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Gorgeous George Takes on the World

Fiery British MP George Galloway speaks out about mobilizing opposition to the war, his new book, and the U.S. role in global politics.
 
 
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George Galloway is well-known as one of the most outspoken critics of the war in Iraq. Since the war began in 2003, Galloway, a longtime member of Parliament, has harshly criticized both the Bush administration and Prime Minister Tony Blair. In an interview on Abu-Dhabi TV last November, Galloway said, "The people who invaded and destroyed Iraq and have murdered more than a million Iraqi people by sanctions and war will burn in Hell in the hell-fires, and their name in history will be branded as killers and war criminals for all time."

Galloway's candor has gotten him in a great deal of trouble over the years. Back in 2003, he was expelled from the Labour Party after publicly calling Bush and Blair liars and wolves, and stating that "the best thing British troops can do is refuse to obey orders." Then, on the day of the London bombings, Galloway lashed out in the House of Commons, contending that the terrorist attacks were a direct, foreseeable result of Britain's involvement in the war.

Eighty-nine of our own boys, including the son of Rose Gentle from Glasgow, 19-year-old Gordon, were sent to die in Iraq on a pack of lies. ... [Our Ministers] have absolutely no grasp of the gravity of the situation, or of how unpopular their stand has become outside these walls. ... The honorable Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), in an otherwise fine speech, described today's events as 'unpredictable.' They were not remotely unpredictable. Our own security services predicted them and warned the government that if we did this we would be at greater risk from terrorist attacks such as the one that we have suffered this morning.

While Galloway has devoted the majority of his 30 years in politics to advocating human rights, specifically for Iraqi citizens, his career has also been rife with political scandal. Aside from infidelities and indiscretions, Galloway's frankness has made him the center of many political controversies. After calling for an end to the sanctions brought against the Iraqis for years, Galloway appeared with Saddam Hussein and said, "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." (Galloway has since stated that he was referring to the Iraqi people as a whole, and that he regrets that statement.) Galloway's support for Iraqi rights is also questionable because of his friendship with Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister under Hussein. While Galloway is certainly one of the most liberal Parliamentary figures, he is also pro-life and staunchly pro-Palestinian, which fits nicely into his anti-imperialist philosophy.

Perhaps the greatest controversy to plague Galloway lately has been his alleged involvement in the Oil-for-Food program. In May, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations accused Galloway of receiving allocations worth 20 million barrels of oil between 2000 and 2003. Galloway's response to these allegations was admirable and garnered him worldwide attention and respect.

With a tone he claims was inspired by Rocky Marciano, Galloway went after the Senate subcommittee. He told Sen. Norm Coleman, R-MN: "Now I know that standards have slipped in the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice." Galloway added, "I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question, without ever having contacted me, without ever written to me or telephoned me, without any attempt to contact me whatsoever. And you call that justice."

Galloway's testimony before the Senate subcommittee sparked the publication of a new book, Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington, as well as a book tour, in which he debated polemicist Christopher Hitchens and will appear with Jane Fonda in her first-ever appearance against the Iraq War. While in New York, Galloway sat down with AlterNet to discuss his new political stature.

President Bush's approval rating right now is at an all-time low, and there's growing unrest in this country over the war in Iraq. What is the situation like in the U.K.?

The British Prime Minister's rating are at an all-time low too, both in the country as a whole, and, perhaps more significantly, within his own party. Unlike President Bush, he has a successor all dressed up with nowhere to go -- the Finance Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer has already measured the curtains at 10 Downing Street and is waiting for the chance to move in.

His problem is that if Mr. Blair's popularity continues to sink, then by the time he becomes Prime Minister, Labour may already be on its way to an electoral defeat, especially if the conservatives choose a credible leader, like Kenneth Clarke, the former Finance Minister under Mrs. Thatcher who was one of the very few conservatives to oppose the war in Iraq.

So that will be a real conundrum if we go into the next election and the conservatives have an anti-war leader while the Labour Party goes into the election defending its current policies on the war.

Is there other resistance to the war right now in Britain?

There's a big anti-war movement, but in Parliament, there is quiet contentment about the course on which we are set. And that's the truly remarkable thing, that politics in Britain -- and in the United States for that matter -- is conducted inside of a bubble. In Britain, the boys inside that bubble don't really get what's going on outside, and appear incapable of responding to it. Thus, the political system itself becomes steadily discredited.

In Britain, we have this unique phenomenon that fewer people are voting than ever before and more people are marching than ever before. I speak at Parliament meetings every single day, and the audiences are getting bigger and bigger, yet if you called an election in one of these districts, hardly anyone would vote. The people say, "What's the point? It's Tweedledee and Tweddledum." [Laughs] This must sound familiar.

In this country, what do you think we need to do to encourage more resistance?

I think the military families phenomenon is a very important development. I think the Cindy Sheehan thing will maybe be looked upon as a turning point. In the anti-Vietnam War campaign, the military families and the veterans themselves played a decisive role in sapping the will of the political class from being able to throw more and more men into the charnel house of Vietnam. I think that the same must be encouraged here, in the Iraq context.

It's certainly happening in Britain. A hundred British soldiers have been killed -- compared to your two thousand that might seem like a drop in the ocean -- but a hundred have been killed. And twenty-five of those ... in other words a quarter of those killed, their families have come out against the war, condemning Blair for the deaths of their sons. If that kind of ratio could be achieved in the U.S., if people begin deserting, as I understand now they are beginning to do, or refuse orders from their officers -- I understand people from Louisiana and Alabama were refusing to carry out orders in Iraq and demanded to be sent back home to rescue their own relatives because of the incompetence of the administration during the hurricane -- all of these are developments which will be important.

