Jewish World Review April 7, 2005 / 27 Adar II 5765

Paul Greenberg

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The U.N.: Rot at the top | In his latest wholly inadequate performance, Kofi Annan claimed he'd been "exonerated" by the latest report on the latest U.N. scandal, the $64 billion Oil-for-Food swindle.

Back in the real world, which begins as soon as you leave that Tower of Babel on the East River, the report found that His Excellency had failed to investigate conflicts of interest at the U.N. And generally managed the whole Oil-for-Food scandal badly.

As this investigation notes, the U.N.'s secretary-general showed a remarkable incuriosity about where all this money was going. Much of it seems to have wound up in the pockets of go-betweens like his own son Kojo and the U.N. official whom he picked to run the program — Benon Sevan, whom the investigation found had a "grave conflict of interest."

While claiming exoneration, Mr. Annan said he would take note of the report's criticism of his actions, or rather inaction. Sound familiar? This is the same discreet tack he took after his indifference to the genocide in Rwanda was revealed.

For a sense of the horrors Kofi Annan has presided over, it's hard to beat the movie "Hotel Rwanda." There should be continuous showings of it on a big screen behind the rostrum whenever he rises to give one of his long, platitudinous speeches about world peace. So no one is misled. His real policy in times of moral crisis? Wash his hands of responsibility.

Kofi Annan's infamous instruction to the commander of the U.N.'s peacekeeping force in Rwanda, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, who actually wanted to do something to prevent the massacres there, remains a classic example of carefully nuanced neutrality between good and evil:

"You should make every effort not to compromise your impartiality or to act beyond your mandate but may exercise your discretion to do so should this be essential for the evacuation of foreign nationals." As for the natives, who cares?

If a 19th century imperial power had shown such a fine disregard for the lives, property and welfare of its colonial subjects, it would have earned the obloquy of enlightened opinion. But when the U.N. and its secretary-general do the same, they are defended by all right-thinking members of the left. It's an ingrained reflex by now.

When his role in Rwanda came to light, Kofi Annan would say only that "I believed at that time that I was doing my best." Even worse, he may have been. Just as he did his best in the Balkans, where he presided over the massacre at Srebrenica with supreme indifference. His best remains bloody awful, as this latest investigation reveals.

Exonerated? To quote Mark Pieth, a member of the independent commission assigned to conduct the investigation into this monumental scandal: "We did not exonerate Kofi Annan. We said he was not dishonest, but at the same time he mismanaged the inquiry. . . . We should not brush this off. A certain mea culpa would have been appropriate."

Instead, Kofi Annan has been brushing off the commission's criticisms of himself like mad. If this report was an exoneration, you have to wonder what an expose would be. Considering the dearth of any real influence the United Nations has, its secretary-general can't do too much harm beyond giving aid and comfort to the Saddam Husseins of the world while they commit their crimes.

But think of what the United Nations might have been under better management. The great tragedy of that organization isn't the evil it condones but the good it fails to do. Imagine a United Nations that stood up for freedom instead of betraying it at every turn.

Imagine a world in which all that Oil-for-Food money had actually gone for food — instead of billions being siphoned off by Saddam and his accomplices.

Imagine a world in which international help for tsunami-stricken survivors in places like Banda Aceh on Sumatra would be delivered in less than the month it took the U.N. to act. The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were on the case in days, maybe hours.

But as long as Kofi Annan heads the United Nations, such a world is hard to imagine.

No, all the UN's various problems are not going to be solved simply by finding the U.N. another secretary-general. But it would be a good start.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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