Words Against War

As Britain prepares to commit its forces to war in Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair knows his hawkish policy still faces bitter enemies at home, especially among his own party.

At the head of the protestors is Labour member of Parliament George Galloway. Over the last decade, the left-winger--a regular visitor to Iraq--has emerged as the principal scourge of the government's policy toward Saddam Hussein, arguing vehemently against both sanctions and military action. Now he's at the forefront of the growing movement that opposes an Anglo-American invasion. Next month, Galloway, a cofounder of the Stop the War Coalition, will address an antiwar rally in London that's expected to attract some 400,000 supporters. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's William Underhill in London. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Prime Minister Blair has been sending some confused signals over the likely timing of any attack on Iraq, both talking tough and appearing to recommend delay. How do you assess his position?

George Galloway: One would need to be some kind of psychoanalyst to answer that question properly. It's impossible to say whether the belligerent and provocative language that he is adopting is a cover for the attempt to slow down Bush and keep him on the diplomatic-[United Nations] track, or whether it is more like the role played by Thatcher in 1990-91 when she was a driving force for the [Persian Gulf] war. My fear is that his public persona is so strengthening the war party in the United States that soon the very momentum of the war party will carry us over the cliff into catastrophe.

But you don't reject the idea that Blair may in fact be acting as a restraining influence on the president.

If that turns out to be so, I'll be first in line to take my hat off to Blair. If not, the so-called restraining influence will not only have had no effect, but the aggressive public posture--which was presumably its price--will actually have helped to bring about the war. And Blair will have tested his premiership to destruction.

Surely it's too crude to suggest that a sophisticated politician such as Blair is ready to follow President Bush without question.

I have to express a degree of surprise [at the idea]. One could understand the relationship between President Clinton and Blair, even if one didn't share it. They were culturally attuned; two men of the same generation, of the same politics, of the same stripe. But no one in Britain can understand the relationship between a Labour prime minister and a right-wing Republican zealot of such dubious democratic credentials as the current president of the United States.

You are helping to organize a mass antiwar demonstration in London next month. Do you really believe that such protests can still stop a war?

I do. And the main place it can be stopped is in Britain. If the American public--which, to say the least, is not overly enthusiastic about the war--knew that even the British would not join them, that could tip the scales. So Blair has a unique opportunity. If he seizes it, he will be a hero in the world. If he doesn't, that opportunity will become a culpability. He will become the man who could have stopped the war but instead guaranteed that it happened.

Do you reckon the Americans could achieve a swift military victory?

Whatever people have been told by the propagandists, it will be a bloodbath. The idea that there are military lines [of Iraqi troops] out there in the desert which can simply be bombed by weaponry is simply preposterous. All the soldiers, all the tanks, all the armor, all the handguns are in the cities among the people. So if the bombardment is to weaken the Iraqi military, it will have to be of a Dresden-quality. [The German city of Dresden was leveled by Allied bombers in 1945.]

Supporters of the war argue that a successful invasion would free the people of Iraq from the rule of an unprincipled dictator.

I have never believed in killing people in order to set them free. [Besides] the likely outcome of an invasion and occupation of Iraq is the Yugoslavization of the country leading to chaos, bloodshed and vendetta on a grand scale. Sect will fight sect, party will fight party, region will fight region, ethnic group will fight ethnic group. Also, I never believed the Iraqi leader was anything but a dictator. I was standing outside the Iraqi Embassy demonstrating for human rights when British ministers and businessmen were inside selling them guns.

Wouldn't the overthrow of Saddam Hussein at least diminish some of the threat of terrorism?

The threat of international chaos and terror will be fantastically enhanced by the presence of a 250,000-strong Western crusader invasion and occupation of an Arab-Muslim country. Anyone who thinks the world will be safer from terrorism when Western soldiers are on every street in Iraq is living in a fool's paradise. The one man who is praying more for this war more ardently than [U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz is Osama bin Laden. This is the very confrontation that he set out to engineer.

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