The anti-war movement has to be inclusive, ecumenical in its spirit and style of work. Nobody needs to pass a blood test to be in the anti-war movement.

Is that part of the reason you agreed to speak with Cindy Sheehan in the rally in Washington?

I was very honored to be asked to do that. I think she is a very courageous person who has been cruelly treated -- first by the death of her son, and second by the smears from people like Hitchens -- who seek to make fun of her grief. This is shameful.

The military families are not the only part of the anti-war movement, but it can be a very important spearhead for the movement. What I'm really talking about is the need for the anti-war movement to go mainstream. It can't be a left-wing movement, though there will be left-wing people in it ... they must approach their work from the standpoint that we are recruiting conservatives, liberals, leftists, trade unionists, bishops, everyone that we can garner in this great call for withdrawal in the occupation. It requires a style a style of work that the American left needs to learn just as the British left did.

What do you think that would take?

Well, for example, I am a partisan for the Palestinian cause. But if there are supporters of Israel out there who are against the American occupation in Iraq, I want to embrace them because it's one thing at a time. I'll argue with them about Palestine whilst I'm on the march with them in the withdrawal from Iraq. You don't have to be against capitalism to be against war. You don't have to be against globalization to be against the occupation of Iraq. If we set preconditions, then we guarantee a small movement. That's not to say the American anti-war movement is small; it's not, and it has achievements to its name. It's just going to have to get a whole lot bigger.

What do you think of the growing tension between the U.S. and Iran, and now Venezuela as well?

I understand that President Chavez arrived today without his security detail, all of whom were refused visas, by the United States. I have argued that we are going to have to move the United Nations from New York. We can't go on like this; there will have to be, like the Vatican, a place that is extra-territorial. We cannot have George Bush deciding that if the President of Venezuela wants to come here, he'll have to do so without his security. Or, as has happened in the past, President Arafat was refused a visa to come to the United Nations. So, this is a big choice for New Yorkers. If you want the U.N. to stay here, then you have to stop this kind of thing.

President Chavez, who Pat Robertson publicly called for his murder (which won't strike him off the Christmas card list of the White House), is in my opinion one of the greatest men of the last half-century. Mr. Bush thinks he's the devil incarnate. Well, we just have to face the fact that there are leaders we like, and leaders we dislike, that's the way of the world. We cannot choose the leadership of Venezuela, we have no right to; it has nothing to do with us. We wouldn't accept foreign countries determining the leadership of Great Britain or America, so why should we try to make them adopt a leadership that is to our liking?

What of our relationship with Iran?

The paradox is that the United States' policy towards Iraq has made Iran much more powerful. Iran is now in position to control events in Iraq. If Iran gave the order to the pro-Iranian Shiite political leaders to make life hotter for the occupying forces in Iraq, they could do so overnight. Actually, the British would pay the greatest price for that because Iran's new power in Iraq is largely in the South, where the British forces are. In that sense, the British forces are one fatwa away from a disaster in the South there.

It's unlikely the U.S. will invade Iran. I think the men in white coats would take George Bush away to the lunatic asylum before they would allow him to do that. But that doesn't mean that Israel wouldn't attack Iran.

The way they attacked Iraq?

Yes, and if Israel attacks Iran, it's the same thing so far as the Iranian people are concerned. Because if they attack Iran, they will do so with missiles and airplanes supplied by the United States, free of charge. So, there will be one hell of a blowback if there is any attack on Iran.

You have long advocated rights for Iraqi citizens and have fought against sanctions, but at the same time, you've been a friend of Tariq Aziz for years. How do you explain that contradiction?

Over a period of time I became very friendly with him, and I came to admire him. I wish he had been the leader of Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein. He is a very sophisticated, highly intellectual, highly political man, a Christian, who understands the West and has traveled widely in the West. He was a regular visitor here and had long discussions with Presidents here as far back as Reagan. He is widely respected by everyone who's dealt with him. I believe if the Iraqi leadership had listened to Tariq Aziz, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in. They wouldn't have invaded Iran. They wouldn't have occupied Kuwait.

What sort of recommendations did Aziz make as Deputy Prime Minister?

He didn't explicitly tell me, it would've struck him as disloyal to do so. But I'm reasonably certain that Saddam did not consult anyone before invading Kuwait. I know that Aziz considered that invasion to be a grotesque blunder and the failure to withdraw an even bigger blunder.

Do you think he was consulted when Saddam ordered the slaughter of his own people?

No, I haven't seen any evidence that he had any knowledge at all. And the American administration seems to be treating him very differently from the other prisoners in Iraq, which indicates that they think that too. He's the only prisoner whose family has been allowed to visit.

Can we talk a little bit about your book?

I know from the e-mails that I've had, and the interviews and talks shows, that my appearance before the Senate achieved a kind of almost iconic status, way beyond what it objectively deserved. It was a good performance, but not my best. It was an important meeting, but not so important in the grand scheme of things. It was a moment that somebody got close to American power and told them the truth in public, and seen by people all over the world.

So, this book is worth it for the transcript of the Senate hearing alone. It's a souvenir of a day that might be looked back on as a day that took us forward. I wanted to burst the bubble, and for a day at least, I burst it. It can be quickly reformed, but having been burst once, it can be burst again.

Zack Pelta-Heller is a graduate student at The New School and a regular contributor to AlterNet.