Jewish World Review Jan. 4, 2005/ 23 Teves, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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Kofi gets a cuddle from his friends | When the stink threatens to make even bureaucrats gag, somebody has to mop up some of the mess.

When a gaggle of special pleaders met the other night in New York to talk about the puddle in the parlor at the United Nations, it wasn't clear whether they were interested in shaping up the U.N. or merely saving the job of Kofi Annan, the bureaucrats' favorite bureaucrat.

Some of his friends have concluded that the price of saving Mr. Annan from the consequences of what he calls his "annus horribilis," or "horrible year," is mopping up some, if not necessarily all, of the sticky stuff on the floor.

Helping someone save himself is easier if he appears to help himself, and yesterday Mr. Annan named a new chief of staff, who is expected to play a key role in "managing the media." Mr. Annan's "communications operation" has been criticized for "a sluggish response" in responding to certain embarrassing allegations   —   that U.N. officials were on the take in the oil-for-food scandal and that U.N. "peacekeepers" in the Congo felt themselves entitled to a little "sexual exploitation"   —   the prettified description of "rape." This could be more than a media problem.

Richard Holbrooke, who was Bill Clinton's ambassador to the U.N., called the save-Kofi meeting to order in his Manhattan apartment in early December, and the New York Times yesterday identified some of the other participants as John Ruggie, a former assistant secretary-general for strategic planning at the U.N., parked now as a professor at Harvard; Leslie Gelb, a former president of the Council on Foreign Relations; Tim Wirth, the former senator from Colorado and president of the United Nations Foundation, the most visible result of Ted Turner's celebrated gift of $1 billion to the U.N.; and Kathy Bushkin, an operative in unsuccessful Democratic presidential campaigns and now the executive director of Ted Turner's foundation.

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And of course Mr. Annan himself, who is said to have listened to his pleaders without saying very much. "The intention was to keep it confidential," Mr. Holbrooke told the New York Times. "No one wanted to give the impression of a group of outsiders, all of them Americans, dictating what to do to a secretary general."

Mr. Holbrooke, much skilled in diplo-speak, was trying hard not to say that the group of "outsiders" (if you want to call them that) didn't want it to look like this was a bunch of white folks ruining a Third World picnic. "Kofi knew that he was in a meeting with people who cared deeply about him and about the institution."

What frightened the coterie to action then, and no doubt Mr. Annan yesterday, is the growing sentiment in Congress to do something about corruption at the U.N., or else. It's the "or else" that threatens to derail the U.N. gravy train. What if George W. Bush, the object of a wide consensus of calumny and contempt at the U.N., didn't really mean it when his administration appeared to keep its distance from Sen. Norm Coleman's demand that Kofi Annan resign in the wake of the widening U.N. oil-for-food scandal.

There was considerable wetting of well-tailored pants at the U.N. last month with the publication of Mr. Coleman's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which he asked the pointed question obvious to everyone: "If this widespread corruption had occurred in any legitimate organization around the world, its CEO would have been ousted long ago. Why is the U.N. different?"

Why, indeed. Mr. Coleman, a moderate Republican in only his second year in the Senate, is not through yet. He is the chairman of the Senate's permanent investigating subcommittee and intends to hotly pursue the scam artists who stole much of the $60 billion   —   that's "billion" with a "b"   —   in oil profits meant for food and medicines to be waved through the U.N. sanctions.

Mr. Annan has taken refuge behind the reputation of Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, whom he appointed to conduct an independent inquiry into who got what, when and how much from Saddam. There may be considerably less to the Volcker inquiry than meets the eye.

Mr. Annan reassured the U.N. Security Council that Mr. Volcker's conclusions "will be made available to the public in a form that will take into account the rights of staff members and, where necessary, respect any undertakings as to confidentiality that may have been granted by the inquiry."

Translation to plainspeak: "The fix is in. If you don't like the stink, get a bigger clothespin

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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