Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat

Who should we really thank for the British House of Commons vote against attacking Syria?

Over at No Right Turn, I/S has a post up hailing the UK House of Commons vote against military action in Syria and giving Tony Blair the credit for it. I'll leave it to the comment thread as to whether he's right to be happy Britain won't be joining any military action against Syria, but I do want to call him out for saying we should thank Blair for it happening.

I/S says Blair ultimately is responsible for the vote for two reasons. First, he established the precedent of the Commons approving military action at the time of the invasion of Iraq. Second, he so manipulated and twisted the case for that war that he made it near impossible to trust future Governments' claims that military action is "necessary".

I'll give I/S the second point, but on the first he's managed to airbrush from history the true hero of the vote on the Iraq war - Robin Cook. In case our memories need to be refreshed, Cook was the Labour Government's leader in the House of Commons, and one of the more trenchant critics of the decision to go to invade Iraq.

Here is how Cook closed his speech in the House of Commons, announcing that he would resign from the Government rather than vote in favour of that military action:

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.

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.

From the start of the present crisis, I have insisted, as Leader of the House, on the right of this place to vote on whether Britain should go to war.

It has been a favourite theme of commentators that this House no longer occupies a central role in British politics.

Nothing could better demonstrate that they are wrong than for this House to stop the commitment of troops in a war that has neither international agreement nor domestic support.

I intend to join those tomorrow night who will vote against military action now. It is for that reason, and for that reason alone, and with a heavy heart, that I resign from the government.

This principle - that it was "the right of this place [i.e. the House of Commons] to vote on whether Britain should go to war" - was one that he held so strongly, and his action in insisting on a vote on the Iraq war was one of which he was so proud, that his family literally carved it in stone. The headstone on his grave (he died in 2005) reads:

I may not have succeeded in halting the war, but I did secure the right of Parliament to decide on war.

So, sure - as Prime Minister, Blair ultimately had to consent to allowing the Commons a vote on going to war. But the true person we should thank for establishing that precedent is Robin Cook.

Lest we forget.