Criticism of the United Nations’ corrupt Oil-for-Food program is nothing new; however, the depth of the UN’s depravity is reflected by the fact that the most recent critic is a diehard UN supporter, opponent of the Bush administration, and “liberal” Democrat: U.S. Senator Carl Levin, D-MI. Levin recently co-signed a letter with Sen. Norm Coleman, R-MN, condemning UN obstruction of the investigation into the scandal.
Coleman’s and Levin’s joint letter condemns the UN’s “refusal to produce relevant documents and give access to key personnel” to investigators about “allegations of bribery, conflict of interest and fraud.” The Senators are attempting to get to the bottom of the bilking of more than $11 billion from the “humanitarian” program, which managed to increase Saddam Hussein’s personal wealth while alleviating virtually none of the Iraqi people’s suffering. Originally the program was set up to route Iraqi oil money through the United Nations to ensure that it was spent on the needs of the Iraqi people rather than nefarious WMD programs. Instead, evidence suggests the program enriched scheming bureaucrats and Ba’athists while providing Hussein billions of dollars in disposable cash to buy weapons systems.
Kofi Annan’s stonewalling has become all the more untenable now that his son, Kojo, has been implicated as one of the scandal’s ringleaders. The conduct of Security Council member states Russia and France, vociferous opponents of the war in Iraq, has likewise been called into question by the evidence obtained. All of this has serious implications for American geopolitics, and, as the Coleman-Levin letter pointedly states, the investigation is necessary to determine “the extent to which misconduct associated with the OFF Program may have adversely affected the United States.” This sort of bipartisan anger must strike fear into the hearts of the bureaucrats at the UN, since they have raised the ire of the nation that single-handedly provides the organization with roughly 22 percent of its operating budget, to the tune of around $3 billion a year.
Attempting to apply a superficial band-aid to this gaping wound to the international body’s integrity, Annan appointed former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker last April to head the UN’s own investigation.
“This has been construed on Capitol Hill as a ploy to stave off any serious congressional inquiry,” syndicated columnist Bob Novak writes. “Nobody questions Volcker’s integrity, but his political skills have always been suspect. His Independent Inquiry Committee, off to a slow start because of inadequate funding, in the absence of subpoena powers looks like a sham.”
The Coleman-Levin letter is a rare bipartisan rebuke of the United Nations. But what is more remarkable than the strong language is whose pens that language is spilling out of. If this letter was co-authored by another Democrat – say, a conservative Democrat like Zell Miller – the impact would not as intense. But here we have a former Democrat-turned-moderate-Republican, Norm Coleman, lambasting the UN alongside Carl Levin, an avowed liberal and opponent of the war in Iraq.
Let’s make this clear: Levin is no “blue dog” Democrat, and he is certainly no tool of the Bush administration. Over the last four years he has accused Bush of class warfare, denouncing the president’s supposed “cavalier attitudes toward the plight of American workers” which Levin termed, “both insulting and aloof.” He has pushed socialized healthcare.
But most relevant to this discussion, on the issue of Iraq Senator Levin pledged fealty to the United Nations above any other entity, including his own country. This man is no opponent of the mission of the UN in any sense whatsoever. In the run-up to the war with Iraq, Levin tried to slip an amendment onto the war resolution that would have demanded United Nations support of any action. In a 2003 op-ed, Levin accused President Bush of “abandoning” post-Sept. 11 bipartisan unity by dismissing:
the ongoing work by the weapons inspectors and initiated military action without UN support. This action, along with the administration’s “you’re with us or you’re against us” rhetoric, cost us the support of many of our allies and much of the world, and has made it difficult to obtain the cooperation of the world community in the post-war reconstruction. We are still paying the price for acting unilaterally.
As late as June, Levin insisted Bush “consult” the United Nations about whether or not to hand over power to the Iraqi interim government, because this would constitute “a real turning point in the way the world views us, regardless of the outcome of the discussions.”
Indeed, during the Iraq crisis of 1998 Levin went on the record as a diehard UN internationalist. “If Saddam Hussein had cooperated with UNSCOM and the IAEA from the start and had met the other requirements of the UN Security Council resolutions, including the accounting for more than 600 Kuwaitis and third-country nationals who disappeared at the hands of Iraqi authorities during the occupation of Kuwait, those sanctions could have been lifted a number of years ago,” Senator Levin said on the Senate floor in October 1998. “I support the UN’s Oil-for-Food program and regret that Saddam Hussein took more than five years to accept it.”
Senator Levin’s letter clearly cannot be dismissed as an opportunistic thrashing of the UN. He’s been a diehard supporter of both for many years. Perhaps this is why Levin’s anger crackles with a feeling of betrayal. Nevertheless, Levin has stepped up and demanded the United Nations be held accountable to his country’s people. Hopefully other Democrats will follow Senator Levin’s lead, and, perhaps – for the first time in many years – we can have a reasonable conversation on the role of the United Nations in determining international policy.
If the Oil-for-Food scandal is any indication of the way things operate at the United Nations (and it’s a safe bet it is), it would seem the UN is a rogue agency, amoral, accepting bribes from dictators and tyrants, and refusing to answer for its misdeeds. But, then again, we’ll never know if Kofi Annan refuses to give up the documents and the witnesses. It’s time for Republicans and Democrats to stand together and denounce this affront to our sovereign nation. And if the United Nations cannot be bothered to explain itself to the benefactor nation that provides 22 percent of its funding, American taxpayers should not have to be bothered with supporting it.