Just in case anyone thinks the folks at the UN don’t work long hours, check out the news on the UN General Assembly budget vote, held at 5:55 A.M. — on Saturday morning, no less — following “marathon talks that lasted through the night.” The result was the adoption of a record-busting $4.17 billion core budget for 2008-2009, passed by a vote of 142 to 1.
And who was that lone dissenting member state? You guessed it: as Mark Steyn has called it, America Alone.
Is that because 142 member states (including Belarus, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Laos, Libya, Burma, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe) are right? and America is wrong?
Or is it because the UN system is structured to encourage the mob of member states to treat American money as an all-you-can-eat buffet?
American taxpayers bankroll 22%, or $917 million of this whopping biennial core budget — by far the biggest contribution of any one member state — with just a handful of other countries, including Japan and a few from the European Union, accounting for the bulk of the remainder.
This is just the core budget, of course. The UN system-wide budget is about ten times the size (and for that, the U.S. foots an even bigger portion of the bill, or about 25%), thus likely to total well over $40 billion for the same two-year stretch. Though due to a UN system growing like kudzu, and just as impenetrable, the exact numbers are almost impossible to keep up with.
Having stood trial for almost a month in a Manhattan federal courtroom, 83-year-old Texas tycoon Oscar S. Wyatt Jr. struck a deal Monday. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United Nations’ former Oil for Food program for Iraq. Brushing past me on his way out of the courtroom — he’s clearly familiar with my writing on the subject — he shot a remark: “You ought to be happy.”
Actually, the pity is that the trial ended sooner than expected. Wyatt is the first major Oil for Food contractor — anywhere — to face a jury in open court. His weeks on trial brought the most vivid glimpses yet into the labyrinth of graft and greed in the U.N. program, operating from 1996-2003, that was meant to allow Saddam Hussein to sell oil solely to relieve suffering in his country.
Wyatt’s trial also underscored the vitality and ingenuity with which private players can drive, fly, haggle and connive their way past embargoes — especially those enforced by the murky, politicized and largely unaccountable bureaucracy of the U.N. (Benon Sevan, the former head of Oil for Food who was indicted in New York in January on charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, is a fugitive, denying wrongdoing but beyond reach of U.S. extradition on his native Cyprus).
Despite many investigations launched in the U.S. over the past few years, the inside players who witnessed Saddam’s machinations firsthand have remained offstage, their stories distilled second-hand into written reports. Not here. Star witnesses facing Wyatt from the stand included two former Iraqi officials, Mubdir Al-Khudair and Yacoub Y. Yacoub. They have never before been questioned in a public setting, and were relocated to the U.S. by federal authorities this past year to protect them against retaliation in Iraq for cooperating in this probe.
Messrs. Khudair and Yacoub described a system corrupt to the core. Their duties inside Saddam Hussein’s bureaucracy consisted largely, and officially, of handling and keeping track of kickbacks. That included who had paid and how much, and via which front companies. When Saddam’s regime systematized its Oil for Food kickback demands across the board in 2000, keeping track of the graft flowing into Saddam’s secret coffers became a job so extensive that the marketing arm of Iraq’s Ministry of Oil, known as SOMO (State Oil Marketing Organization) developed an electronic database to track the flow of the “surcharges,” as they were called.
Christopher Hitchens reviews the record of George Galloway:
…An inquiry was set up, by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, to investigate. It has now produced its report, along with a recommendation that Mr. Galloway apologize to the House and be suspended from Parliament for 18 days. And the findings of the report are even more damning, if that is possible, than the conclusions reached by the Senate and Volcker investigations. In particular, they make reference to the transcript of a meeting between Galloway and Saddam Hussein on Aug. 8, 2002. On that date, Galloway complained to his political masterâ€”the man he had saluted in public for his “courage” and “indefatigability”â€”that certain problems with oil prices were affecting “our income” and “our dues.”
Like Hitchens, I doubt that Galloway’s troubles are over — at least I sincerely hope the wrist-slap of an 18-day suspension from the House of Commons is only the first installment.
The first positive signals I’ve seen from the U.N. within memory:
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has been on the job for less than a month, but with a 26-word announcement Friday he did more to reform that international body than anything ever attempted by predecessor Kofi Annan.
“The Secretary-General will call for an urgent, system wide and external inquiry into all activities done around the globe by the U.N. funds and programs.” So said Mr. Ban’s spokesman after the Secretary-General met with Ad Melkert, associate administrator of the United Nations Development Program. The key word here is “external.” Concerns about corruption in the U.N.’s Oil for Food program bubbled for years before Mr. Annan finally agreed to set up the independent Volcker Commission.
The proximate cause for Friday’s meeting between Messrs. Ban and Melkert, and for Mr. Ban’s clean-house announcement, was Melanie Kirkpatrick’s op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal on Friday detailing irregularities in the UNDP’s programs in North Korea and citing U.S. concerns that tens of millions of dollars in hard currency have been funneled to dictator Kim Jong Il.
