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.

The U.N. in the News  | e-mail post

Busy times with the U.N. lately. Coleman calls for Kofi Annan's resignation, Danforth resigns from the U.N. ambassadorship for "personal reasons", and last Friday, outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell provided a slight endorsement of Kofi Annan, calling him a "good" Secretary General. [Reuters via Yahoo]

Over the weekend, the Bostin Globe's Jeff Jacoby ("Annan is a symptom of UN's sickness...") and Thomas Oliphant ("...No, he's a scapegoat") had a face-off in the Sunday paper. While Jacoby might go the slightest bit overboard, he is much closer to the truth than the willfully ignorant Oliphant.

It can be argued that Coleman may be overreaching both on his evidence and given his position as a junior Senator from a state with two first-term Senators. (Possibly since Annan's undergraduate degree is from Macalaster College in the Twin Cities, Coleman has additional authority.) Seriously, however, possible charges of grandstanding by Coleman can't be ruled out (he was obviously anxious for the high-profile post of leading the Republican Senatorial Committee which he lost to Elizabeth Dole by a single vote).

However, even if one presumes Coleman's motives are misplaced, the net result is a positive one: by creating a buzz by calling for Annan's resignation, Coleman has at least brought the Oil-for-Food scandal into the core of news reporting this past week, rather than languishing on page 2 or 3, if it makes the paper at all. The fact that this subject has been horribly underreported given just the magnitude and nature of corruption within a U.N. program, let alone the impact the corruption may have had on the conduct of foreign policy over the past two or more years.

The Canada Fress Press today looks into Paul Volker's possible conflict of interest as Kofi Annan's handpicked lead investigator. When I started to read the article, I almost abandoned it when the author mentioned the conspiracy theorist stape of Volker's membership in the Trilateral Commission. Most humourous is that when mentioning the Trilateral Comission, readers are referred to LizMichael.com, with headlines such as "Is George Bush the Antichrist?" (unintentionally hilarious) and "Did Israel execute the 9-11 act of war against America?"

In any event, the CFP author (correctly) glosses by the conspiracy bait into a much more legitimate conflict of interest claim: the possible relationship between Volker and a major shareholder in TotalFinaElf, a French petroleum company that is a subject in some of these investigations:
Lesser known is that Volcker has held a seat on Power Corporation’s international advisory board.

Wealthy Canadian businessman and Power Corporation founder, Paul Desmarais Sr. is a major shareholder and director in TotalFinaElf, the largest oil corporation in France, which has held tens of billions of dollars in contracts with the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.

France has been identified as one of the chief partners-in-corruption in the scandal. The Times of London calculated that French and Russian companies cashed in on $11-billion worth of business from oil-for-food between 1996 and 2003.
In some respects, these sorts of guilt-by-association plays are troubling to me. When I think about my own membership in organizations, I can certainly say that my membership wouldn't prevent me from honestly assessing other members, although it could be argued that my familiarity with them would bias me. However, it is difficult to find individuals holding the stature of Paul Volker (or James Baker, for example), and to expect those people to be anything less than extremely well-connected in the hallways of power seems absurd. In the end, you can only trust old, rich and powerful guys to do the right thing because they're too rich to be bought off, too powerful to be harmed and too old to care what happens. (And maybe old enough that their sense of mortality encourages them to behave justly.)

Certainly, however, Volker's measured and very tight-lipped approach to the investigation is running the risk of him appearing as obstructing the U.S. investigations, so I wonder if we can expect Coleman and Levin to look into these sorts of concerns.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Monday, December 06, 2004
I think Coleman needs to spend more time worrying about cleaning our own hose first. Where was he in calling for Rumsfeld's resignation. Where was he in keeping Halliburton accountable and not allowing them to get off the hook. I am all for an inquiry, but Coleman needs to hold an administration that refuses to admit responsibility for anything as equally in contempt.

I certainly can agree with a need for accountability both inside and outside our shores. However, I am unclear on why Rumsfeld should be asked to resign.
As to Halliburton, there is certainly no one off the hook there. And the Halliburton thing has bugged me since it came up, and especially with the way it was used the election.
Claims Hallburton deriving unique benefit from Cheney as the VP misses the whole point and ignores all kinds of factors:

Halliburton wants to divest KBR (the Haliburton unit unit who is the actual DoD contractor that generates all the flap) because the margins aren't worth it. The fact that they just promoted KBR's head to the #2 spot within the parent company could be a signal that they are getting closer to unloading the company.

Halliburton is really not making mad money on the deal anyway. They actually wanted to rebid the contract (which the government had said they would do but then seemed to decline). Why did Hallburton want to rebid: to raise their prices. Even if they lost, they feel they can better deploy the working capital than the paltry 2-3% markup they get.

And then the scandal with the Kuwaiti gas contracts really seems like it was more Ambassador Richard Jones expressing a strong sense of urgency and a desire to avoid going through a government rebid process.

Not to mention, there is an enormous difference between some potentially lax policies in awarding business and the abuse of a U.N. administered sanctions program to both circumvent the sanctions and lobby for the weakening of the sanctions program itself. This is not even considering the role such money could have played in the behavior of the U.N. and certain members leading up to our Iraq action *or* the fact that some of this money undoubtedly paid for ordnance that is responsible for killing Americans and Iraqis trying to stablize the country.

Seriosuly, having dealt with government contracting once or twice and now ignoring it altogether as being a grotesque procument nightmare, I think government would save some $$ working more like the private sector with respect to procurement, and sometimes that means you go with people you know, even if it looks like it will cost a couple of bucks more. You'd be surprised.

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