Sunday, December 05, 2004
Mr. Annan, who drew the wrath of Republican Washington for opposing President Bush's war in Iraq, will have to face the judgment of United Nations members on how much responsibility he bears. But before the call for his scalp gains more political momentum, it is important to disentangle the mélange of charges swirling around. The United Nations bureaucracy does not bear the primary responsibility for letting Saddam Hussein amass a secret treasury estimated by official investigators at $10 billion to $21 billion.
Make no mistake about it: The New York Times is proposing a defense of Kofi Annan's administration, hoping to deflect "political momentum" that might lead to his
There is no doubt that the United Nations oil-for-food program was manipulated by Saddam Hussein to generate substantial sums. The money was then used to buy forbidden goods or otherwise solidify Mr. Hussein's power. The most worrisome charge is that Benon Sevan, head of the program, received oil allotments from Iraq that amounted to a bribe. These charges need to be fully investigated, as they will be by the United Nations' own panel and other inquiries.
The Times concedes that the "most worrisome charge" is that Benon Sevan, the guy charged with running the oil-for-food program, was taking bribes from Saddam. Of course that's the most worrisome charge! It meant that the United Nations system for internal controls, which is a hilarious idea if you think about it, had been completely corrupted. Once Sevan was in Iraq's pocket, all else became possible.
It is also curious that the Times is expressing total confidence that these charges will be fully investigated. The concern, actually, is that the Volker investigation is being both gagged and stone-walled. Where are the usual cries for full disclosure and an independant prosecutor?
But the ever-shriller attacks on oil-for-food and on Mr. Annan play down this fact: Iraq accumulated far more illicit money through trade agreements that the United States and other Security Council members knew about for years but chose to accept.
This is Orwellian in its deception. First, the "trade agreements" of which the Times writes were not protocol-laden five-star hotel agreements ratified by legislatures and such. Don't think NAFTA, WTO or GAAT. This was smuggling, and its primary benefiaries were Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iran. The United States can hardly be charged with "choosing" to accept smuggling via Syria and Iran. Oh, we could have gone to war unilaterally to prevent it, but I'm guessing that the Times would have objected to that. We might have coerced Jordan into cutting off Saddam, but you will recall that we could not even enlist Jordan's assistance in the 1991 Gulf War, so it is a stretch to think that coercion to cut off smuggling would have been effective later in the '90s. Finally, the smuggling through Turkey largely benefited Iraqi Kurdistan, not Saddam, and goes a long way to explaining why that part of Iraq became more prosperous during the sanction years.
Second, the reference to "other Security Council members" refers to the French, Russians and Chinese who opposed American and British efforts to bottle up Iraq. While French, Russian and Chinese obstructionism may mitigate Annan's personal guilt, it reinforces the argument that the United Nations is generally ill-suited to dealing with international crises.
After the first Persian Gulf war, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq that prohibited imports of military value and banned oil exports to deny Mr. Hussein money to rebuild his army. When it became apparent that Iraq's civilian population was suffering greatly, the sanctions were eased. The so-called oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to export oil under United Nations supervision, with the revenues funneling into a United Nations account to be used for food, medicine and other necessities.
The Times' used the passive voice -- "when it became apparent that Iraq's civilian population was suffering greatly" -- because it did not want to write in the active voice. To do so would make it harder for the Times to defend its opposition to regime change. So let me try: "Saddam used the sanctions regime to gain control of virtually all lawful and unlawful trade between Iraq and the outside world, and used the proceeds of that trade to build his military and strengthen his own government. In addition, the Baathists used the excuse of the sanctions to starve the Shiite population, which imposed widespread suffering. Finally, Iraq waged an effective propaganda campaign arguing that this suffering was the consequence of the sanctions, rather than the result of specific decisions of Saddam. Many of us, including The New York Times, bought this argument hook, line and sinker."
In fact, we now know that the oil-for-food program strengthened Saddam's control over the Iraqi economy, and increased his leverage over the coalition of Western countries that was trying to contain him. While this was apparent at a superficial level before the war, it is explicit today: Saddam was using the oil-for-food program to buy votes in the Security Council.
By virtually all expert accounts, the sanctions, backed by United Nations weapons inspectors, and the oil-for-food program achieved their major goals. Iraq's programs to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons disintegrated, its conventional military forces became a hollow shell, and the health of the civilian population improved. But right from the start, Iraq found ways to circumvent the sanctions, often with the tacit approval of the United States.
An analysis by Charles Duelfer, the chief American weapons inspector in Iraq, estimated that Iraq generated some $11 billion in illicit revenue and used the money to buy prohibited items, including military equipment. The main routes for these illicit transactions - $8 billion worth - were trade deals that Iraq negotiated with neighboring countries, notably Jordan, Syria and Turkey. By the Senate subcommittee's higher count, Iraq got almost two-thirds of some $21 billion through the trade deals or smuggling.
