Galloway's Frankness Invigorates, Shocks Americans
By John Nichols
Times" -- -- Americans who are familiar only with the almost always empty words - and often empty heads - of this country's political leaders can be a little shocked by George Galloway's pronouncements.
The British parliamentarian, who came of age in the brawling political landscape of his native Scotland, where a quick wit and a savage debating style are prerequisites for electoral success, does not mince words in the manner that most American pols do.
Consider Galloway's statement in response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath:
"The scenes from the stricken city almost defy belief. Many, many thousands of people left to die in what is the richest, most powerful country on Earth. This obscenity is as far from a natural disaster as George Bush and the U.S. elite are from the suffering masses of New Orleans. The images of Bush luxuriating at his ranch and of his secretary of state shopping for $7,000 shoes while disaster swamped the U.S. Gulf Coast will haunt this administration.
"In the most terrible way imaginable they show to the whole world that it is not only the lives of people in Baghdad, Fallujah and Palestine that Bush holds cheap. It is also his own citizens - the black and poor people left behind with no food, water or shelter. This is not simply manslaughter through incompetence, though the White House's incompetence abounds. It is murder - for Bush was warned four years ago of the threat to New Orleans, as surely as he was warned of the disaster that would come of his war on Iraq. ...
"His is the America of Halliburton, the M-16 rifle, the cluster bomb, the gated communities of the rich and of the billionaires he grew up with in Texas. There is another America. It is the land of the poor of Louisiana, it is the land of the young men and women economically conscripted into the military. It is the land of the glorious multiethnic mix that was New Orleans, it is the land of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and of great struggles for justice."
That's not exactly a politically correct response to the crisis, at least not in George Bush's America of muted debate and sappy bipartisanship. But it is one that will ring true with a significant proportion of the American population, as have Galloway's pronouncements with regard to the war in Iraq.
Galloway, who will appear at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus, became an instant hero to many opponents of the U.S. occupation of Iraq when the previously little-known member of the British Parliament flew to Washington to appear before the Senate's Permanent Committee on Investigations.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., a headline-grabbing conservative who is trying to position himself for a presidential run, had accused Galloway and other European figures of opposing the Iraq war because they had received "oil for food" program kickbacks from Saddam Hussein. In fact, Galloway had successfully challenged the same accusations in Britain and gone on to win a stunning victory in that country's May 5 election. So Galloway jumped at the chance to go before Coleman's committee, which he did in a remarkable May 17 appearance.
After rebutting Coleman's charges - "Mr. Chairman, I am not now, nor have I ever been an oil trader, and neither has anyone been on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf." - Galloway turned the tables on his accuser, tearing into the senator with a fiery attack on the war and its proponents:
"Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed 1 million Iraqis, most of them children. Most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to be born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies," Galloway informed the fool on Capitol Hill.
"I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaida. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning.
"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong, and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies."
Coleman couldn't get out of the hearing room quick enough. The senator had met more than his match, and he quickly changed topics.
For his part, Galloway was stunned by Coleman's lack of preparation for the confrontation.
"The senator's performance was pitiful, embarrassing. He did not know the first thing about the matters he was raising," says Galloway, who has clashed with some of the ablest legislators on the planet. "When I was told that Mr. Norm Coleman has presidential ambitions, I thought: I fear for America. I fear for the world. This man is not prepared to be a senator, let alone the leader of the most powerful country in the world."
If Galloway was dismayed by the quality of American politicians, he was heartened by the response of the American people. He received more than 20,000 e-mails from Americans in just the first few days after his appearance before the committee. So high was the interest that he has now penned a book on the incident, "Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington" (The New Press), and his tour this month of the U.S. is drawing unprecedented crowds. (More than 1,000 people attended his debate this week in New York with war backer Christopher Hitchens.)
Galloway is enjoying the chance to expound on his views before American audiences, even if he is sometimes frustrated by the determination of his critics to paint him as the Beast of Britain.
He laughs at the claim that he is a "friend" of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, noting that he met Hussein only twice - "exactly the same number of times that (Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld met him," Galloway notes. "The difference," he adds, "is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns."
Galloway's impression of Saddam is far more nuanced than that of American politicians or commentators. But his is hardly a favorable view.
"I found him to be a man who is capable of rational and irrational actions, which I think is the nature of dictatorship," he explained.
To accusations that his militant opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq means that he supports terrorism, Galloway responds that he is opposed to the killing of innocents by any group or any means - "be it a suicide bomber or a bomb dropped from an airplane flying overhead." He rejects the notion that the United States or Great Britain ought to decide whether the insurgents in Iraq are "legitimate" representatives of popular sentiment in that country, arguing instead, "It is the height of imperialism to suggest that the Iraqi insurgency is legitimate or illegitimate."
What he will suggest, however, is that the only way to sort out the mess in Iraq is for occupying forces to exit the country. To those who tell him that withdrawal of foreign troops would lead to chaos, Galloway replies, "From what I see, there is quite a lot of chaos there now."
That's Galloway. Quick of wit and unapologetic, he is the antidote to the American politician.
After being expelled from British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party, he formed a new party, Respect, and then beat one of Blair's closest allies in parliament. He decries the stilted debate and the "corrupt duopoly" of American politics, which sees many Democrats echoing the lines of a Republican president.
But Galloway takes his anti-imperialism seriously. When asked whether he thinks American war foes should work within the two major parties or go the independent or third-party route, he says, "It's not for me to say whether you need a new party in the United States. We determined in Britain that an alternative was needed. What I can say is that the whole world has suffered because the debate in the United States has been inadequate. One of the reasons I am here is to stir it up."
That George Galloway will surely do.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times.
© 2005 The Capital Times
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