Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.
Judith Miller reported today (Saturday) in the New York Times that congressional investgators found 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 Program.
It is already reasonably well-established that France had significant economic interests in Iraq, and recent congressional investigations suggest that, "as the [Oil-For-Food] program developed, it became increasingly apparent the French, Russian, and Chinese had much to gain from maintaining the status quo." [quoted from Guardian UK] [Chicago Tribune] But the Times report suggests a far more disturbing idea than opposition being driven by a broader national economic self-interest of some countries.
Not only does the report from the Times shed light on why they may have opposed any investigation into the program's integrity, if the claims in the report turn out to be true, it would appear that officials in France and Russia may have had a personal financial self-interest in opposing action against Iraq. As Claude Hankes-Drielsma, an Iraqi government advisor who worked on the investigation, said: "The records demonstrate that the UN oil-for-food programme provided Saddam with a vehicle to buy support internationally by bribing political parties, companies, journalists and other individuals."
The report is potentially damning for many, including allegations (among others) that:
- "A former senior aide to Putin allegedly organised the sale of almost 4m barrels of oil at a profit of more than £330,000. At the time the oil was sold, Russia was blocking the UN from supporting America’s demands to attack Iraq. According to the report, the aide, who worked in the presidential office, received 3.9m barrels of oil between May and December 2002."
- "A French oil company teamed up with the regime to bribe a UN-appointed inspector monitoring exports of Iraqi oil. The inspector, a Portuguese national working for Saybolt, a Dutch firm, was paid a total of £58,000 in cash to forge export documents. The French firm is linked to a close associate of Jacques Chirac, the country’s president. A spokesman for Saybolt said it would be investigating the allegations."
In my review of Kerry's performance at the debate on Thursday, I questioned why exactly Kerry felt he would be able to better persuade countries such as France to support the U.S. in our efforts, particularly given France's long-standing support of Iraq. Based on this news, possibly he could make it happen by using some of his wife's fortunes to buy the support of France and Russia.
I am looking for more news on this report now, but this sort of information should cause many people to question if John Kerry's attacks on Bush for an inability to build strong alliances are entirely fair, or if instead, nations like the United States and Britain should be proud that our leaders were guided by the courage of their convictions, rather than the balance in their bank account.
Of course, the New York Times is leading it's Sunday reporting with stories of the Bush administration exaggerating claims about Iraq. We'll see how they pick up the coverage on this story.
[repost of Times UK article on Agonist.org]
Update: Digging around, I found that in April ABC reported that "documents have surfaced in Baghdad, in the files of the former Iraqi Oil Ministry, allegedly linking Sevan to a pay-off scheme in which some 270 prominent foreign officials received the right to trade in Iraqi oil at cut-rate prices." ABC lists many of the names listed in a local Iraqi paper, occasionally referred to as the "Al Mana List" in other news items.
This puts a different perspective on Kerry's accusation in Thursday's debate: "When you guard the oil ministry, but you don't guard the nuclear facilities, the message to a lot of people is maybe, Wow, maybe they're interested in our oil." Of course, if all the records about who was getting rich on the Oil-For-Food Program, are going to be at the oil ministry, then maybe that is something you want to keep locked down.
Fox News has all kinds of material on the issue, related to their Breaking Point special on the subject. This page with a critique of the program from the UN is as good a place as any to start going through their content.
Of course, I would like to find a more definitive report. Several congressional committees are investigating this. It is unfortunate that it looks like Paul Volker radically underestimated the time it would take to sort this issue out. Apparently he is now saying it may take another year for his group to get to the bottom of things. [IHT]
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | | Saturday, October 02, 2004