Washington Times, 5/30/2003]
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. [Associated Press, 5/30/2003]
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 131-133]

Entity Tags: Vanity Fair, Paul Wolfowitz, Robin Cook, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, David Usbourne, Joseph Biden, Niels Helveg Petersen, Sam Tanenhaus, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Robin Cook (see March 17-18, 2003) publishes portions of a diary he had kept when he was Tony Blair’s foreign minister. The published memoirs reveal—among other things—that Blair had intentionally misled the British population. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] The diary reveals how before the war intelligence provided to Cook by British intelligence chief John Scarlett indicated that Saddam Hussein probably did not have weapons of mass destruction that could be used to attack the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] Cook’s entries also show that before the war, Blair did not believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be used to attack the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] Additionally, the diary shows that Tony Blair ignored the “large number of ministers who spoke up against the war.” He says that the officials in the foreign ministry were consistently opposed to the invasion of Iraq. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Robin Cook, Tony Blair, John Scarlett

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The 2005 NPT Review Conference, held once every five years to review and extend the implementation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968), is an unusually contentious affair, and the US is at the center of the imbroglio. After the 2000 NPT Review Conference (see Late May, 2000), the US, under George W. Bush, refused to join in calls to implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT—see September 10, 1996). The US’s recalcitrance is, if anything, magnified five years later. Many representatives of the NPT signatories focus their ire upon the US, even though two signatories, Iran and North Korea, are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “violating either the spirit or the letter of the treaty” in developing their own nuclear weapons. Other nations send their foreign ministers to the conference, and in turn the US could have been expected to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (In 1995 and 2000, the US had sent, respectively, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to represent the US.) Instead, the US sends State Department functionary Stephen Rademaker. Not only is Rademaker’s lesser rank a studied insult to the conference, Rademaker himself is an ardent conservative and a protege of arms control opponent John Bolton. Rademaker enters the conference prepared to use the forum to browbeat Iran and North Korea; instead, he finds himself defending the US’s intransigence regarding the CTBT. The New Agenda Coalition, made up of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, and New Zealand—all allies of the US—focuses on “the troubling development that some nuclear-weapon states are researching or even planning to develop new or significantly modify existing warheads,” a Bush administration priority (see May 1, 2001 and December 13, 2001). “These actions have the potential to create the conditions for a new nuclear arms race.” Even Japan, usually a solid US ally, says that all nuclear-armed states should take “further steps toward nuclear disarmament.” Canada, the closest of US allies both in policy and geography, is more blunt, with its representative saying, “If governments simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never build an edifice of international cooperation and confidence in the security realm.” And outside the conference, former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook lambasts the US in an op-ed entitled “America’s Broken Unclear Promises Endanger Us All,” blasting the Bush administration for its belief that “obligations under the nonproliferation treaty are mandatory for other nations and voluntary for the US.” For his part, Rademaker says just before the conference, “We are not approaching this review conference from the cynical perspective of, we are going to toss a few crumbs to the rest of the world, and, by doing that, try to buy goodwill or bribe countries into agreeing to the agenda that we think they should focus on rather than some other agenda.” In 2008, Scoblic will interpret Rademaker’s statement: “In other words, the administration was not going to engage in diplomacy even if it would encourage other states to see things our way—which only meant that it was quite certain they never would.” [United Nations, 5/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 277-280]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Robin Cook, Stephen Rademaker, US Department of State, Madeleine Albright

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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