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Gorgeous George

How a Stalin-admiring Saddam Hussein loyalist wowed the media and won the hearts of the adolescent American left.

12:00 AM, May 23, 2005 • By PAUL MIRENGOFF
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AS AN ADOLESCENT, I regularly watched professional wrestling on television. Showing early geek tendencies, I usually enjoyed the ring-side interviews more than the matches themselves. My favorite interviews were the ones where a villain with a thick foreign accent hurled invective at America, attacked the manliness and lineage of his next good-guy foe, and denied committing the dirty deeds witnessed by the television audience the previous week. Whether the foreign villain was named Fritz von Erich, Ivan Koloff, or Professor Tanaka, the critique of America usually centered on the same theme--decadence. Minority groups such as blacks and Jews could not be attacked directly, but if a racist or anti-semitic subtext seeped through, that was okay.

Not all villains remained bad forever, and those who reformed could expect extra rough treatment from their former comrades. Wrestler reformation always occurred dramatically. In the middle of a match, a villain would suddenly join forces with a former antagonist, and the two "strange bedfellows" would subdue, for example, an over-the-top foreigner.

Last week, Washington was treated to a performance worthy of the old World Wrestling Federation. The featured player, George Galloway, even carries the nickname of the man who invented the modern wrestling villain, Gorgeous George. Physically, Galloway has patented one of the classic bad-guy wrestler looks, the perfectly-attired well-tailored ruffian. Then there's that Scottish accent, at its best when delivering the sneering insult. As when, on his way into the "arena," Galloway called fellow Brit and former "comrade" on the left, Christopher Hitchens, a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay." "Classy" Fred Blassie would have been proud of that one.

Upon reaching the microphones, Gorgeous George followed the wrestling villains' interview handbook (foreigners' chapter) flawlessly. He missed nothing--there was the reference to American decadence ("I know that standards have slipped in Washington"); there was flamboyant name-calling and anti-semitic overtones ("Zionist" and "neo-conservative"); there was the attempt to answer charges of specific misconduct (participating in the oil-for-food scam) with counterchanges of general wrongdoing (supporting an "illegal" war); there were even the "who are you going to believe?" denials.

The only difference was that Galloway doesn't just play a villain on TV. He once praised Saddam Hussein for his "courage, strength, [and] indefatigability." More specifically, he saluted Saddam for paying suicide-murderers in Israel and the West Bank. The worst day in Galloway's life, he says, was the day the Soviet Union fell. But he found consolation because, "just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq's Great Leap Forward." When Britain joined the United States in ending Saddam's great leap, Galloway called for a jihad against its troops and for the troops themselves to disobey "illegal" orders (Galloway had said that prosecution of the war is illegal). Hitchens made many of these points and more during his "grudge match" with Galloway in THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The evidence strongly suggests that Saddam rewarded Galloway's fealty by granting him oil allocations. It was through such allocations that Saddam turned the U.N.'s "oil-for-food" program to his advantage. The regime selected purchasers of Iraqi oil, who then sold it on the market. Instead of selecting traditional oil purchasers, the government preferred foreign officials, journalists, and even terrorist organizations. In exchange for the enormous benefits of being the gatekeepers of Iraqi oil, the purchasers served Iraq's interests, typically by working against the U.N. sanctions and by kicking back money to the regime.