Monday, May 23, 2005

Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway

Christopher Hitchens is a lifelong Leftist, who nevertheless sees the logic of the War on Terror. In this article he discusses British MP George Galloway.

Mr. Galloway staunchly opposes the War on Terror and, indeed, had a mysterious cosy relationship with Saddam Hussein which many are attempting to explain via his participation in the Oil-for-Food Scandal. It is alleged that Mr. Galloway received vouchers for tens of millions of gallons of Iraqi oil, which he could then sell on the open market.

He recently testified regarding these allegations in front of the Congress of the United States. From The Weekly Standard:

EVERY JOURNALIST HAS A LIST of regrets: of stories that might have been. Somewhere on my personal list is an invitation I received several years ago, from a then-Labour member of parliament named George Galloway. Would I care, he inquired, to join him on a chartered plane to Baghdad? He was hoping to call attention to the sufferings of the Iraqi people under sanctions, and had long been an admirer of my staunch and muscular prose and my commitment to universal justice (I paraphrase only slightly). Indeed, in an article in a Communist party newspaper in 2001 he referred to me as "that great British man of letters" and "the greatest polemicist of our age."

No thanks, was my reply. I had my own worries about the sanctions, but I had also already been on an officially guided visit to Saddam's Iraq and had decided that the next time I went to that terrorized slum it would be with either the Kurdish guerrillas or the U.S. Marines. (I've since fulfilled both ambitions.)

... I asked him about his endorsement of Saddam Hussein's payment for suicide-murderers in Israel and the occupied territories. He had evidently been admirably consistent in his attention to my humble work, because he changed tone and said that this was just what he'd expect from a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay."

It takes a little more than this to wound your correspondent--I could still hold a martini without spilling it when I was "the greatest polemicist of our age" in 2001--but please note that the real thrust is contained in the word "Trotskyist." Galloway says that the worst day of his entire life was the day the Soviet Union fell. His existence since that dreadful event has involved the pathetic search for an alternative fatherland. He has recently written that, "just as Stalin industrialised the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq's own Great Leap Forward." I love the word "scale" in that sentence. I also admire the use of the word "plotted."

Senators Norm Coleman and Carl Levin began the proceedings, and staff members went through a meticulous presentation, with documents and boards, showing the paperwork of the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization and the Iraqi Oil Ministry. These were augmented by testimony from an (unnamed) "senior Saddam regime official," who had vouched for the authenticity of the provenance and the signatures. The exhibits clearly showed that pro-Saddam political figures in France and Russia, and at least one American oil company, had earned the right to profit from illegal oil-trades, and had sweetened the pot by kicking back a percentage to Saddam's personal palace-building and mass grave-digging fund.

In several cases, the documents suggested that a man named Fawaz Zureikat, a Jordanian tycoon, had been intimately involved in these transactions. Galloway's name also appears in parentheses on the Zureikat papers--perhaps as an aide-memoire to those processing them--but you must keep in mind that the material does not show transfers directly to Galloway himself; only to Zureikat, his patron and partner and friend.

After about 90 minutes of this cumulative testimony, Galloway was seated and sworn, and the humiliation began. The humiliation of the deliberative body, I mean. I once sat in the hearing room while a uniformed Oliver North hectored a Senate committee and instructed the legislative branch in its duties, and not since that day have I felt such alarm and frustration and disgust.

Galloway has learned to master the word "neocon" and the acronym "AIPAC," and he insulted the subcommittee for its deference to both of these. He took up much of his time in a demagogic attack on the lie-generated war in Iraq. He announced that he had never traded in a single barrel of oil, and he declared that he had never been a public supporter of the Saddam Hussein regime. As I had guessed he would, he made the most of the anonymity of the "senior Saddam regime official," and protested at not knowing the identity of his accuser. He improved on this by suggesting that the person concerned might now be in a cell in Abu Ghraib.

SUCH SPECULATION TO ONE SIDE, the subcommittee and its staff had a tranche of information on Galloway, and on his record for truthfulness. It would have been a simple matter for them to call him out on a number of things. First of all, and easiest, he had dared to state under oath that he had not been a defender of the Saddam regime. This, from the man who visited Baghdad after the first Gulf war and, addressing Saddam, said: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." How's that for lickspittling? And even if you make allowances for emotional public moments, you can't argue with Galloway's own autobiography, blush-makingly entitled I'm Not the Only One, which was published last spring and from which I offer the following extracts:

The state of Kuwait is "clearly a part of the greater Iraqi whole, stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion." (Kuwait existed long before Iraq had even been named.) "In my experience none of the Ba'ath leaders have displayed any hostility to Jews." The post-Gulf war massacres of Kurds and Shia in 1991 were part of "a civil war that involved massive violence on both sides."

