Third Party & Independents Archives

An Accounting

The massing reportage on the UN Oil-for-Food travesty by Claudia Rosett is worth considering on its own, arresting merits. For one thing, it is increasingly pertinent: yesterday, a former coordinator for the program, Michael Soussan (and others, including Rosett), gave watershed testimony to the House Committee on International Relations. This will surely help the issue get the attention it deserves, which it simply hasn’t yet. But more salient going forward is the story’s bearing on a troubling policy similarity between Bush and Kerry: their desire to leverage the corrupt, bureaucratic behemoth of the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq (1,2).

With this in mind, one would do well to read Rosett's survey of the Oil-for-Food scam and its implications, published as the lead article in this month's Commentary Magazine. It functions as a standalone primer for those interested in digesting the facts in a single sitting. It is also a sobering expose' of a set of problems endemic in the international organization, an understanding of which is vital to diagnosing the drawbacks of our approach to multilateralism, now made obsolete by the UN's impotence to act against Saddam.

"... something was at work here other than passive acquiescence. At precisely what moment during the years of Oil-for-Food did the UN Secretariat cross the line from 'supervising' Saddam to collaborating with him? With precisely what deed did it enter into collusion? Even setting aside such obvious questions as whether individual UN officials took bribes, did the complicity begin in 1998, when Saddam flexed his muscles by throwing out the weapons inspectors and when Oil-for-Food, instead of leaving along with them, raised the cap on his oil sales? Did it come in 1999, when, even as Saddam's theft was becoming apparent, the UN scrapped the oil-sales limits altogether? Or in 2000 and 2001, when Sevan dismissed complaints and reports about blatant kickbacks? Did it start in 2002, when Annan, empowered by Oil-for-Food Plus, signed his name to projects for furnishing Saddam with luxury cars, stadiums, and office equipment for his dictatorship? Or did the defining moment arrive in 2003, when Annan, ignoring the immense conflict posed by the fact that his own institution was officially on Saddam's payroll, lobbied alongside two of Saddam's other top clients, Russia and France, to preserve his regime? Certainly by the time Annan and Sevan, neck-deep in revelatory press reports and standing indignantly athwart their own secret records, continued to offer to the world their evasions and denials, the balance had definitively tipped."

Rosett asks acidly, "this the same United Nations that, now, we are planning to entrust with bringing democracy to Iraq?" Good question. Kerry's atavistic proposal to return to the failed Clinton model of multilateralism and fighting terror as a "law enforcement operation" is a non-starter. And Bush is all confusion on this point. He snubs the intergovernmental organization out of a (correct) a priori conviction that it is useless for promoting American security interests, but then insists doggedly on transferring "sovereignty" on June 30th to a governmental "entity" conceived under its auspices.

The question also needs to be framed as a campaign issue more generally: now that we've had time to think about Iraq and other failures, what will be our strategy in general for dealing with the United Nations? There is a lot to consider here, as both Iraq and the War on Terror will be protracted enterprises, and Gulf War II's elucidation of the UN's obsolescence begs the question whether it will recede and eventually disappear, or reform itself.

Here's a good place to begin envisioning the latter outcome: "A Caucus of Democracies", by Max Kampelman, Senior Advisor to the Council for a Community of Democracies.

Posted by at April 29, 2004 1:34 AM