- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Embattled U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrapped himself in the cloak of victimhood Thursday, as he attempted to shift blame for the scandal in the oil-for-food program to the United States and Great Britain. Mr. Annan complained that most of Saddam Hussein’s ill-gotten gains came from smuggling that occurred outside of the program. He said that Washington and London “knew exactly what was going on” and “decided to close their eyes to smuggling.” It would be difficult to imagine a more dishonest, misleading account of history.

To be sure, it is hardly a secret that the United States and Great Britain were willing to overlook some sanctions violations by Turkey and Jordan because difficult tradeoffs had to be made. The benefits Saddam gleaned from smuggling were outweighed by the damage that near-zero-tolerance enforcement methods would have done to the economies of Jordan and Turkey, two relatively friendly Muslim nations bordering Iraq. If anything, this demonstrates the futility of trying to use sanctions in an effort to change the behavior of a totalitarian dictator like Saddam Hussein.

When the U.N. Security Council initially imposed sanctions on Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War, the secretary-general (at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali), was to oversee virtually everything related to Iraqi oil revenues, and Saddam Hussein was to be excluded from the process entirely. But Saddam held out for a better deal, and it came in 1996, when the Security Council created the oil-for-food program. That program, which gave the Iraqi dictator responsibility for contracting with oil suppliers and distributing goods purchased through it, was a recipe for corruption and abuse.

Why did the Clinton administration acquiesce to this? Because throughout the 1990s, it was under intense pressure from fellow Security Council members — such as Russia, China and France, along with the Arab League members and myriad international church and humanitarian organizations —to weaken sanctions against the Iraqi government or end them altogether. The world was treated to one lecture after another about the inhumanity of the sanctions regime and how it — and not Saddam Hussein’s refusal to permit foodstuffs and other supplies to reach the Iraqi people in an equitable manner — was responsible for their suffering. In 1998, Dennis Halliday, the U.N. administrator of the oil-for-food program, resigned to protest the sanctions. “We are in the process of destroying an entire country,” he said, calling sanctions on Iraq “nothing less than genocide.”

If anything, the other sanctions against Iraq, including those regulating the use of dual-use goods (items with civilian and military uses), were even more porous. After 1998, when Saddam kicked out weapons inspectors, there was no one in Iraq investigating the trafficking in dual-use items. “In theory, the U.N. [oil for food program] people were doing the job, but in practice, they didn’t have the time, the expertise or the willingness to hire more personnel,” Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute said in testimony before the House International Relations Committee last year. Moreover, U.N. officials who met with U.S. government and congressional groups to discuss the issues related to sanctions “were hostile and angry, furious over any insinuations that the program could be improved in any way,” Miss Pletka added. Their main concern was objecting to the holds that the United States and Great Britain placed on particular contracts to send goods that might have military uses into Iraq.

Moreover, while Saddam was looting the oil-for-food program, Mr. Annan was boasting to the Security Council that he was making it a tremendous success. For example, in a March 10, 2000, report, Mr. Annan openly bragged about how closely he was supervising the program and how he had turned it into a “focal point” for tracking and coordinating the distribution of goods inside Iraq. In sum, Mr. Annan is behaving dishonorably when he tries to blame Washington and London for his own failings — and the failings of the United Nations as an institution — in implementing sanctions against Saddam Hussein.

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