by Austin Bay
April 19, 2005
Last week, a federal prosecutor issued the first indictments in the United Nations' Oil For Food corruption fiasco.
I chuckled when a correspondent for The Nation magazine quickly dubbed Oil for Food a "Texas scandal" -- a wisecrack drawn from the decadent Left's "Bomb Bush Not Baghdad" joke book. It's pop sloganeering designed to scourge the critic, while denying the central problem
That narrow spin didn't survive one 24-hour news cycle -- the international facts simply savaged the sophistry. A Texas-based corporation with Bulgarian and British operatives engaged in a kickback scheme run by Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Then the prosecutor added South Korean bagman Park Tongsun. Park -- the central figure in the Koreagate bribery and influence peddling scheme -- allegedly received up to $2 million from Saddam. The prosecution has evidence that Park was directed to use the cash to "take care of one of the U.N. officials with whom Park negotiated."
As yet, the "U.N. officials" are unnamed, though in report after report former Oil for Food director Benon Sevan's name flashes like a cheap neon sign.
This complex international sewer of crime and criminals has splattered Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office. While no evidence has emerged linking Annan to the crimes, there's no denying the damage to his reputation and credibility. Allegations that Annan's son, Kojo Annan, and Kojo's employer, Cotecna, breached ethical rules and tried to illegally influence an Oil for Food contract still tag the secretary-general.
Though Annan claims Paul Volcker's second "interim report" on Oil for Food cleared him, the truth is Volcker's investigation reveals -- at the minimum -- a sad and serious trail of incompetent management.
Which leads to the still-pending Senate vote on John Bolton, the Bush administration's nominee as America's U.N. ambassador
While Washington's political fencing over Bolton's nomination has reached the ludicrous -- with Democrats even complaining about Bolton's haircut -- not all of Bolton's opponents are playing the "scourge the critic but deny the problem" political game. Honest opponents believe Bolton lacks the diplomatic finesse to do two things: first, cooperate with the U.N. agencies that do work (e.g., U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees); and second, lead the necessary reform process.
Sincere opponents believe Bolton's confrontational style will increase animosity and political polarization at the United Nations (leading to further diplomatic difficulties for the United States), and not resolve the issues of institutional corruption and incompetence they know exist.
I'm a U.N. reformer -- with a long train of paper supporting that position. If Bolton intends to destroy the United Nations, then he's not the man for the job,
But I think Bolton's a reformer, and here's the chief indicator: He's a committed member of the Bush team -- and the Bush team knows its Job One is winning the War on Terror.
A functioning, accountable United Nations is a U.S. ally in this war, and would play an extremely useful role in fostering the economic and political stability truly defeating terror requires. No bureaucracy moves unless either led or pushed. Kofi Annan is not providing leadership -- the Volcker report damns him for mismanagement. That means someone has to push for reform, and Bolton has the guts to push.
Pushing necessarily entails a form of confrontation -- and Bolton has the rep and spine to handle both the overt and covert ends of diplomatic jousting. In these circumstances, a tough cop reputation is a plus.
Pushing, however, must have a direction. That's why Bolton needs to have a plan on hand -- a plan that emphasizes organizational reform based on holding the United Nations accountable. Accountability punishes corruption, penalizes incompetence and rewards competence. That should be Bolton's pitch to sincere U.N. staffers -- Oil for Food didn't feed people, it fed thugs' pocketbooks. If you want to do the job right, let's do it right.