by Linda McQuaig
Sunday, April 3, 2005
For years, there's been a determined campaign to smear the United Nations and its secretary-general Kofi Annan in connection with the U.N.'s oil-for-food program.
But last week, Annan was cleared of wrongdoing by an independent investigative committee headed by respected former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.
Specifically, Volcker found Annan did not intervene in the awarding of a lucrative U.N. contract to a company that employed his son Kojo. However, Volcker was highly critical of Kojo, whom he accused of "intentionally" deceiving his father about his relationship with the company.
So the lesson seems to be that Kojo is a dishonest guy who shouldn't be secretary-general of the U.N. Fortunately he isn't.
Volcker's report should end efforts by right-wing congressmen and commentators to discredit Kofi Annan. But last week Republican congressman Norm Coleman repeated his longstanding call for Annan to resign. (Why? For being a bad father?)
The media played up Annan's defiant "Hell, no" response (awfully stubborn, isn't he?). Annan was presented as emerging from the affair politically weakened and bruised, suggesting there's a lingering cloud over him and the U.N.
That's what those on the right want us to believe. They've long disliked the U.N., which stands for co-operation among nations and restricting the use of unilateral power. This clashes with the right's desire for a more muscular U.S., free to assert its power unchecked around the world. The right was furious when the Security Council refused to endorse the U.S. invasion of Iraq and even more furious when Annan described the invasion as "illegal."
Of course, there were serious problems with the oil-for-food program — notably that Saddam Hussein managed to siphon off billions of dollars.
Still, the program managed to provide crucial aid to Iraqis suffering under economic sanctions in the 1990s.
U.S. academic Joy Gordon, who has studied those sanctions, notes that France, Russia and China favoured ending them. But Washington insisted they be maintained, blocking even clearly non-military items: incubators, vaccines for infant hepatitis, and cardiac and dialysis machinery.
The real agenda here seems to be undermining the U.N., which, for all its flaws, represents the world's best shot at some semblance of international law. Sadly, America today doesn't appear to support international law.
In case that sounds like just my opinion, let me quote someone who should know — John Bolton, the Bush administration's choice for ambassador to the U.N.
Here's what The New Yorker recently quoted Bolton saying: "It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so — because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States."
Constrict the U.S.? It's called the rule of law and it's hard to imagine a civilized world without it.
Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator.
© 2005 The Star