Kofi Annan is in deep trouble.
The aura of invincibility that has surrounded Annan in his six-year tenure as United Nations secretary general has been shattered, and it is increasingly likely that he will go in the next six to 12 months. The man who undeservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 is now a shrinking figure on the world stage.
Annan is under fire both from within the United Nations and from a growing number of critics in Washington and New York. The $21-billion oil-for-food scandal has proved devastating to the UN’s reputation, and it is likely that the UN’s image will be tarnished for a generation, if indeed the world body avoids the same fate as its predecessor, the League of Nations. The UN is looking more and more like a modern-day Titanic heading for disaster with Annan as its seemingly oblivious skipper at the helm.
French and Germans
Most in Annan’s position would have leaped overboard months ago, but the stubborn secretary general clings on grimly, buoyed by support from allies such as French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
The United Nations has been shaken by calls for Annan’s resignation by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, as well as by the Heritage Foundation and several leading political commentators in National Review, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. It is expected that more senators will follow Coleman’s gutsy intervention in the next few days. In the House of Representatives at least 20 members have already signed on to a resolution drafted by Rep. Roger Wicker (R.-Miss.) calling on Annan to stand down.
At the same time, Annan is facing a growing rebellion among sections of his own staff at UN headquarters in New York, increasingly disaffected over a wave of internal harassment scandals involving senior UN officials. In November, the UN staff employees union passed an historic and unprecedented motion of “no confidence” in the senior management of the United Nations, a thinly veiled attack on Annan himself.
To cap it all, Annan has recently acknowledged and accepted organizational responsibility for a huge scandal involving UN personnel and peacekeepers in the Congo. The UN stands accused of major human rights violations against refugees, the scale of which hugely dwarfs the Abu Ghraib scandal.
The credibility of the United Nations has hit an all-time low. A once revered institution is seen by many as an organization without a moral compass, a world body rife with corruption, sleaze and mismanagement. Central to the UN’s decline has been the oil-for-food scandal, without a doubt the biggest scandal in the UN’s history, and the greatest financial scandal of modern times.
Originally set up by the Security Council in the mid-1990s as a humanitarian program designed to help the Iraqi people, oil-for-food was manipulated by the Iraq dictatorship to enrich a brutal dictator. Evidence is emerging of how Saddam used the program to bribe politicians, officials and businessmen from Security Council members such as Russia and France in an attempt to have sanctions against his country lifted. In addition, Saddam used money gained through exploiting the program to enrich and consolidate his own personal empire at the expense of ordinary Iraqis. Some of Saddam’s money ended up funding the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and there is a strong possibility that illicit earnings through oil-for-food may be funding the current insurgency in Iraq.
All of this occurred under the watch of UN officials whose job it was to oversee the administration of the program. They included Benon Sevan, the man appointed by Annan to head the oil-for-food program, and who is alleged, in the report of U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, to have received a voucher for 13 million barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein. Controversy is also swirling around Annan’s son Kojo, who was employed by the Swiss company Cotecna, hired by the UN to inspect the import of humanitarian goods into Iraq. Kojo is now the subject of a major probe by the U.S. Justice Department.
There are no less than five significant investigations on Capitol Hill into oil-for-food. The Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Coleman, has been at the forefront of efforts by Congress to get to the bottom of this epic scandal. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House International Relations Committee, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations have also launched investigations.
However, congressional efforts to establish the truth with regard to the oil-for-food scandal have been greatly hampered by a lack of cooperation from the UN secretary general, and Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who is heading the UN’s own $30 million “independent” investigation. Annan and Volcker have refused to share with Congress no fewer than 55 internal audits into oil-for-food, and will not allow UN officials to testify before Congress. This has created the appearance of a huge cover-up by the UN, as well as a na???? ¯ve but ultimately futile attempt at damage limitation.
Calls for Annan’s resignation from Congress have made headlines worldwide, and have been hugely damaging to the secretary general. They are now being followed by calls for the withholding of U.S. funding for the United Nations, unless the UN cooperates with congressional investigators and is fundamentally reformed.
A significant or complete cut in the American assessed contribution to the UN budget (which stood at $360 million in 2004) would lead to widespread cost-cutting inside the 600-strong UN Secretariat, and make Annan’s position within the organization extremely difficult.
Annan’s spokesmen may openly mock American demands for their boss’s resignation, but privately they fear the impact of financial retaliation by the world’s only superpower. The United States is the biggest contributor to the UN’s budget, and the financial pressure it can bring to bear on the world body is immense. The U.S. taxpayer wants to see major changes in a largely unaccountable UN bureaucracy that wallows in a culture of outright disdain for the nation that has so charitably hosted it for the past 60 years.
It is only a matter of time before the White House’s patience with Annan also comes to an end. A vote of no confidence from the Bush Administration would probably bring to an end to the inglorious reign of a UN secretary general who can barely disguise his hatred and contempt for American foreign policy. White House pressure, combined with a major campaign by Congress and a growing internal rebellion at the UN, could well seal the fate of a remarkably undistinguished figure. When Annan does eventually resign, he will be remembered as a spectacular failure, a monumental mediocrity, and a shameless appeaser of dictators. The United States, and the world, surely deserves better.