The Right Coast

December 02, 2004
In defense of Kofi Anan
By Tom Smith

You may have read this in the Wall Street Journal, by Senator Coleman, who is leading the much needed investigation into the misnamed Oil-for-Food scandal:

While many questions concerning Oil-for-Food remain unanswered, one conclusion has become abundantly clear: Kofi Annan should resign. The decision to call for his resignation does not come easily, but I have arrived at this conclusion because the most extensive fraud in the history of the U.N. occurred on his watch. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, as long as Mr. Annan remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks and under-the-table payments that took place under the U.N.'s collective nose.

Mr. Annan was at the helm of the U.N. for all but a few days of the Oil-for-Food program, and he must, therefore, be held accountable for the U.N.'s utter failure to detect or stop Saddam's abuses. The consequences of the U.N.'s ineptitude cannot be overstated: Saddam was empowered to withstand the sanctions regime, remain in power, and even rebuild his military. Needless to say, he made the Iraqi people suffer even more by importing substandard food and medicine under the Oil-for-Food program and pawning it off as first-rate humanitarian aid.

Since it was never likely that the U.N. Security Council, some of whose permanent members were awash in Saddam's favors, would ever call for Saddam's removal, the U.S. and its coalition partners were forced to put troops in harm's way to oust him by force. Today, money swindled from Oil-for-Food may be funding the insurgency against coalition troops in Iraq and other terrorist activities against U.S. interests. Simply put, the troops would probably not have been placed in such danger if the U.N. had done its job in administering sanctions and Oil-for-Food.

This systemic failure of the U.N. and Oil-for-Food is exacerbated by evidence that at least one senior U.N. official--Benon Sevan, Mr. Annan's hand-picked director of the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food oversight agency--reportedly received bribes from Saddam. According to documents from the Iraqi oil ministry that were obtained by us, Mr. Sevan received several allotments of oil under Oil-for-Food, each of which was worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

To make matters worse, the actions of Mr. Annan's own son have been called into question. Specifically, the U.N. recently admitted that Kojo Annan received more money than previously disclosed from a Swiss company named Cotecna, which was hired by the U.N. to monitor Iraq's imports under Oil-for-Food. Recently, there are growing, albeit unproven, allegations that Kofi Annan himself not only understands his son's role in this scandal--but that he has been less than forthcoming in what he knew, and when he knew it.

On the other hand, maybe an utterly corrupt bunch of representatives of the international community should be represented by an utterly corrupt bureaucrat. No one could say Kofi is not a fair sample of what the UN stands for. Is it really fair to single him out in this way? Did he really do anything you or I wouldn't do, if we were utterly corrupt? There but for not sinking into the ethical cesspool of stealing bread out of the mouths of starving children to finance the high life of morally superiority and heavy food in Geneva, go you and I, eh? And who is to say that it is really wrong to emiserate even further people groaning under a brutal tyranny in order to finance terrorists and buy baubbles? Judge not another until you have walked a mile in his jackboots. What we need here is a moral compass, or as the French say, "What the hell is a moral compass, and what's in it for moi?" And one final point, Kofi and his co-conspirators deserve some credit for creating one of the most ironic events in the history of corruption. It just doesn't happen every day that you get this distance between stated mission and moral posturing on one hand, and what you were actually up to on the other. This is hypocrisy as performance art. This is greatness, of a kind. It may give rise to a new sort of all purpose defense. We were only following orders is just too retro. We were only indulging our greed at the expense of helpless victims, while doing everything we could to keep our scam going as the bodies piled up, and all the while posing as moral leaders of the world. Now that's what I call a defense. It now time for the rest of us to apologize to world, that's right, apologize, for not seeing the wisdom and inherent aesthetic appeal of this stance earlier, and instead, to our ever lasting shame, which only really morally sensitive people can feel, returning that nasty, brawling George le cowboy Bush to the White House, where he can continue not following the lead of the UN, the French and others, who at least know the value of a dollar, or an oil voucher.