- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

Kofi Annan is the perfect expression of the United Nations: soft, suave, urbane, and a magnet for incompetence and corruption.

The apologists for the U.N. are fond of saying that if the U.N. didn’t exist we would have to invent it. Just what this means is not meant to be clear. If Kofi Annan didn’t exist someone would have to invent him, too.

Mr. Annan, in fact, was invented, and by the very Americans the apologists loathe, when the stink of the Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali administration finally became so overpowering that nearly everyone agreed that he had to go. His replacement had to satisfy the requirements of the Lilliputians of the Third World who are forever fantasizing about how to tie down Gulliver, and the Americans scrounged through what was available and came up with Mr. Annan, fresh from mismanaging the U.N. “peacekeeping” operations in Rwanda and Bosnia. Wherever Mr. Annan went, massacres followed. But he apologized nicely and that was that. The man and the hour had met.

Now there’s a fresh aroma hovering over the east side of Manhattan and it’s not the aroma of the usual effluvia of the city. We’re not supposed to notice, but there’s a lot we’re supposed to not notice. The growing scandal over the oil-for-food program, the scheme meant to enable Saddam Hussein to sell enough of his oil to buy food and medicines despite the sanctions imposed after the first Gulf war, engulfed first the usual suspects — France, Germany and Russia. Now the scandal threatens to lap over Mr. Annan’s own immediate family. His son, Kojo, appears to have been on the take from Saddam. Since Kofi himself, who has told several versions of what he knew and when he knew it, concedes that he was disappointed, it’s probably OK for the rest of us to be disappointed. We’re supposed to let it end there.

Crowded against the wall, Mr. Annan, the U.N. Secretariat and his apologists agreed to the outside investigation headed by Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board (and the former North American chairman of the Trilateral Commission). Several congressional committees, clothespins securely fastened to noses, are trying to find out just who got what from the oil-for-food scam. U.N. employees and contractors have been gagged by the Secretariat and the oil-for-food program files have been locked away from prying eyes. But only a few billion dollars are involved; somebody has to finance terrorism. What’s the big deal?

Mr. Volcker’s writ includes both the criminal and civil. He cannot only investigate graft and mismanagement, but the evasions, deceptions and contradictions of the secretary-general himself over what his son took, and why, from the Swiss company hired to monitor the goods allowed through the sanctions into Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. His investigation will be as thorough as he wants it to be.

The congressional investigators are a sharp spur that Mr. Volcker may not want. The demand by Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, a moderate Republican, that Kofi Annan resign now has discombobulated those in New York and Washington who wish Mr. Coleman had kept his mouth shut. They’re wary of saying so because what everyone wants to know is whether the White House is encouraging the cries for Mr. Annan to quit now. President Bush pointedly declined to say nice things about him when he had a fine opportunity to do so. So did John Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Sen. John McCain, trying to find something nice to say, said only that he, like Mr. Annan, is “disturbed” and he thinks there will be “plenty of time” later to decide “whether people should keep their jobs or not.”

The usual suspects are closing ranks behind Mr. Annan. The 191 ambassadors to the U.N., terrified at the thought that any Lilliputian should be deprived of his sweet life in America on someone else’s dime, gave Mr. Annan a standing ovation this week when he presented his “blueprint for U.N. reform” to the General Assembly. There was no appreciation of the irony of the moment, with the presentation of institutional reform by the man who may be in desperate need of personal reform himself.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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