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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

UNethicals Annanymous

Journalist extraordinaire Claudia Rosett serves up a blistering attack on the United Nations in the April issue of Commentary. (Hat tip: Atlas Shrugs.) Rosett, whose dogged investigations into the UN's Oil-for-Food scandal seemed to single-handedly give that story the prominence it deserved, doesn't pull any punches in describing an organization shrouded in secrecy and shielded by immunity, with "so many overlapping programs, far-flung projects, quietly vested interests, nepotistic shenanigans, and interlocking directorates as to defy accurate or easy comprehension, let alone responsible supervision." (Secretary-General Kofi Annan, under interrogation by the Volcker commission, claimed that even he didn't know his own chain of command.) As Rosett says, "[b]ehind the specific scandals lies what one of the UN’s own internal auditors has termed a “'culture of impunity.'”

Whether it's Oil-for-Food, unnacounted for funds that were supposed to go towards tsunami relief in Indonesia, or the network of UN peacekeepers in Africa who took on second jobs as child rapists, Rosett says we may never know the full extent of the UN's wrongdoing. What we do know, she says, "is that an assortment of noble-sounding efforts has devolved into enterprises marked chiefly by abuse, self-dealing, and worse."

Much of the problem lies in the aforementioned impenetrability that 60 years of unnacountable bureaucracy has - not accidently - produced. Thanks to the proliferation of "agencies, funds, commissions, programs, 'ad-hoc bodies,' and 'other entities,'" most UN personnel, let alone outsiders, don't even know who reports to whom. Coupled with the denial of, or, more likely than not, the complicity in the systemic corruption by those at the top of the organization, it becomes nearly impossible to fully determine the length and breadth of this corruption:
Take the central scandal of recent UN history—namely, Oil-for-Food. Last October, Paul Volcker’s UN-authorized probe into Oil-for-Food submitted its fifth and final report on that relief program, which in its seven years of operation had become a vehicle for billions in kickbacks, payoffs, and sanctions-busting arms traffic. By January of this year, after first having declared that he was taking responsibility for the debacle, Kofi Annan was spinning a different story, telling a London audience that “only one staff member was found to maybe have taken some $150,000 out of a $64-billion program.”

This was an artful lie. The staff member in question was Benon Sevan, whom Annan had appointed to run Oil-for-Food for six of its seven years. If indeed Sevan took no more than this relative pittance, then Saddam Hussein scored the biggest bargain in the history of kickbacks. According to Senator Norm Coleman’s independent investigation into Oil-for-Food, the real figure for Sevan’s take was $1.2 million. Clearing up this discrepancy is difficult, however, because Sevan, who was allowed by Annan to retire to his native Cyprus on full UN pension, is outside the reach of U.S. law and has denied taking anything.

In any case, the corruption hardly ended with Sevan. Instances that appear to have slipped the Secretary-General’s mind include another member of his inner circle, the French diplomat Jean-Bernard Merimée, who by his own admission took a payoff from Saddam while serving as Annan’s handpicked envoy to the European Union. Within the UN agencies working with Annan’s Secretariat on Oil-for-Food, Volcker confirmed “numerous [further] allegations of corrupt behavior and practices,” embracing “bid-rigging, conflicts of interest, bribery, theft, nepotism, and sexual harassment.” He also noted that the UN lacked controls on graft, failed to investigate many cases, and failed to act upon some of those it did explore. Finally, Volcker calculated that UN agencies had kept for themselves at least $50 million earmarked to buy relief for the people of Iraq.

Nor do the sheer monetary amounts even begin to convey the extent of the damage done by UN labors in Iraq. Annan’s office had the mandate of the Security Council, plus a $1.4-billion budget, to check oil and relief contracts for price fiddles, to monitor oil exports in order to prevent smuggling, and to audit UN operations. In the event, Oil-for-Food spent far more money renovating its offices in New York than checking the terms of Saddam’s contracts, and ignored the smuggling even when Saddam in 2000 opened a pipeline to Syria. The result of what Annan now placidly describes as “instances of mismanagement”—as if someone forgot to reload the office printer—was that Saddam skimmed and smuggled anywhere from $12 billion (according to the incomplete numbers supplied by Volcker) to $17 billion or more (according to the more comprehensive totals provided by Senator Coleman’s staff).
Whatever the UN's original purpose, and despite the opacity of many of its dealings, one thing that is clear is that the organization is at best ineffectual, and at worst an agent for dictators, tyrants and repressive regimes of all stripes. UN "peacekeepers" stand accused of widespread corruption, drug-dealing, rape and the sexual exploitation of hungry children. And whether it's in Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq or Darfur, seemingly the only way the United Nations lives up to its professed goal of equality for all mankind is by ignoring all oppressed people equally, regardless of race, gender, religion or ethnicity. We are all one in the blind, uncaring eyes of the UN.

Except for the Jews, naturally:
On matters involving Israel and the Palestinians—unlike nuclear proliferation, this may be the UN’s one genuine obsession—hypocrisy has been outdone only by mischief-making and blatant anti-Semitism. UN programs set up to help the Palestinians over the past half-century have not only failed to produce decent lives but have helped create a culture of entitlement and violence—fueled in large part by the UN’s own anti-Israel agenda. The UN condemnation of Zionism as racism in 1975, finally repealed in 1991, was followed by the grotesque transformation of the UN’s 2001 Durban conference on racism into an anti-Semitic festival. The UN Security Council invites totalitarian Syria to take the chair, but democratic Israel has never been so much as allowed to hold a seat.
The United Nations' record as a relief organization is similarly stellar, as exemplified by its shameful actions following the December 2004 tsunami:
Demanding exclusive rights to direct the aid effort (and the money), UN officials warned loudly of a health crisis that never materialized, denounced the U.S. as “stingy,” and promised transparent use of funds. A year later, the Financial Times reported that, from what little could be gleaned of the UN’s largely incomplete or secret accounts, the organization’s expenditures on overhead (i.e., travel, hotel rooms, lavishly funded international talk-fests, and the like) were triple those of private charities.
As Rosett so eloquently puts it, when the tsunami struck, "the U.S. and countries like Australia rushed to help the victims. The UN rushed to help itself."

Despite these and numerous other scandals, questionable actions and pathetic inactions, many people throughout the world still cling to the United Nations as the embodiment of the loftiest of ideals and as the guardian of the planet. Not too long ago these notions might - might - have been understandable as idealistic yearnings for peace, love and understanding. Unfortunately, we can no longer afford to take seriously such inexcusable naivete and willful ignorance. In light of what we know, and what we can guess, it is not an unreasonable or extreme view to want the UN out of America, and America out of the UN. And whether the world likes it or not, right now its best chance for peace, freedom and prosperity lies not with the symbolic olive branches of the UN, but with the stars and stripes of Old Glory. The only question is whether we have the will to do what needs doing.

Update: A Cranky welcome to everyone from Dean's World. Hope you stick around.

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