When George Galloway was interviewed on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme a few weeks ago, John Humphreys taunted him with the suggestion that Respect was a single issue party whose issue — the war in Iraq — would have disappeared by the time of the next general election.
Humphreys was wrong on two counts. Respect is a lot more than a single issue party. And Iraq is very far from vanishing over the political horizon.
In the latest Ipsos-Mori poll, reported in last Sunday’s Observer, “Iraq and terrorism lead the list of public concerns, with 41 percent putting these among the most important issues facing the country, up ten points over the last month”.
The lead story in the Observer was an interview with Iyad Allawi, the first US puppet prime minister of Iraq after the US-British invasion.
He said human rights abuse in Iraq is now worse than it was under Saddam Hussein. Allawi said, “People are doing the same as [in] Saddam’s time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.”
Allawi should know about human rights abuses. He was a Baathist secret agent before he broke with Saddam and became an “asset” of the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
His remarks reflect his own political agenda — he’s campaigning in December’s elections as a defender of secularism against the Shia clerical establishment that dominates the client regime in Baghdad.
But nevertheless they are a body blow to all those New Labour ministers who constantly claim the occupation of Iraq is about democracy and human rights.
No wonder Tony Blair is trying to gag the press and prevent yet more revelations about his disastrous Iraq policy. But his troubles here are as nothing compared to what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic.
Philip Stephens, a Financial Times columnist close to 10 Downing Street, reported on Friday of last week from Washington. He said, “Everywhere you go the conversation is about authority draining from the White House. On Capitol Hill [in congress] the Republicans’ legendary discipline has fractured. Mr Bush’s public approval rating is marooned below 40 percent. Everyone is talking about bringing the troops home from Iraq.
“We are not there yet. But the shift in the political mood has been extraordinary. Until a few weeks ago the arguments about Iraq, albeit growing in intensity and venom, were mostly partisan and backward-looking. Mr Bush is confronted with a rising chorus of demands, heard increasingly within his own party, to offer some sort of timescale for the return of US troops.”
An indication of this change in the political weather is a press conference three weeks ago held by John Murtha, a pro-war Democratic congressman. “Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency” he said. “It’s time to bring them home.”
Senator John McCain, another Vietnam vet and possible Republican presidential contender, has confronted chickenhawk-in-chief Dick Cheney over the latter’s demand that the CIA be exempted from McCain’s draft law banning US forces from practising torture.
One shouldn’t have any illusions about Bush’s congressional opponents. As Gilbert Achcar and Steve Shalom point out in an analysis of Murtha’s position on ZNet, he wants US troops to “redeploy to Kuwait or to the surrounding area”, rather than pull out from the Middle East altogether.
Murtha complains that the Iraq adventure threatens to undermine US “military dominance”. He speaks for the section of the US ruling class that criticise the Bush gang not for being imperialists, but for being incompetent imperialists.
But this doesn’t alter the fact that something potentially decisive is happening.
The Iraqi catastrophe is beginning to fragment the US establishment, just as Vietnam did a generation ago. Next weekend’s International Peace Conference is even more important now.