Some are More Equal Than Others
James Traub of the Los Angeles Times believes that the United States is out to lynch the UN using the Oil-for-Food scandal as a pretext. In an article entitled Lynch Mob's Real Target Is the U.N., Not Annan, Traub argues that although Oil-for-Food was real, the actual criminal masterminds were certain members of the Security Council.
The oil-for-food program was developed and directed not by U.N. civil servants but by the U.N. Security Council, as are all the organization's sanctions regimes. The diplomats who ran the program worked for the council's member states, including the United States and the four other permanent members. And they ran it according to the interests of those states, with the U.S. and Britain determined to prevent Iraq from importing items that could be used for military purposes and the French, Russians and Chinese equally determined to give the Iraqis the benefit of every doubt. Preventing theft was at the bottom of everyone's to-do list. The U.S. government had dozens of people monitoring the contracts but didn't hold back a single one on the grounds of corruption, price irregularities or kickbacks.
The secretariat deserves some portion of the blame, both for failing to sound the alarm over Iraqi swindling and for a slow and grudging reaction when the allegations first surfaced earlier this year. But the idea that this constitutes a firing offense for the secretary-general -- especially when the call is coming from the folks who rallied to Donald Rumsfeld's side after Abu Ghraib -- is hard to take seriously. I suspect that Annan's persecutors are after something else: not the man, but the institution itself.
The fundamental problem with Traub's argument is that Oil-For-Food existed for the purpose of enforcing sanctions imposed by the Security Council as a whole. It was not a program whose goals could be chosen according to taste, "with the U.S. and Britain determined to prevent Iraq from importing items that could be used for military purposes and the French, Russians and Chinese equally determined to give the Iraqis the benefit of every doubt." It had one purpose only. Oil-For-Food either existed expressly to prevent Saddam's rearmament or it was nothing at all. For that reason, the Secretary General's failure "to sound the alarm over Iraqi swindling and for a slow and grudging reaction when the allegations first surfaced earlier this year" is not primarily about thievery and corruption, although it is about that: it was mainly about flouting international law; it was about subverting the will of the Security Council. It was about Kofi Annan becoming a law unto himself. Traub goes on to argue that American outrage over Oil-for-Food is rooted in pique. He says:
It's not about Annan or "the secretariat." Conservatives were infuriated that the Security Council would withhold the stamp of legitimacy from a war they considered self-evidently just. The incident proved to them, as if they needed more proof, that the U.N. was not a place where the U.S. could transact serious business.
Wikipedia has a comprehensive summary of UN Security Council resolutions as they applied to Iraq before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Oil-for-Food was a component program in support of repeated Security Council Resolutions to keep Saddam in his box as an alternative to armed intervention.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 is a resolution by the UN Security Council, passed unanimously on November 8, 2002, offering Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" that had been set out in several previous resolutions (resolution 660, resolution 661, resolution 678, resolution 686, resolution 687, resolution 688, resolution 707, resolution 715, resolution 986, and resolution 1284), notably to provide "an accurate full, final, and complete disclosure, as required by Resolution 687 (1991), of all aspects of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles". Resolution 1441 threatens "serious consequences" if these are not met. It reasserted demands that UN weapons inspectors should have "immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access" to sites of their choosing, in order to ascertain compliance.
Annan's management of the program not only subverted international law but made it possible for the Saddam to buy arms, including some components of forbidden weapons, which was the very thing the Oil-for-Food program was intended to prevent. Traub concludes:
Annan infuriated administration officials when he called the Iraq war illegal and again when he argued against the recent assault on Fallouja. But just now, the administration finds itself needing the U.N. and its vexed legitimacy in Iraq, where the organization is helping set up the impending elections. The administration wants more U.N. election advisors, not fewer. Perhaps, secretly, it also wants a bigger U.N. role so that it can blame the organization if and when the elections fail. But that too makes the organization indispensable. It makes you wonder what the mob would do with Annan's silver scalp if they ever got it.
Annan is not being taken to task for calling the Iraq war illegal. He is being held to account for failing to carry out the mandate given him by the Security Council. A recent post, The Nimitz in UN Service: 1998 describes how French reconnaissance aircraft and naval vessels undermined United Nations U-2 flights attempting to enforce the Security Council mandated armaments blockade on Iraq -- the very blockade Annan was duty bound to support but which he thwarted at every turn. These, like Annan's actions, were devoid of legitimacy and completely illegal under the rules the "international community" professes to reverence. If the United Nations are not a sham they should punish their unfaithful servant forthwith. But otherwise the United States should show it the very same respect that Kofi Annan afforded it. Well, he knew a thing or two.