Monday, January 03, 2005

Oil-For-Food, Part Ten: The Mission - Save Kofi and Rescue the UN

An extraordinary story by Warren Hoge appeared in today's New York Times. Since the Times pulls their articles down rather quickly, I will need to quote at length and comment afterwards:
The meeting of veteran foreign policy experts in a Manhattan apartment one recent Sunday was held in strict secrecy. The guest of honor arrived without his usual retinue of aides.

The mission, in the words of one participant, was clear: "to save Kofi and rescue the U.N."

At the gathering, Secretary General Kofi Annan listened quietly to three and a half hours of bluntly worded counsel from a group united in its personal regard for him and support for the United Nations. The group's concern was that lapses in his leadership during the past two years had eclipsed the accomplishments of his first four-year term in office and were threatening to undermine the two years remaining in his final term.

...Their larger argument, according to participants, addressed two broad needs. First, they said, Mr. Annan had to repair relations with Washington, where the Bush administration and many in Congress thought he and the United Nations had worked against President Bush's re-election. Second, he had to restore his relationship with his own bureaucracy, where many workers said privately that his office protected high-level officials accused of misconduct.

In the week after the session, Mr. Annan sought and obtained a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, the nominee for secretary of state. United Nations officials said afterward that it was an encouraging meeting.

The apartment gathering on Dec. 5 came at the end of a year that Mr. Annan has described as the organization's "annus horribilis." The United Nations faced charges of corruption in the oil-for-food program in Iraq, evidence that blue-helmeted peacekeepers in Congo had run prostitution rings and raped women and teenage girls, and formal motions of no confidence in the organization's senior management from staff unions.

..."The intention was to keep it confidential," [former UN ambassador Richard] Holbrooke said. "No one wanted to give the impression of a group of outsiders, all of them Americans, dictating what to do to a secretary general."

He described the group as people "who care deeply about the U.N. and believe that the U.N. cannot succeed if it is in open dispute and constant friction with its founding nation, its host nation and its largest contributor nation."

"The U.N., without the U.S. behind it, is a failed institution," he said.

...One of the members of the group had prepared for the session by finding out if the Bush administration was siding with those in Congress who were calling for Mr. Annan's resignation or whether it would support his resolve to stay in office until the end of his term in December 2006.

The official, a onetime senior government figure in Washington with close ties to the Bush administration, said he concluded that "they were not going to draw the sword against Kofi."

"Everyone I talked to, including the White House, said that if Kofi was going to go, it was going to be by the hand of the Volcker report, not by the hand of the Bush administration," the official said.

Much can be deduced from this article with a patient reading. First, Kofi Annan is clearly in serious trouble. If you are familiar with the history of Watergate, this sounds very much like the meetings Nixon began to hold with Republican leaders in Congress as the situation grew grimmer. Second, the meeting was not just about Annan, but about the credibility of the United Nations as a whole. Mr. Holbrooke's comment about the UN being a failed institution without American support is remarkable in light of his highly visible support of the Kerry campaign and its UN love-fest atmosphere. Essentially, and almost certainly against his will, he is confirming the charges the UN critics have laid at its feet. However, there is more, and it points to Annan's survival.

The article confirms the buzz that the Bush administration has made the decision to let the Volcker investigation drive events. This is not good news. As I and others have discussed at length, Annan has stacked the deck; the report will be delivered to him to take such action as it deems necessary. In any event, Volcker has previewed the results of his investigation with recent comments such as these:
�Without question, (there were) problems in the oil-for-food area,� Volcker said. �But when you look at those 10 billion-dollar figures, or 20 billion figures, most of those numbers are so-called smuggling, much of which was known and taken note of by the security council, but not stopped.�

Volcker refused to speculate on why the council did not stop the smuggling, but indicated the issue would probably be addressed in his reports. An initial report was expected in January and a final report in the summer, he said.
If the Volcker report comes out along these lines, Congress must step up and keep the heat on, or we will be faced with yet more calls for 'reform' of the UN that ultimately lead nowhere.

It would be interesting to know the back story: who leaked the meeting? What did they hope to accomplish? (I can only speculate that the idea was to show how seriously Kofi is taking the accusations and how committed he is to improving relations with the U.S.) To what extent did the Bush admistration encourage the meeting or the leak? How much cover will the tsunami relief efforts provide the UN? At this point, there are more questions than answers, but I'm increasingly unhappy with the direction the scandal investigations are taking. To be continued...

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