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UN Scandal (Yawn)

UN Scandal (Yawn)

Kofi Annan is a symptom of the UN's sickness.


Kofi Annan has had better weeks.

On Monday, the UN secretary general woke up to a Wall Street Journal column by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, publisher of the influential InstaPundit website, urging that he be replaced by Vaclav Havel, the much-admired former president of the Czech Republic.

In The New York Times, op-ed eminence William Safire reviewed the revelations that link the massive Oil-for-Food scandal to Annan's own family: Until this year, his son Kojo was getting monthly payments from a firm that had a major Oil-for-Food contract with the UN -- even though he'd left the company in 1998. The corruption enveloping the UN will not begin to dissipate, Safire wrote, until Annan resigns, "having, through initial ineptitude and final obstructionism, brought dishonor on the Secretariat of the United Nations."

Meanwhile, the latest National Review was out, with its cover photo of Annan and the headline, in large red letters: "You're Fired!" An editorial inside insisted that "Annan should either resign, if he is honorable, or be removed, if he is not," while an essay by Nile Gardiner, a former aide to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, explained why "Kofi's hour is up." With his record, Gardiner observed, "if Annan were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company… he would have been forced to resign months ago."

On Wednesday came another call for Annan's ouster, this one from the chairman of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which has amassed evidence that Saddam Hussein used stolen Oil-for-Food dollars to underwrite terrorism and suborn at least one senior UN official. It is "abundantly clear" that Kofi Annan should resign, Senator Norm Coleman said. "As long as Mr. Annan remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks, and under-the-table payments that took place under the UN's collective nose."

If history is any guide, the scandal headlines will fade from view long before the secretary general does.

But odds are the world won't much care about getting to the bottom of the latest UN scandal. UN scandals rarely provoke lasting outrage. There was no global uproar when the brutal regime in Libya was chosen to chair the UN's Human Rights Commission. Nothing happened to the UN after its troops allowed Serbs to slaughter 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the "safe haven" of Srebrenica. Sex scandals seem to erupt wherever the UN goes -- the latest involves charges of rape, child abuse, and prostitution by UN personnel in the Congo -- but they never cause heads to roll in Turtle Bay. Annan himself became secretary general despite his failure, when he headed the UN's peacekeeping operations, to pay attention to warnings of genocide in Rwanda.

Why should anything be different this time? Oil-for-Food may be the greatest international rip-off of modern times, it may have strengthened one of the world's bloodiest dictators, it may have deprived countless Iraqis of food and medicine, but if history is any guide, the scandal headlines will fade from view long before the secretary general does. By week's end, in fact, dozens of governments, including all the permanent members of the Security Council save the United States, had publicly rallied to Annan's support. Scandal or no scandal, he will almost certainly serve out the remaining two years of his term.

Which is just as well. Annan is merely a symptom of the UN's sickness, not the cause of it. His resignation would do nothing to reform the UN into the engine of peace and liberty its founders envisioned. Better that Annan remain in place as a symbol of UN fecklessness and failure, and a spur to those who can envision something better.

The UN is a corrupt institution, one that long ago squandered whatever moral legitimacy it once had. The UN's founding documents venerate justice and human rights, but for the past 40 years, the organization has been dominated by a bloc of states -- essentially the Afro-Asian Third World -- most of whose governments routinely pervert justice and violate human rights.

Inside the United Nations, there is no difference between a dictatorship or a democracy: Each gets exactly one vote in the General Assembly. The reason the UN indulges vicious regimes like those in North Korea, Syria, and Cuba is that they are members in good standing, and most other governments lack the courage to cross them. The UN cannot be fixed unless that changes -- and that isn't going to change.

Cynicism, hypocrisy, bigotry -- these are the hallmarks of the modern UN. The free peoples of the world, and those yearning to breathe free, deserve better. And what would be better? I'll take up that question in a future column.

December 11, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) jAZ, January 20, 2009 3:10 PM

The UN should be shut down

The UN is a feckless, corrupt, ineffective, front for NAZIs, terrorists, dictators, thugs, murderers, rapists, islamists, and criminals. It's a den of thieves. This is just the latest scandal. Wasn't a confirmed NAZI, Kurt Waldheim, it's former beloved Sect'ry General? Kick the scum out of the USA and back to their third world cesspools. Who are these criminals to judge anyone or any other nation? Should any legitimate nation take any of the UN's mandates seriously? Not a chance.

(6) Alberto Pinto, December 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Kofi Annans wasn`t the best person to be in that charge but he help in many ways in africa for example, the next person should be somebody that is going to be the key to clean the UN of corruption and relief the deep hole of VALUES thet the people in the world has lost, theres no other way that fight the bad things with good ones, so if this is the time, let it be.
The badness sick must disappear, i hope god help us but we need to try first, and thank you for reading this little article.

(5) Andrew Boss, December 22, 2004 12:00 AM

In Defense of Annan

In defense of Annan there is no indication that he knew about his son's activities first. Secondly, his son is a grown man and responsible for himself. Moreover, as for Rwanda, Annan was for intervening to stop the genocide being carried out by the Interhamwe, both the United States and France threatened to veto any Security Council resolution to intervene and put large pressure on other countries to keep there from being a vote. In the end nothing was done. While the oil for food program was a mess and the sex scandals involving the failure of the Ethiopian government and other governments to monitor soldiers under their command in a UN mission is appalling, the Secretary General cannot be held responsible for them. The UN is structured so that nations who provide peacekeepers keep those peacekeepers under the command of their own officers in most cases, with the hands of the Secretary General and UN officials pretty much tied. Srebenica was a failure by Dutch military and in the Netherlands the government of Prime Minister Hall was taken to task for that failing and was forced out of office. As for Israel, Secretary General Annan has criticized it frequently. He has also criticized many other nations frequently. There is no indication his criticism is anti-Semitic. There is much about Israel that is good and much about which to be critical. Both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate claims to the land and only a two state solution can work...the details of that solution will be very hard to work out, but blindly taking one side is pointless. Additionally, to ignore real human rights abuses by the Israeli government and deny that it, like any other government in the world, when faced with tough choices has sometimes done the wrong thing, and, as most countries usually puts its own national interest before human rights is denying that which is shown by a strong body of evidence. Far from being anti-Semitic Annan's constructive criticism and his willingness to see both Israel's strengths and weaknesses has been helpful over the years.

(4) Do Lern Hwei, December 15, 2004 12:00 AM

This is all new to me. The article claims that the UN is dominated by Afro-Asian Third World countries. I thought that NATO countries and the EU
also have a strong influence in the UN.
The Oil for Food agreement is supported by the US government.
I do agree that the UN has been ineffective in some areas and things need to be improved.

(3) Noelle Stills, December 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Everything I have read about UN has not been positive. One article in the WASH POST referred to the group as a "secretive underworld ."

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