The over-used criticism of the President’s unilateral move into Iraq appears flimsier with each step of the Oil-for-Food probe. There was a reason that world powers like Russia, France, Germany and China left the U.S. to fly solo, and it wasn’t the lofty idealistic platitudes they put forth in 2002.
It’s easy to see how money siphoned off of the U.N. humanitarian program could paint Saddam Hussein as a more valuable, if indirect, ally than Bush or Tony Blair. I mean, why would the plight of oppressed Iraqis or the possibility of a terrorist harbor concern those governments when much of their constituent industrial base was getting kickbacks in the billions from the Hussein regime?
Thirteen years passed between the U.S.’s UN-backed attempt to depose Hussein in 1991 and the success of the independent coalition in 2004. The U.N. missed out on that and, oversimplification noted, its Iraqi Oil program may have factored more significantly in that decision than the Democratic National Committee would like you to think.
Oil-for-Food sounded like a good idea in 1996, when the first 180-day phase of exportation began. It was an unprecedented move in humanitarian assistance: to raise the allotted funds within the country receiving aid. The UN would temporarily lift economic sanctions in each phase and impose a ceiling to control oil sales and monitor fund allocation. By the time the program ended in March of 2003, the UN reported that some 3.4 billion tons of oil had been exported with 72 percent of the $65 billion in proceeds pouring into relief funds for the Iraqi people.
Had the sale of oil actually been monitored with any efficiency, it might have been a success. Instead, Saddam Hussein garnished $10.1 billion according to the Government Accountability Office. Russian companies pocketed upwards of $7 billion and French businesses nearly $4 billion. The Russian government not only received more than $1 billion in oil vouchers, but both it and France are also alleged to have shared top secret intelligence disclosures with Baghdad.
The Iraqi Oil Ministry released a list of beneficiaries in the publication Al Mada that included, among others, “…former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, the ‘director of the Russian President’s office,’ the Russian Communist Party, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the son of Lebanese President Emile Lahud, the son of Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, and George Galloway, a British Member of Parliament,” according to the Heritage Foundation. Benon V. Sevan, the UN Assistant Secretary General and executive director of the Oil-for-Food program was perhaps the most telling name implicated. (Sevan denies accusations, but he’s taking an “extended vacation, pending retirement later this month,” so draw your own conclusions.)
Kofi Annan did, of course, hand-pick a team to investigate the depth of the scandal, but its credibility is seriously compromised by the fact that Annan’s son is connected to the scandal. No one apparently saw a conflict of interest in hiring Cotecna, an inspection agency, to work for the program. Although, Kojo Annan had worked for the company for three years up until 1998, and despite Cotecna’s alleged previous implications in “bribery scandals,” according to the Heritage Foundation report. Again, the integrity of the UN effort is questionable.
Oil-for-Food was a disaster of a program: a poorly executed plan packaged in palatable humanitarian terms. The combination of vast dividends and thick veils of secrecy made the program ripe for a scandal, and the proportions of this one are such as the UN has never before seen.
So what has been the cost exactly, and who paid it? The Iraqi people were robbed of billions of dollars in food and medicine.
But the American people lost out, too. We lost key ally backing that could have helped force the compliance of the Iraqi regime and prevented the loss of lives that now exceeds 1,000 and is still growing.
As the probing commissions uncover the layers of this scandal, Kofi Annan and the United Nations appear desperately in need of an overhaul. And, as November creeps up on us, the credibility of left-wing philosophical opposition to “Bush’s War” has taken another staggering blow.
Elizabeth Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.