Question: Who said, “Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government's ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign investment and aid.”
Answer: Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary general of the United Nations, career bureaucrat and internationalist, who solemnly promised to “restore public confidence” in the UN.
In light of Annan’s warnings of corruption’s ill effects and the need to polish the UN’s image, even his ardent backers must be chagrined to assess his stewardship these days. Under Annan, the UN record is abysmal:
- Most recently the Oil-for-Food scandal showed Saddam Hussein siphoned off $6.7 billion in revenue, either under the UN’s not-so-watchful eye or with UN assistance.
- Oil-for-Food enriched 270 individuals, companies, and political entities around the world including a former French interior ministry official, Russia's Communist Party, and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
- The program’s executive director, hand-picked by Annan, is implicated receiving bribes from Saddam.
- Annan’s son, Kojo, continued to be paid by the contractor hired to monitor the UN Oil-for-Food program for almost five years after his employment had ended.
- Of the $21 billion Saddam skimmed and otherwise connived, it is believed at least some funded terrorists killing U.S. troops in Iraq today.
- Meanwhile Annan undermined the U.S. Iraqi war effort, calling it “illegal,” despite 17 enabling UN resolutions.
- UN officials have failed to halt genocide of tens of thousands in Darfur, Sudan.
- Similarly, the UN’s peacekeeping wing, at the time headed by Annan, failed to heed pleadings to prevent the genocide of 800,000 in Rwanda in the 1990s. When asked about it, Annan responded, “We all made mistakes.”
- Gross human rights abuser Libya was chosen to chair the UN’s Human Rights Commission, and despotic Syria was made a commission member.
- UN sex scandals continue unabated, the latest involving rape, child abuse, and prostitution by UN personnel in the Congo.
- Annan personally acquitted a high UN official accused of sexually harassing an employee, prompting the near-passage of an unprecedented no-confidence vote by UN employees.
- The UN continues to condemn Israel, the only democratic nation in the Middle East, while consistently siding with Palestinian terrorists.
All of this reached the public boiling point with the Oil-for-Food scandal, perhaps the largest case of graft and corruption in world history, prompting six congressional investigations, three federal department investigations, and the UN’s own internal probe (characteristically shrouded in secrecy).
“In any other organization, if the CEO was around at the time when there was a $21 billion rip-off, the board of directors would say it’s time to go,” said Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman, whose subcommittee on investigations is looking into a wide range of alleged UN improprieties. “Unless folks see us getting to the bottom of this, I think the U.S. relationship with the United Nations is jeopardized.”
The view from within the UN’s cloistered halls isn’t much rosier. After Annan personally dismissed sexual harassment charges brought by an American female staffer against a ranking UN official, employees nearly achieved an unprecedented no-confidence vote.
Meanwhile, calls for Annan to step down from the position he’s held since 1996 are mounting.
Rep. Roger Wicker, R-MS, has collected 52 cosponsors for a resolution calling on Annan to resign “due to the allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and abuse.” Sen. Coleman says the condition for continuing U.S.-UN relations is “Kofi himself taking responsibility and stepping down.” The Center for Individual Freedom and the Coalition for Security, Liberty and the Law also have called for his resignation, as has National Review.
Predictably, Annan supporters responded, opposing resignation. Annan has friends in France, Cuba, 54 African nations and the European Union, as well as on the editorial board of the New York Times, in Communist China and a smattering of leftist House Democrats (including presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich).
Annan shows no sign of quitting. “I have quite a lot of work to do, and I’m carrying on with my work,” he has said. The Bush administration has signaled it will not press for Annan’s resignation.
Sentiments about whether Annan should stay or go may not necessarily neatly line up by friend and foe. For example, columnist Claudia Rosette, who unearthed much of the Oil-for-Food scandal, argues persuasively that if Annan is forced out prior to the end of his term in December 2006, ongoing investigations may be dropped and that they are more likely to continue if he remains. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby also argues persuasively against Annan’s ouster, but for different reasons. Annan’s resignation will do nothing to reform the UN, Jacoby says, but leaving him in place may be motivation for democratic nations to forge working coalitions outside the United Nations.
These views reveal fundamental disagreement among Annan’s critics about the larger question: whether the United Nations serves the long-term interests of the United States, or the world at large.
Should the UN be overhauled in the hope “reforms” will steer it clear of the self-serving corruption of an inherently unaccountable body? Or, should the UN be isolated, essentially rendered irrelevant and circumvented in favor of new, ad hoc “communities of democracies.”
In short, is the UN redeemable, or doomed to continually repeat its pattern of insulated arrogance, catering to thugocracies and other nations “led” by unelected despots?
Those who see a possibility of reform may prefer cleaning house and starting over, or like Rosette, they may see strategic value in keeping Annan in place to encourage further inquiries and flush out as-yet undisclosed wrongdoing.
But will “reform” merely put lipstick on the pig? Half a century ago, demands that the United States withdraw from the UN were relegated to the political fringe. Not so in the era of Annan. Indeed, it was President Bush himself who warned of the UN making itself “irrelevant,” and who already has forged a “coalition of the willing” beyond the UN’s purview to advance human freedom.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the unaccountable UN lives up to the words of Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The UN’s sense of autonomy never was more evident than in its refusal to release 55 internal audits of the Oil-for-Food program, something a U.S. government agency would be hard-pressed to get away with. Considering such overt stonewalling, what is one to make of Annan’s supposed surprise when the $120,000 in payments to his son, made by a UN Oil-for-Food contractor, came to light?
An unaccountable UN is not a pretty picture with its ever-burgeoning bureaucracy, fueled by funds it doesn’t generate on its own, driven by the veiled, self-serving and rarely benign interests of its member states, while arrogantly regarding itself unanswerable to even those who pay its bills.
It’s noteworthy that Annan’s own ambitious plan for “reform” would grant the UN even broader influence, if not utter control, in areas sovereign nations have traditionally regarded as, well, as their sovereign rights.
On Wednesday, Annan addressed the General Assembly calling for his version of “reform,” which includes guidelines for when the UN will “authorize” nations like the United States to launch preemptive attacks. Even internationalist-leaning John Kerry stopped short of agreeing to turn over America’s defense decisions to the UN.
As the UN’s credibililty and reliability evaporate, it is instructive to know those in the seats of power in the UN General Assembly view things differently: “You've just received the rare and valuable homage of the General Assembly,” assembly President Jean Ping told Annan after a prolonged standing ovation Wednesday. “And I interpret this long...ovation as an acknowledgement of your actions and also an expression of confidence in yourself and also of the work you've undertaken at the helm of the United Nations.”
So, whither the UN?
Perhaps a good argument for allowing the global governing agency to sink further into irrelevance is the possibility that ousting Annan could bring an even more feckless, if not less trustworthy secretary general. It is widely assumed former President Bill Clinton aspires to that role.
Whatever tactic helps get to the bottom of the Oil-for-Food scandal is best for now. But Annan's popularity at the UN testifies to that organization's irrelevance and utter disgrace.