Kofi Annan in Trouble
By Stephen Schlesinger
UNITED NATIONS -- 8 December 2004 / www.MaximsNews.com / The attacks by right-wing Republicans in Congress against UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan over the food-for-oil scandal are less an endeavor to find the truth behind the program’s wrongdoing and more an effort to cow the UN into submission to the United States.
If the conservatives can cripple, if not oust, Annan, they can send a message to the rest of the UN community that the Washington exercises ultimate control over the organization and all other members must also fall in line or suffer the consequences.
Annan has become the newest symbol of global intransigence to the United States.
Bush officials now blame him for the Security Council’s failure to back the American invasion of Iraq, even though it was France and Russia that really thwarted the Council’s assent on the grounds that there was no real threat from Baghdad.
They are also furious with him for calling the Iraqi intervention “illegal” even though it was certainly done outside of the UN Charter.
They denounce his recent letter asking for Washington to refrain from striking at Falluja for fear of killing civilians, even though such a danger did exist.
They are upset with him for not emplacing more UN observers in Iraq for the upcoming election, even though there is barely any security for the UN teams.
And they generally associate him with the support of all of the global treaties and international obligations that they have wanted the US to repudiate ever since George Bush first won election.
Now enters the oil-for-food scam.
Until now, Annan’s opponents have had difficulty directly besmirching the reputation of this world-acclaimed moral leader.
But this brouhaha, which potentially involves bribes, payoffs, illicit dealings, and kickbacks, has suddenly given Annan’s critics an opening.
Senator Norm Coleman, the Republican legislator from Minnesota and Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that Saddam Hussein had “accumulated more than $21 billion through abuses” of the program and Kofi Annan should resign because he was the CEO in charge of the organization when these tawdry events occurred.
Because Annan was at “the helm”, he should “be held accountable for the UN’s utter failure to detect or stop Saddam’s abuses.”
The irony of Coleman’s charges is that, outside of appointing the head of the oil-for-food program, Kofi Annan has had absolutely nothing to do with the venture – or with the enforcement of any of the other sanctions on Iraq.
All the set-ups were entirely created and supervised by the Security Council. Originally the Council had instituted sanctions against Iraq in 1991 after the Gulf War preventing it from exporting oil.
But then the US made exceptions for oil shipments to American allies, Turkey and Jordan, via annual Congressional waivers. It also overlooked oil smuggled to Syria.
It was here that Hussein actually began to skim most of his monies, some $8 billion, according to the recent report by the CIA’s Charles Duelfer, chief of the US weapons inspectors in Iraq.
But the US never took any action to prevent Saddam’s egregious poaching on these trade deals.
Then in 1996, when the oil-for-food program itself was officially set up to alleviate hunger among Iraqi children, a more vigorous monitoring team appointed by the Security Council took over.
This oversight group, dominated by the United States and Great Britain approved about 36,000 contracts related to humanitarian needs over the next seven years.
Of these, this supervisory unit held up about 5,000 on the grounds that the imports might have a dual-use technology which could enable Iraq to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction programs.
As of July 2002, there were about $5 billion worth of contracts on hold.
Meantime, on the oil transactions, the committee, including the United States, never raised a single objection about possible pricing criminality, despite the fact that junior UN officials brought at least 70 possible breaches to the attention of the monitors.
What today gives fresh impetus to the assault on Kofi Annan, though, has been the revelation that his son, Kojo, in 1998 found employment with one of the firms that oversaw imports under the oil-for-food program.
In that year, Kojo Annan obtained a consultantship with the Swiss company, Cotecna, which lasted until December of 1998, the same month the firm received a $4.8 million contract from the oil-for-food program. Kojo Annan earned over $50,000.
Now it has been learned, Kojo Annan also got a “non-compete” agreement with Cotecna required by Swiss law that began in April 2000 and ceased in February 2004 which gave him $2500 a month, including health coverage that itself stopped in June 2004.
Whatever the particulars of that arrangement, it is not clear how Kofi Annan himself did anything wrong.
His son may have used his last name to get the job, but Annan himself had no influence over the hiring of that company by the UN. That decision was entirely up to the monitors.
Still conservatives now smell blood in the water. It is payback time.
Kofi Anan has taken the most judicious step to investigate the malefactions involved in the oil-for-food program by appointing Paul Volcker, a paragon of the American establishment, to investigate – but that is not enough for the right-wingers in Congress.
They claim Volcker has no subpoena power, won’t hand over internal audits to Congress, and, in any case, his panel is “wholly funded by the UN at Mr. Annan’s control”, according to Senator Coleman.
Annan’s past achievements in resolving disputes with Republican Senator Helms on US financial arrears, his settlement of the East Timor crisis, his 2000 Millenium Report, his willingness to undertake probes of the Srebrenica and Rwanda massacres where his own role was faulted, his establishment of a commission to propose major UN reforms, his winning of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize -- none have had any impact on these vengeful warriors.
Nor has the public rallying to Annan by almost all the other UN member states at all hindered their crusade.
Though there is one distinguished member of the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who last week called Annan a “good Secretary General”.
He, too, is on his way out.
Stephen Schlesinger is the Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School University, author of Act of Creation (See Reviews.) and a contributor to www.MaximsNews.com. See Schlesinger's Bio & Books. StephenSchlesinger@MaximsNews.com