Discussing Saddam's direct payments to the families of suicide-murderers--the very question he had refused to answer when I asked him--he once again lapsed into accidental accuracy, as with the Stalin comparison, and said that "as the martyred know, he put Iraq's money where his mouth was." That's true enough: It was indeed Iraq's money, if a bit more than Saddam's mouth.

Hitchens goes on to describe how Galloway had opposed the Hussein regime, and it's thuggery, during the 70's and 80's, when America supported it in the war against Iran. He goes on to note:

But mark the sequel. It must have been in full knowledge, then, of that repression, and that genocide, and of the invasion of Kuwait and all that ensued from it, that George Galloway shifted his position and became an outright partisan of the Iraqi Baath. There can be only two explanations for this, and they do not by any means exclude one another. The first explanation, which would apply to many leftists of different stripes, is that anti-Americanism simply trumps everything, and that once Saddam Hussein became an official enemy of Washington the whole case was altered. Given what Galloway has said at other times, in defense of Slobodan Milosevic for example, it is fair to assume that he would have taken such a position for nothing: without, in other words, the hope of remuneration.

There was another (reason), however, that was, relatively speaking, nonpolitical. During the imposition of international U.N. sanctions on Iraq, and the creation of the Oil-for-Food system, it swiftly became known to a class of middlemen that lavish pickings were to be had by anyone who could boast an insider contact in Baghdad. This much is well known and has been solidly established, by the Volcker report and by the Senate subcommittee.

During the material time, George Galloway received hard-to-get visas for Iraq on multiple occasions, and admits to at least two personal meetings with Saddam Hussein and more than ten with his "dear friend" Tariq Aziz. But as far as is known by me, he confined his activity on these occasions to pro-regime propaganda, with Iraqi crowds often turned out by the authorities to applaud him, and provide a useful platform in both parliament and the press back home.

However, his friend and business partner, Fawaz Zureikat, didn't concern himself so much with ideological questions (though he did try to set up a broadcasting service for Saddam). He was, as Galloway happily testified, involved in a vast range of deals in Baghdad. But Galloway's admitted knowledge of this somehow does not extend to Zureikat's involvement in any Oil-for-Food transactions, which are now prima facie established in black and white by the subcommittee's report. Galloway, indeed, has arranged to be adequately uninformed about this for some time now: It is two years since he promised the BBC that he would establish and make known the facts about his Zureikat connection.

Here then are these facts, as we know them without his help. In 1998, Galloway founded something, easily confused with a charity, known as the Mariam Appeal. The ostensible aim of the appeal was to provide treatment in Britain for a 4-year-old Iraqi girl named Mariam Hamza, who suffered from leukemia. An announced secondary aim was to campaign against the sanctions then in force, and still a third, somewhat occluded, aim was to state that Mariam Hamza and many others like her had contracted cancer from the use of depleted-uranium shells by American forces in the first Gulf war. A letter exists, on House of Commons writing paper, signed by Galloway and appointing Fawaz Zureikat as his personal representative in Iraq, on any and all matters connected to the Mariam Appeal.

Although it was briefly claimed by one of its officers that the Appeal raised most of its money from ordinary citizens, Galloway has since testified that the bulk of the revenue came from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates and from a Saudi prince. He has also conceded that Zureikat was a very generous donor. The remainder of the funding is somewhat opaque, since the British Charity Commissioners, who monitor such things, began an investigation in 2003. This investigation was inconclusive.

The commissioners were able to determine that the Mariam Appeal, which had used much of its revenue for political campaigning, had not but ought to have been legally registered as a charity. They were not able to determine much beyond this, because it was then announced that the account books of the Appeal had been removed, first to Amman, Jordan, and then to Baghdad. This is the first charity or proto-charity in history to have disposed of its records in that way.

TO THIS DAY, George Galloway defiantly insists, as he did before the senators, that he has "never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf." As a Clintonian defense this has its admirable points: I myself have never seen a kilowatt, but I know that a barrel is also a unit and not an entity. For the rest, his defense would be more impressive if it answered any charge that has actually been made.

Galloway is not supposed by anyone to have been an oil trader. He is asked, simply, to say what he knows about his chief fundraiser, nominee, and crony. And when asked this, he flatly declines to answer. We are therefore invited by him to assume that, having earlier acquired a justified reputation for loose bookkeeping in respect of "charities," he switched sides in Iraq, attached himself to a regime known for giving and receiving bribes, appointed a notorious middleman as his envoy, kept company with the corrupt inner circle of the Baath party, helped organize a vigorous campaign to retain that party in power, and was not a penny piece the better off for it.

I think I believe this as readily as any other reasonable and objective person would. If you wish to pursue the matter with Galloway himself, you will have to find the unlisted number for his villa in Portugal.