Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 2004 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Can we trust the U.N. (again)? | How to avoid all the heavy lifting involved in protecting this country, its interests and allies? John Kerry had the answer in one of the presidential debates: Don't act till we pass a "global test."

It sounds like a plan. Leave more of the sacrifices, and the decisions, to other nations. Or to the United Nations as a whole. Look at all the trouble and expense, not to mention casualties, we might avoid.

But before Americans jump at the chance to outsource our foreign policy, it might help to look into the record of the outfit Senator Kerry might give the job. And dig up, literally, the evidence of the U.N.'s past supervision (or lack of it) in half-forgotten venues like Bosnia and Rwanda, not to mention what's happening in Darfur on its watch. The U.N. in general and its secretary-general in particular have this way of presiding over one genocidal massacre after another. Maybe Senator Kerry's solution only sounds like a plan.

Blithely ignoring the U.N.'s actual record, the senator would submit threats to our security (and the world's) to the Security Council, where France, Russia and China all have vetoes. Not to mention the various rogue nations that rotate on and off the Security Council. And we'd also get the services of the U.N.'s own diplomats with their incomparable savoir faire. That way, or so goes the senator's theory, American foreign policy would meet the global test, and our problems would be solved - so long as nobody examined the solutions too closely.

And when the solutions came apart, as the U.N.'s often do, well, by that time there would be a new president and it would be his problem. The way this president was left to respond to September 11th after a decade during which Washington more or less ignored the rise of Islamo-fascism in the world.

There was a time when the United Nations' oil-for-food program was sold as the perfect compromise. The hungry victims of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship would get food in exchange for the oil that Saddam wasn't legally allowed to sell after his various violations of the peace began to pile up. Something had to be done, and there were those who thought economic sanctions would do the trick.

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Only now is the truth emerging about how the U.N.'s oil-for-food program became Saddam's oil-for-palaces program. And how various of the world's leading diplomats may have profited personally from it.

A congressional investigation has just concluded that France, Russia and China "continually refused to support the U.S. and U.K. efforts to maintain the integrity" of the oil-for-food operation. Of course they refused. Their firms were making billions from the sale of Iraqi oil.

As for the Swiss-based company that was supposed to supervise the program, it turned out to be a toothless tiger. "Most transactions involving the program were done behind closed doors or sometimes illicitly," the congressional investigators concluded. Nobody was ever told who bought the oil or who sold the food. It's still not easy to tell.

The U.N.'s bureaucracy isn't releasing its internal audit of the program - not to the public and not even to its own member nations. Although this country's General Accounting Office has estimated that Saddam Hussein's regime siphoned off a cool $10 billion from oil-for-food.

The New York Times carried this story, but it only made Page 6A. But the Times of London got hold of the U.N.'s draft report on the scandal, and it makes shocking, though not surprising, reading. (Nothing the U.N. does surprises anymore.)

According to this internal report, the Iraqi regime sold its oil at cut-rate prices "to Russia, China and France. This was because they were permanent members of, and hence had the ability to influence decisions made by, the U.N. Security Council." In turn those countries could sell the oil at a sizable profit. Naturally they would oppose toppling Saddam and spoiling a good thing.

Saddam's regime, the report noted, also "allocated 'private oil' to individuals or political parties that sympathized in some way with the regime." Among the buyers, according to this draft report, was the U.N.'s own Benan Sevan, who was in charge of the oil-for-food program. Talk about a conflict of interest. He is said to have got control of 9.3 million barrels of Iraqi oil, which he resold at a profit of $1,191,610. Mr. Sevan denies any wrongdoing. It would be interesting to hear how he would defend this deal before a congressional committee.

Yes, John Kerry can be persuasive when he speaks earnestly about meeting some kind of global test to protect this country's security - but only if you haven't been watching the U.N. for years.

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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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