T he United Nations is facing what could be a
serious crisis over the Oil-for-Food program,
which was intended to ameliorate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis due to U.N. sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990s but was apparently rife with bribery, corruption and kickbacks.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations charged that the scope of the rip-off, previously estimated at around $10 billion, is closer to $21 billion.
Any actions that shed light on the cesspools of corruption and arrogance at the U.N. are welcome. But it is worth noting that the United States and Great Britain in effect precipitated this crisis by insisting on maintaining economic sanctions long after the end of the first Gulf War.
In 1991, after a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, which Saddam’s regime had invaded, the decision was made not to press on to Baghdad and conduct a regime change on Saddam Hussein — a decision in line with the stated goals of the time and one that looks increasingly prudent in light of the current state of the Iraqi occupation.
But the United States and Britain insisted that economic sanctions be imposed on Iraq, prohibiting almost all foreign trade, and the U.N. went along with the reasoning that sanctions would limit Saddam’s ability to increase his weapons stock.
Economic sanctions, however, almost always hurt the people of a country ruled by a dictator rather than the dictator himself.
This proved true in the case of Iraq. Finally, in 1996, the U.N. decided to institute the Oil-for-Food program to permit limited selling of Iraqi oil, with the money to be used for food and medicine for the Iraqi people. The U.N. was supposed to monitor all transactions to make sure none of the money, medicine or food was diverted to dastardly uses.
Not surprisingly, given that the program was run by U.N. bureaucrats rather than businesspeople, sharp operators, including Saddam Hussein, found ways to game it. Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker is now heading a U.N. commission to investigate the scope of the malfeasance.
His group recently denied the U.S. Senate access to the material it has gathered, saying all will be revealed when his commission makes its report in January. Senators of both parties fear the U.N. body is simply stalling and trying to do damage control.
The U.N. should open all its books to the Senate committee. If it takes a threat to cut off U.S. funding of the U.N., so be it.
The U.N. has long since ceased to be the world’s “last best hope” and devolved into an inept and arrogant multinational sinecure and bureaucracy, and the sooner more people come to understand this the better.