Mr. Annan came to power at a moment when it was at least plausible to believe that a properly reformed U.N. could serve the purposes it was originally meant to serve: to be a guarantor of collective security and a moral compass in global affairs. Mr. Annan’s legacy is that nobody can entertain those hopes today.
Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial examines the history of Kofi Annan. It is an excellent survey of the “accomplishments” of Mr. Annan.
Remember how the Bolton nomination was going to bring the end of diplomacy?
John Bolton became America’s Ambassador to the United Nations last year on a recess appointment. Since then, the U.S. has won unanimous Security Council resolutions condemning North Korea’s missile tests and ending the Israeli-Lebanese war, and a near-unanimous one (Qatar dissenting) setting a deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear program. Not bad for a man once called “the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.”
Those were the words of George Voinovich, the Ohio Republican who as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee surprised even himself by opposing Mr. Bolton’s nomination. Mr. Bolton was also called a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy” and “lacking in any real knowledge of the wider world” by two State Department officials. Joe Biden, the committee’s ranking Democrat, all but accused Mr. Bolton of being a liar, while California’s Barbara Boxer called his nomination “outrageous.”
We recall the Bolton hysteria as the committee prepares to consider the ambassador’s renomination to his post. As his critics would have it, Mr. Bolton’s mission to the U.N. was supposed to be an act of diplomatic sabotage by the Administration. Instead, his tenure has been among the most constructive of any U.S. ambassador since Jeane Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
I agree with Glenn, though I’m not aware of any credible evidence that Annan is enriching himself at the pig trough — just that he has done nothing to diminish the culture of corruption:
WHO SHOULD REPLACE KOFI AT THE U.N.? “Tony Soprano. Heâ€™d steal less. He wouldnâ€™t take any shit from anybody and a UN Resolution would be enforced, or else.”
Sadly, this makes sense.
John Bolton: â€˜Corruption didn’t arise out of thin airâ€™
I missed these Bolton comments on UN corruption from 06/11/2005 until I saw the link in Claudia’s post. I thought it was so pointed and true that it was worth highlighting:
Senior United Nations officials are ignoring the scathing reports into their handling of the corruption-ridden Iraqi oil-for-food programme, according to John Bolton, the outspoken American ambassador to the UN.
He accused them of living in a “bubble” as they disregard the damning findings of the Volcker commission established by Kofi Annan, the secretary general. The inquiry criticised the UN and Mr Annan for their failings in running a scheme from which Saddam Hussein skimmed off an estimated $2 billion (Â£1.2 billion).
At a private dinner attended by the Sunday Telegraph in New York last week, Mr Bolton gave guests a hard-hitting critique of life at the UN.
“In the bubble on First Avenue, Volcker is just ignored. I talk about it, but it’s a solitary conversation. Nobody else will be fired unless people are indicted by outside authorities.
“Corruption didn’t arise out of thin air, it arose out of the culture of the place. Bribes, mismanagement etc – it would be unacceptable for executives in any normal organisation.”
As an example, he cited the fact that UN staff could accept gifts worth up to $10,000 in a year without any requirement to disclose them.
…During a frank and wide-ranging discussion last week, Mr Bolton said of his three months in the job: “Have I enjoyed it? It’s exactly what I expected.” Asked what he enjoyed most at the UN, he replied: “It’s a target-rich environment.”
He said the prevailing anti-American sentiment among many delegates helped to explain why the UN failed to seize the opportunities offered by the end of the Cold War.
“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the UN has become the focus for a lot of people who have an agenda against the United States. We are having the same debates we thought we were having 20 years ago.
“The UN is seen by many as a chance to counter-balance us.”
…But despite his criticisms, Mr Bolton told his audience that he believed parts of the UN – such as the World Health Organisation and the children’s agency Unicef – often played a valuable role.
He also argued that sometimes the UN “can be an effective instrument of US foreign policy. There are times when it can serve US interests”. He cited events in summer 1990 when the UN voted for war against Saddam to force him out of Kuwait before Congress passed such a resolution.
During a discussion about the values that Winston Churchill and President Franklin D Roosevelt had foreseen for the UN, Mr Bolton said: “It’s hard to see the idealism of the founders in the actions of the UN today.”
The United Nations is, as Ambassador John Bolton has said, â€œa target-rich environment,â€ and keeping up with the Kofi-isms alone can become a full-time job. Iâ€™ll try to stick to the top hits, so there is time on this blog for other matters. But from Tehran, where UN diplomacy has now brought us the Kofi-Ahmadinejad handshake…
Don’t miss The Rosett Report – Claudia’s new Pajamas Media blog is a daily must-read.
This is really hard to believe – but then it is the U.N…
Or, for that matter, whatever happened in Annanâ€™s lexicon to the UN member state known as Lebanon?
The New York Times is reporting that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan now plans to appoint a secret UN representative to mediate talks over prisoner release between Israel and â€” no, Iâ€™m not kidding â€” a party Annan is reportedly referring to as â€œLebanon-Hezbollah.â€