There has rarely been a more outrageous piece of political grandstanding.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recent article in The Washington Post was a pathetic attempt to claim credit for political and economic developments in Iraq. It was an extraordinary re-writing of history that would have made officials in Orwell’s Ministry of Truth blush.
His op-ed made no mention of the role the United States and Britain played in liberating the people of Iraq, or of the presence of some 160,000 U.S., British and Coalition forces who are defending democracy and freedom in the country. This striking omission insults the memory of the more than 1,700 Allied troops who gave their lives in Iraq.
After reading Annan’s piece, readers could be forgiven for believing the U.N. was largely responsible for the democratic changes sweeping Iraq, and for the country’s reconstruction. In truth, the U.N.’s role in post-war Iraq has been half-hearted. The U.N. deployed just 40 staff, including a meager 19 election experts, in support of the historic January 2005 National Assembly elections.
Annan’s op-ed conveniently ignored the fact that the Secretary General fervently opposed regime change in Baghdad, described the Iraq War as “illegal,” and criticized U.S. military operations against insurgents. It also failed to mention the huge U.N. Oil for Food scandal, which allowed the Saddam Hussein regime to enrich itself at the expense of the Iraqi people.
The article made no direct criticism of the insurgency, and did not note that terrorists have killed thousands of Iraqis. Nor did it acknowledge that Saddam Hussein’s supporters are committing acts of terrorism in conjunction with al-Qaeda-backed militants from across the Arab world.
While it was gratifying to see Mr. Annan make the arduous journey from Turtle Bay to Brussels in support of last week’s international conference on Iraqi reconstruction, it was hard to ignore his rank hypocrisy. The people of Iraq owe no debt of gratitude to Mr. Annan, who consistently ignored their suffering, opposed their liberation, and actively undermined Coalition efforts to establish security and rebuild the country. As Iraq’s interim defense minister Hazem Sha’alan remarked, “Where was Kofi Annan when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering the Iraqi people like sheep?”
Annan’s refusal in his latest editorial to acknowledge the sacrifice U.S. and Allied troops made in Iraq, and the role the United States and Britain played in freeing the Iraqi people further illustrates his deep-seated resentment of Washington and London’s decision to wage war against the Iraqi regime without a second Security Council resolution. The Iraq war undermined Annan’s own position as a world leader, and exposed the U.N.’s growing impotence in the post 9/11 era. It also exposed the huge degree of corruption and mismanagement involving the U.N.’s Oil for Food Program, an epic scandal that continues to unfold.
U.S. and Coalition efforts to rebuild Iraq and increase international involvement in security and rebuilding projects were seriously undermined by an interview Kofi Annan gave to the BBC in September 2004. In the interview, Annan described the Iraq war as “illegal,” and “not in conformity with the U.N. Charter.” Annan also stated “I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time.”
Annan’s remarks were deeply unhelpful at a time when the U.S. and U.K. were working tirelessly to generate greater international involvement in the reconstruction and stabilization of post-war Iraq. Annan’s comments also undercut the efforts of the interim Iraqi Government in the lead-up to the crucial January elections.
In November 2004, Kofi Annan again made a major public intervention over Iraq, this time regarding the handling of counter-insurgency operations by U.S., British and Iraqi forces. In a widely publicized letter to U.S., British and Iraqi leaders, Annan wrote of his concern at “reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Fallujah,” cautioning that, "The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation... This is the moment for redoubling efforts to break the cycle of violence and open a new chapter of inclusiveness and national reconciliation..."
Annan’s appeal came as tens of thousands of American and Iraqi troops (with British forces in a support role) prepared to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, the operational base for al-Qaeda mastermind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. His letter appeared just three days after the re-election of President George W. Bush and was undoubtedly designed to stir up international opposition to the Bush administration’s military strategy in Iraq. Embarrassingly for Annan, his comments were immediately attacked as “confused” by Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and “entirely wrong” by Britain’s then-Home Secretary David Blunkett.
Annan’s words were unwelcome and highly inappropriate. While Iraqis were dying at the hands of al-Qaeda-backed foreign fighters and former Baathists, the U.N. leader’s chief concern appeared to be the need to negotiate with the insurgents and open “a new chapter of inclusiveness and national reconciliation.”
Annan’s letter gave aid and comfort to some of the most barbaric terrorists of modern times. Indeed, the greatest failure of the U.N. under Annan’s leadership has been its unwillingness to confront terrorism, brutal dictatorships, and acts of genocide.
Enveloped by the Oil for Food scandal, as well as the peacekeeping scandal in the Congo, Kofi Annan cuts an increasingly sorry figure on the world stage. His days as Secretary General are numbered, and he may not survive at the helm of the United Nations past the September meeting of the General Assembly.
Annan has made no effort to accept responsibility for his extraordinary lapses of judgment. He continues to claim that he is innocent of any wrongdoing over the Oil for Food scandal, even as the evidence mounts against him.
Annan has never apologized to the victims of the Rwanda genocide, whose slaughter was the consequence of the U.N.’s failure to intervene, or to the families of Muslims massacred at Srebrenica while under the protection of U.N. soldiers. Annan’s lack of humility in the face of great human tragedy has been one of his greatest shortcomings as a U.N. leader. Nor has Annan ever apologized to the people of Iraq, whose former president he described as “a man I can do business with.”
Annan’s Washington Post op-ed is both an exercise in political vanity as well as a refusal to come to terms with his organization’s failure to stand up to the Hussein regime and the insurgency that has followed it.
Kofi Annan should resign not only over the Oil for Food scandal, and the massive human rights abuses committed by U.N. peacekeepers under his watch across the continent of Africa, but also because of his shameless appeasement of dictators such as Saddam Hussein. He has become a symbol of the U.N.’s culture of arrogance, mismanagement and weakness. It’s time for a new figure at the helm, a secretary-general who will seek real reform of the U.N. bureaucracy and aggressively stand up for democracy, human rights, and freedom.
Nile Gardiner is a fellow in Anglo-American security policy at The Heritage Foundation.