Last week, the biggest legislative rebellion of Tony Blair's tenure sent a clear message not only to the prime minister but also to President Bush: 199 members of Parliament -- 121 from Blair's Labor Party -- voted for a motion declaring "the case for military action against Iraq as yet unproven." The message was this: Parliament and the British people wish to get off the automatic escalator to war set in motion by Bush. We wish to retain the weapon of war for use only in appropriate circumstances.
The British people have not turned their backs on the United States. They have not gone soft on terrorism or soft on Saddam Hussein. But we are simply not convinced that a war in Iraq now would be right or just or necessary. And if our prime minister took us into war simply to meet Bush's timetable, he could easily be overthrown.
During the debate in the House of Commons last week, Blair promised that he would come back to Parliament for a final vote on the war after the U.N. resolution was considered in New York. I believe that between now and then, the rebellion will grow in Parliament. I believe it is unlikely that he will get a Labor majority for war unless several things happen: The U.N. must authorize war; there must be clear evidence from the U.N. weapons inspectors of a serious breach of U.N. resolutions by Hussein; that breach must be such an immediate threat to other countries that it would be dangerous not to overthrow Hussein by war.
Blair's promise to put the decision before the House of Commons before committing Britain's forces to battle against Iraq is a big change for our country. The U.S. has a system of shared war-making powers and responsibilities between the executive and the legislature. Our head of government has always been able to take us into war on his own authority, like an old-fashioned king or queen.
Blair can play at being Henry V, although unlike Henry V he does not have to lead our troops in person. But Parliament now has decided that this medieval system is not good enough. It insisted on a vote.
Why are Labor members of Parliament disagreeing with their own party leader over Iraq? Because we are a democracy, and our constituents have been telling us about their doubts over the need for a war now. The British people do not understand why -- after more than 10 years of containment -- Bush decided that it is now necessary to overthrow Hussein by war.
The British people hate Hussein, but they need more evidence that he is a real and immediate danger. To them, war in Iraq looks "made in the Bush White House." Its motives, its methods, its intended results all reflect the wishes of a tiny coterie around the president and few others. It was never British policy to go to war against Hussein. Our government simply has not convinced us that the new policy reflects British interests.
The U.S. is Britain's greatest friend, but best friends give candid advice. Our advice is that war is the ultimate weapon -- it must not be used until all other means have been exhausted.
We will go to war shoulder to shoulder with our American brothers and sisters whenever it is necessary -- and not before.