But these trade agreements had nothing to do with the oil-for-food program, and were hardly a secret. The United States actually condoned Iraq's trade deals with Jordan and Turkey, two allies whose economies suffered from the sanctions. This was a reasonable price to pay for maintaining their support on the main objective - denying weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein.
American diplomats tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Syria to stop buying Iraqi oil outside of the oil-for-food program, but did little to crack down on that trade. Syria became a major supplier of military goods to Iraq. This was a failure of American diplomacy, not Kofi Annan.
There are so many things offensive about this passage that one wonders where or how to begin. First, the Times is willfully distracting the reader from the corruption at the heart of the oil-for-food program. The main benefit to Saddam was not incremental billions to Saddam, which the Times obsessively tallies up, but influence on the Security Council and within the United Nations bureaucracy. Since the Times can almost always identify and deplore the buying of influence when it looks for it -- see, for instance, its obsession with campaign finance "reform" -- its refusal to discuss it in this case is obviously calculated.
Second, the Times is arguing that the United States gave its "tacit approval" to smuggling, particularly through Jordan and Turkey. Really? Is our failure to persuade these countries to crack down on the smuggling the same thing as "tacit approval"? What could we have done? As Kenneth Pollack argued persuasively in The Threatening Storm, the United States was not in a position to stop the smuggling. Even if we had bribed Jordan and Turkey with foreign aid to replace the economic benefits from illegal trade with Iraq (as some have suggested), it is the nature of smuggling that it is illegal. Both countries would have taken our money, claimed to have cracked down, and still there would have been smuggling. We can't stop smuggling into the United States -- see the huge traffic in both illegal drugs and illegal aliens -- so why should the Jordanians and the Turks, whose border guards are probably more corruptible than American customs officers, be any more effective? The argument that the United States gave its "tacit approval" to this smuggling is nonsense.
Finally, to characterize the smuggling by Syria of military hardware into Iraq as a "failure of American diplomacy" is absurd. Syria was in violation of United Nations sanctions. Does the Times really mean to argue that it is the responsibility of the United States to enforce United Nations sanctions unilaterally? That is, in effect, what it is saying by holding the United States responsible for Syria's complicity in the breaking of those sanctions.
The United Nations bureaucracy had no power to prevent these illicit oil or arms deals outside the oil-for-food program. It was the responsibility of member nations to adhere to sanctions imposed by the Security Council. Those members with the most diplomatic, economic and military power were obliged to help enforce them. Thus the primary blame for allowing Iraq to accumulate illicit billions lies with the United States and other Security Council members that winked at prohibited oil sales, mostly for sensible reasons.
While it may be technically the case that the United Nations bureaucracy "had no power" to prevent smuggling into Iraq outside of the oil-for-food program, this argument is arrestingly disingenous. If the "United Nations bureaucracy" had openly blown the whistle, as the New York Times would demand of any American bureaucracy in a similar situation, the debate in 2002 about the need to change the regime in Iraq might have gone very differently. Saddam bought the silence of the "United Nations bureaucracy," and for that who should be held accountable other than Kofi Annan?
The oil-for-food scandal is not about the lining of Saddam's pockets, or about his success in smuggling with such pillars of the international community as Syria, Jordan, Iran and Turkey. The oil-for-food scandal is about a ruthless dictator purchasing the silence of the United Nations bureaucracy and influencing votes among the permanent members of the Security Council. To argue that the U.N. scandal touches only about 1/3 of the $21 billion that Saddam looted is entirely beside the point, and the New York Times knows it.
UPDATED: To fix a typo in the title.
Seems to me that the logical conclusion of the Times' argument is not that Kofi Annan is being unfairly accused, but that the sanctions should have been scrapped and the hammer dropped on Saddam a long time ago.
Great Job on taking them down. And let's not forget one other thing. In trying to persuade it's readers that Kofi Annan is not at fault, they totally leave out the none to minor detail of the role played by Kofi's son, Kojo. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure the Times would frown upon the seedy side of nepotism if it involved a few people named Bush.
The NYTimes is so reliably wrong on nearly every political and cultural issue that comes to mind, the question must be asked which oriface is being used by its editors to take in information. Clearly, it is not the eyes and ears. Perhaps it is the one that so rarely knows the sunshine.
I concur: this is a great fisking. And kudoes for pointing out the Times' invariable use of the passive voice when they try to defend the indefensible, as Orwell put it. When I see them us it, I immediately think editorial coming. As for nepotism, one would think that the Times would be the last institution in the world, other than the House of Windsor, to complain of nepotism, given that its publisher, Mr Sulzberger, owes his august position on the nation's newspaper of record not to any great journalistic prowess or financial acumen, but to an accident of birth.
With all due respect, I think that you are falling into the Dan Rather trap.
On examination, this purported editorial could not have been written by the NYTimes, because
while it does contain the phrase a "gaggle of conservatives", this phrase does not have the modifier "ultra" as mandated in the NYT style manual before the word "conservative",
nowhere does the piece refer to "McCarthyism" and
nowhere does it reference any "prominent Republican" by name as denouncing the investigation which so troubles the NYTimes.
