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Doing the right wing's dirty work

By Alan Maass | October 7, 2005 | Page 3

IT WAS no surprise when Christopher Hitchens and his fellow neo-cons slandered British antiwar leader George Galloway during his North American speaking tour in September. But some of the ugliest attacks on Galloway came from liberals--namely, journalist Greg Palast and LA Weekly commentator Marc Cooper.

These hatchet jobs, directed at the best-known antiwar figure in Britain, were obviously designed to discourage people from turning out to hear Galloway speak.

But they were also about something more--trying to impose political conformity on the antiwar movement by attempting to marginalize a figure from the left, in particular, on the question of how the U.S. occupation has been opposed in Iraq.

For his part, Palast began his potty-mouthed outbursts with discredited allegations about Galloway's relationship to the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, as well as the Mariam Appeal, an organization that Galloway co-founded to oppose the United Nations sanctions against Iraq responsible for the deaths of more than half a million children under the age of five.

Palast didn't bother with facts. On the contrary, he claimed at one point that the British Charity Commission's investigation of the Miriam Appeal "excoriated" Galloway for missing funds. The opposite is the case. "The commission's thorough inquiry found no evidence to suggest that the large amounts of money given to the Mariam Appeal were not properly used," the commission's director of operations, Simon Gillespie, told reporters last year.

Both Palast and Cooper also distorted Galloway's record to claim that he has made "deadly anti-abortion threats" (Galloway's actual position is that he is "personally opposed" to abortion, but agrees that women have the right to choose for themselves) and is an anti-gay bigot (strangely, this "bigot" voted in favor of gay rights in Britain's parliament).

Palast, anyway, seems to have lost interest once his smears were launched into cyberspace. After Galloway responded to his charges with a public statement--posted on the CounterPunch and ZNet Web sites, and elsewhere--the once outraged journalist was silent. Visitors to Palast's Web site won't find one word about Galloway's reply to the charges against him. They will, however, discover that (note the order) "Palast and Cindy Sheehan" were scheduled to speak at the Operation Ceasefire concert during the September 24 protests in Washington.

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GALLOWAY IS a left-wing opponent of the war. His speeches across the U.S. in September focused not only on the lies that the Bush administration used to get their invasion, but the determination of Iraqis to oppose the U.S. occupation--in the same way that anti-colonial movements of the past have fought their oppressors.

But this second part is exactly what some leading voices in the antiwar movement insist must not be said--for fear of alienating "mainstream America."

To Palast, the Iraqi resistance is nothing but "berserker killers and fundamentalist madmen"--which U.S. antiwar activists must reject, or lose credibility. Cooper likewise argues that the resistance is made up of "Jihadists and Baathists" whose "bloody handiwork...intentionally targeted civilians."

These overheated statements are as misleading as the right-wing propaganda they resemble.

The vast majority of Iraqi resistance groups, both secular and religious, have condemned attacks on civilians--which, in fact, are the exception. According to data in a report from mainstream foreign policy expert Anthony Cordesman's Center for Strategic and International Studies, most operations carried out by the resistance are aimed at U.S. and coalition military forces--75 percent of all attacks, compared to 4.1 percent aimed at Iraqi civilians, during the period from September 2003 to October 2004.

As Patrick Cockburn--who has reported on the occupation since it began for the Independent, usually from Iraq itself--put it in an interview with Socialist Worker: "The situation is very simple, as it would be in most countries of the world--when you have an occupation by a foreign power, you have resistance. And that's exactly what's happened in Iraq. It's absurd to think that there are tiny groups either of foreign fighters or remnants of the former regime who are holding the rest of the population to ransom."

Even the Pentagon admits the existence of a broad-based resistance, motivated by Iraqis' hatred of living under the heel of foreign occupiers. Thus, Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top commander in Iraq, testified before Congress last week that U.S. troop reductions were necessary to "take away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency, that of the coalition forces as an occupying force."

Galloway's argument is simple: The U.S.-UK occupation has used the utmost violence to maintain its grip, and the majority of Iraqis are using any means they can--not only the primitive military options available to them, but political demonstrations, workers' actions and other methods--to oppose oppression and injustice.

Once you clear away the false idea that this resistance is nothing but "berserker killers," bent on murdering Westerners, then what is so wrong about Galloway's statement that Cooper--and Christopher Hitchens for that matter--quoted in horror: "These poor Iraqis--ragged people, with their sandals, with their Kalashnikovs, with the lightest and most basic of weapons--are writing the names of their cities and towns in the stars, with 145 military operations every day, which have made the country ungovernable by the people who occupy it...They decided when the foreign invaders came to defend their country, to defend their honor, to defend their families, their religion, their way of life from a military superpower which landed among them...The Iraqi resistance is not just defending Iraq. They are defending all the Arabs, they are defending all the people of the world from American hegemony."

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THIS QUESTION of the struggle in Iraq is exactly where liberals like Palast and Cooper insist on silence.

Cooper is explicit about why--antiwar activists can't be too radical, or they will frighten away Democratic Party politicians, the movement's only hope for having an impact. "The peace movement," Cooper wrote in LA Weekly following the September 24 demonstrations, "can achieve its goals only by building a political coalition broad enough, forceful enough and credible enough to provoke a policy sea change. A huge proportion, if not the majority, of the Democratic Party has to be onboard."

To judge from his ill-tempered blog commentary about the protests--which directs abuse at every target to show up on his television screen as he watched the demonstration on C-SPAN--Cooper has a gripe with every part of the movement. But he saves his nastiest insults for the left--who are responsible, he believes, for driving away "not just the Kerry and Clinton types...but also outspoken critics of the war like Howard Dean, Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy."

First of all...outspoken? And is it really the antiwar movement's fault that Howard "Now that we're there, we can't leave" Dean didn't show in Washington? Or Russ Feingold, the single Democratic senator who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001--but who last week voted to confirm John Roberts as chief justice, so he can uphold that law against every challenge?

Cooper reduces the measure of success on September 24 to how many Democratic Party politicians could be lured on stage. The answer: almost none. So the demonstrations must have been "impotent theater of self-expression."

Cooper ends the scolding with a reference to the 1963 March on Washington, and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Now, if my memory of Parting the Waters serves, there weren't many Democratic Party politicians on the speakers' platform that day--certainly no officials of the Kennedy administration.

Does Cooper think the civil rights movement should have moderated its words and deeds to get more Democrats alongside King? Were the more radical activists of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee to blame for driving the politicians away? Should the civil rights movement be considered a failure because of its commitment to grassroots protest and direct action, even if that angered Democratic Party leaders?

The antiwar movement today won't grow strong enough to force the politicians to end the occupation by tailoring its message to what one group of those politicians wants to hear.

No doubt, many people who attended an antiwar demonstration for the first time on September 24 were motivated mainly or solely by the desire to see U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible. They won't necessarily agree with George Galloway's argument about the Iraqi resistance right now, nor should they be required to in order to participate in the antiwar struggle.

But the issue of Iraqis' right to determine what happens in their own country is undeniably a legitimate question to take up--in discussions among activists; in those "mind-numbing meetings" Cooper so hates that plan antiwar activities and the future of the movement; from the speakers' platform at demonstrations.

Those who try to stifle this discussion with blustering insults and false allegations do a disservice to our movement--and also to the struggle of the Iraqi people against an illegal and immoral occupation of their country.

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