Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Throwing Kofi to the Dogs

Glenn Reynolds links to a Democratic Leadership Council article calling for Kofi Annan's resignation. It has to be done they argue, for the good of the United Nations.

Unfortunately, the United Nations' credibility has been steadily eroded by its own misdeeds, with a burgeoning scandal over its incompetent and sometimes corrupt management of the Iraq oil-for-food program being the most damaging example. .... But mismanagement, corruption, and manipulation of the program by Saddam Hussein allowed his regime to amass at least $21 billion outside of the United Nations' control, with the great bulk of that sum -- $17.3 billion -- pilfered between 1997 and 2003 on the secretary general's watch. In effect, the United Nations colluded in Saddam's successful evasion of U.N. sanctions. The most damning charge so far -- that a former chief of the oil-for-food program, Benon Sevan, accepted bribes from Saddam's regime -- was made in October by former U.N. weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer, who led a Senate investigation into the scandal.

This recital of Oil-for-Food sleaze, which is old news to many in the blogosphere, lays the premise for the following conclusion: Kofi must go so the UN can stay.

As we argued last week, one of America's most urgent foreign policy needs is to retool international organizations and traditional alliances to provide collective security against the global threat of jihadist terrorism. The United Nations can and should be a central part of this new collective security system, but only if the organization is systematically reformed to serve that purpose.

This is a non-sequitur if ever there was one. Kofi Annan's accession to the post was greeted with relief by those who felt he would be an improvement on Boutros Boutros Ghali. In the beginning Boutros Ghali had to leave and Kofi Annan had to be admitted so that the United Nations could be saved. PBS recalls:

In November 1996, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s bid for reappointment was vetoed by the United States. Clinton officials said that the secretary-general was not as focused on reform as they deemed necessary. They said it would be hard to persuade a Republican-led Congress to pay off America’s $1.45 billion in unpaid U.N. dues as long as Boutros-Ghali was at the helm. Because it is an informal tradition that a region of the world gets two terms as secretary-general, the Organization of African Unity had a short time to suggest candidate. After weeks of rancorous debate among the Security Council members, the U.N. General Assembly agreed upon Kofi Annan as Boutros-Ghali's replacement.

Annan was the the product and not the originator of a dysfunctional organization. This account of Annan's contest against his rival Amara Essy, described on a University of Connecticut website exudes something of the flavor of Byzantium.

In office, Boutros-Ghali proved to be an assertive, sometimes acerbic secretary-general who often rankled some members, especially the United States. President Clinton branded the secretary-general as ineffective and claimed that if he remained, it would be impossible to persuade Congress to appropriate funds for the UN. For these and other reasons, Washington, in effect, vetoed a second tern for Boutros-Ghali.

Since most recent secretaries-general have served two terms, the African countries felt that it was still their "turn," and the names of potential African candidates began to circulate. The process in the Security Council involved a search for consensus that Italy's representative likened to selecting a pope. The only difference, said the ambassador, was that in the UN "if you stare at the ceiling, there are no frescoes by Michelangelo to inspire you." In a series of straw votes, two names emerged: Kofi Annan, a career UN diplomat from Ghana, and Amara Essy, the foreign minister of the Ivory Coast. Annan was favored by the United States. He had a reputation as a capable and moderate diplomat and administrator, and his personal history (a B.A. degree in economics from Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a master's degree in management from MIT) helped assuage Washington's concern that a secretary-general from black Africa might prove too radical. Annan is married to Nane Lagergren, a Swedish lawyer, who is a niece of Raoul Wallenberg, the heroic Swedish diplomat noted for trying to save Jewish lives during World War II.

France was the primary supporter of Essy, based on the fact that he spoke fluent French (but only halting English), had earned his law degree from Poitiers University in France, and came from a former French colony. The French threatened initially to veto Annan, but the American and British indicated they would veto Essy. In the end, with Annan clearly ahead in the straw votes, and given that he speaks at least some French, France gave way.

Annan was not a rogue UN bureaucrat, as Benon Sevan proves. He is perfectly representative of the system. It may be argued that certain Great Powers on the Security Council were the true ringleaders of the secret rearmament of Saddam; it may even be conceded that the United States was a willing participant in the wheeling and dealing that constructed the labyrinthine palace on the East River. But it cannot be maintained, as the Democratic Leadership Council does that "America's most urgent foreign policy needs is to retool international organizations and traditional alliances to provide collective security against the global threat of jihadist terrorism. The United Nations can and should be a central part of this new collective security system". Corruption at the United Nations was only tolerable for so long as it did nothing of consequence. But making it the central plank of international security would be tantamount to swallowing a box of razor blades and washing it down with sulfuric acid. The UN: into playschool or into the East River.

The Worm Orobouros

The indispensable Glenn Reynolds links to breaking aspects of the UN story. The first of course, is the DLC's reduction of their initial demand that Kofi Annan resign to merely stepping aside -- recusing himself in effect, from any participation in the Oil-for-Food investigation -- which should be a given anyway.  But the stress gauge continued to creep up when Human Rights Watch announced the obvious, that the UN Human Rights Committee is dominated by a choice cast of villains; that the fox is charge of the henhouse.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch have been complaining about the U.N. commission's membership problem for years. The focus of the abusive governments on the commission, Human Rights Watch warns, is on "minimizing the exposure of their own human rights record rather than on stigmatizing the worst human rights violations in the world and devising methods to bring about effective responses to these abuses." ... No one would suggest seating Jean-Claude Duvalier and Gen. Augusto Pinochet on the International Criminal Court, so why put the countries that are their equivalents on the U.N.'s main human rights body?

Why? Because it's the UN, a place where the normal laws of gravity are inverted, everyone is immune from everything, where nothing works yet everything is beyond reproach. That's why. Having grasped that one essential fact it is necessary to accept the corollary. Neither the departure of Kofi Annan nor his replacement will alter the strange physics of the place which arises from the first-class funding of third-rate causes of the worst possible sort. If that is the definition of Oil-for-Food it is also the definition of the United Nations.

One of the shadow costs of an obsession with the United Nations is the preemptive dismissal of diplomatic structures which have historically worked. The recent crisis in the Ukraine was resolved without the United Nations. Someone may eventually remember that the diplomatic structures which defeated Hitler predated the UN. When one considers the diplomatic record of the 20th century the really striking thing is how little of consequence took place under the Baby Blue flag. Of the 50 odd wars that took place after 1945, including such humdingers as the Iraq-Iran War, the Chinese-Indian confrontations, the invasion of Tibet, etc. only two -- Korea 1950 and Kuwait 1991 -- were successfully met by collective UN action. To a large extent the UN's case for its own existence is its own existence. It's a circular argument and the strongest one it has.