Oh, the NY Times, the NY Times!! But what would we do without it? Without it we would have no way of judging the true lunacy of liberals, those useful idiots of the left (to use Stalin's term), nor a way to know their agenda so easily and combat them with the truth.
Under that same editorial is a piece about the lack of diversity in our troops over in Iraq. How they can make that statement without the facts to back it up, but I remembered it's The NYT and one cannot let facts get in the way of pushing a view even if not true.
Wow, TigerHawk, I'd linked to this post at DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS before I realized you'd been Instalanched. Congratulations!
Having been Atriosed a couple months back, I can relate to the thrill of suddenly having thousands come read one's work.
The Oil-for-Food scandal is a bag of bad beans, to be sure. Does it require Annan's resignation? That depends on which standard you're using. If you use the Bush administration standards, then no. I've noticed that the Bushies require accountability for everyone except those within their administration...
Should the same accountability standards be applied to Kofi Annan as to the President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Vice President, CIA director, etc?
I'll hop on the Bye Bye Kofi bandwagon just as soon as Bush apologizes and resigns for his illegal war against Iraq in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.
This focus on Oil-for-Food is an effort on the part of the NeoCon establishment to discredit not just Annan, but the U.N. as a whole. In order to continue down a path of unilateral policing, the U.N. and it's Cooperative Philosophies must be discredited. Oil-for-Food scandal is a classic example of graft and corruption. Does this mean that the institution itself has failed? No. The Oil-for-Food program failed and went terribly awry, and that's why Kofi Annan came to GWB asking for a name to appoint to investigate.
Tempest in a teapot and shilling for the Neocons...
Oops. I'd meant to post this link to Rittenhouse Review's more thorough link b/w Neocons and Oil-For-Food scandal chatter:
Here It Is!Congrats again on getting UberLinked.
Screwy Hootie -
Funny. I thought that the administration did o.k. in the November Accountability exercise.
That's just me, of course.
Annan shouldn't be allowed to resign. He needs to be perp walked onto a slow boat to Ghana, alongside the rest of the U.N. staff getting on the boat to Belgium.
What happened to Iraq’s oil money?
Former U.S. official says billions of dollars were ‘squandered’
By Lisa Myers & the NBC investigative unit
Nov. 30, 2004
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the United States took control of all of
the Iraqi government’s bank accounts, including the income from oil sales.
The United Nations approved the financial takeover, and President Bush vowed
to spend Iraq’s money wisely. But now critics are raising serious questions
about how well the United States handled billions of dollars in Iraqi oil
Iraq's oil resources generate billions of dollars — money the United States
promised to protect after overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
Now, Frank Willis, a former senior American official in Iraq, tells NBC News
the United States failed to safeguard the oil money known as the Development
Fund for Iraq.
"There was, in my mind, pervasive leakage in assets of Iraq, and to some
extent, those assets were squandered," says Willis.
Willis helped run Iraq’s Transportation Ministry. He says government
agencies and private contractors had to be paid in cash because Iraq’s
banking system was decimated.
"A lot of money did get to the Iraqi people at the grass-roots level, and a
lot of it got into the wrong hands," he says.
In one photograph, Willis and colleagues showed off a $2 million payment to
a security contractor.
"It was time for payment," he remembers. "We told them to come in and bring
in a bag. It reminded me of the Wild West."
In a series of reports on U.S. management of the oil money, auditors working
for the United Nation's Iraq Advisory and Monitoring Board and the Inspector
General of the Coalition Provisional Authority found:
* Insufficient controls
* Missing records
* Two sets of books at Iraq's Finance Ministry, which did not match
In one example of insufficient controls, the United States stored hundreds
of millions of oil dollars in a vault in a Baghdad palace. Government
auditors found that the key to the vault was kept “unsecured” — in a U.S.
Iraq’s U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer, pledged last year to hire a
certified public accounting firm to ensure proper controls. But the United
States gave the contract not to an accounting firm but to a tiny consulting
company, Northstar — which NBC News found is headquartered at a private home
near San Diego.
"They violated the rules. They picked a contractor who didn’t meet their
requirements," says Paul Light, a government contracting expert and
professor at New York University.
Northstar’s president says the Pentagon knew Northstar was not a certified
public accounting firm and that four experienced employees went to Iraq and
did a good job. However, one audit notes that a single Northstar employee
maintained spreadsheets tracking billions of dollars.
Bremer would not comment. His aides say Iraq is a war zone and their top
priority was getting money quickly where it was needed, even if the
accounting wasn't perfect.
But NBC News has learned that a draft government audit faults the United
States for “inadequate stewardship” of up to $8.8 billion in oil money,
handed over to Iraq’s ministries but never fully accounted for.
© 2004 MSNBC Interactive
Congratulations on the Instalanche. Only...only...you had to actually read the NYT in order to be duly wreathed...whatever else, you have certainly earned it. What a craptious job that must've been, working your way thru that.
To whomever mentioned the orfices of the NYT. They are all in use, and not for their God-given purposes, either. They were sold.
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