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Yesterday we discussed Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian nationals for some vague charge of interfering with American elections.  I suggested at the time that Mueller wasn’t taking many risks with this tactic.  The Russians cannot be forced to attend and, in all likelihood would not choose voluntarily to do turn up to what would be a good old-fashioned show trial.

Mueller thus wins twice over.  Once because he has made the accusations and so demonstrated his fine forensic skills, and secondly because he can spin their non-attendance as a sign of guilt and proof of said forensic skills.  Neat huh?

Well not always.  There are times when this strategy can go awfully badly wrong and deliver the accused a magnificent platform for their side of the argument, complete with wall to wall TV coverage.  These occasions are pure political theatre.

Remember back in 1996 when Senator Norm Colman then chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was looking into the abuses of the UN programme which permitted Saddam Hussain’s Iraq to buy food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies with money from regulated oil sales.  It was clear there was abuse of the system from US Oil companies.

Senator Coleman, rather than dealing with the likes of the President, his aides and executives of such as Bayoil a Texas oil company that paid at least $37 million in illegal surcharges to Hussain allowing him to secure his dictatorship, chose instead to target foreign politicians and in particular British Parliamentarian George Galloway.  (Norm and George never got along).  George Galloway was a very vocal opponent of American policies at the time, and it might have crossed Coleman’s mind that having a go would shut Galloway up or taint his reputation.  A cheap shot and a distraction from home grown scandal.

Now George Galloway might best be described as a bit of a one off.   Born in an attic in a slum tenement in Dundee, he is hardly your silver spoon politician, but oh God can the silver tongued old lothario talk.  One of the last great orators in British politics he doesn’t stand fools easily and has fallen out with just about everyone (except the voters) and now with his own party called Respect, the ol’ demagogue and rabble-rouser was back in the House of Commons.

George is not my favourite politician if only for his views on Israel, (which may also why Norm Colman chose him to target) but he an example, if one is needed, of the disillusion felt by the electorates of Western liberal democracies all across Europe and America.  We can see it in the rise of extremist politics and parties in northern Europe, riots in Greece and Spain, the rise of anti-governmental protest groups in America with the Tea Party and Occupy being two sides of the same coin.  The old palliatives are failing to engage the people as the Democrat and Republican parties have found to their cost.

What Norm and the committee had not reckoned with, was they had forgotten that George was a slum-born pugnacious little Scot and educated in the back stabbing fraternity that is Scottish Labour party politics.   Far from being a feared of Uncle Sam, George wasted no time to fly over and appear.  He wished to speak for all those people damaged and killed by American lies and greed.

Now most persons hauled before a Sub Committee of Investigation are frightened if not terrified, they stumble in their speech, hands shaking whilst holding the prepared statement they brought along.  For the panel it should be a cinch, they are usually two goals up before the thing even starts.  Not with George though.

George enters the committee room as the hero of the hour, and proceeds to tear through Coleman’s flimsy “evidence” beginning his oratorical tirade “Mr Chairman, I am not now, nor have I ever been an oil trader, and neither has anyone been on my behalf.  I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anyone on my behalf”.  The committee sensing this is not going the way they thought it would, start to shuffle and look over at the cameras and the press.  Too late.  George of course is doing this House of Commons rules – no notes extempore.  He was challenged that he had met Saddam many times and the reply was classic “As a matter of fact I have met Saddam Hussain exactly the same number of times that [Secretary of Defence ] Donald Rumsfeld met him” he says smoothly before sliding in the knife “The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell guns.”

Warmed up Galloway used the opportunity to decry America’s whole actions in the war.  The committee by this time stunned sat and were lectured to as by a headmaster come in to correct the thick boy’s homework.  “Now Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted.  I gave my political life’s blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which have killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to be born at that time.  I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did comitt in invading Iraq.  And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies”.

The clip is a bit long and a bit grainy and quiet, but roll with it as it’s worth it. Coleman clearly was unprepared for what hits him.  He is shown obviously nervous, biting his lower lip several times.  My favourite bit however is when Galloway is challenged by a stunned Coleman, who is losing the grip and clearly out of his depth, being reduced to shuffling papers (whilst Galloway works without notes throughout), Galloway comes back with the following putdown.

I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington but for a lawyer you are remarkably cavalier of any idea of justice”.


Now is Robert Mueller walking into exactly the same trap?


Copyright David Macadam 2018