Behind Our Backs

E-mail Eric Shawn

Saddam Hussein slipped out of the United Nations’ constructed noose, but he was unable to avoid the justice that his fellow Iraqis had fated for him. His hanging ended the long-held delusion that the U.N. system is capable of holding the worst accountable.

Kofi Annan once boasted that Saddam was “a man I can do business with.” The twin departures of these two leaders from the world stage, one day apart, might have provided optimists with hope that the lessons learned from Saddam’s manipulation of the Security Council would not be repeated. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has loudly branded the Security Council’s resolutions as “meaningless,” and blatantly ignored its dictates regarding his nation’s nuclear development. He did so with as much bravado as Saddam did, when the Iraqi dictator repeatedly defied weapons inspections, sanctions, and 17 U.N. resolutions.

In just four months, Iran has disregarded two resolutions, and it isn’t clear whether there will even be any more for them to defy. In fact, Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and publicly called for Israel’s destruction, was given a statesman’s welcome on First Avenue. Saddam Hussein never shook hands with anyone at U.N. headquarters, but Ahmadinejad has — twice!

The departed Kofi Annan won the “denial prize,” and the world is poorer for it. While Harry S. Truman once famously took responsibility by proclaiming “the bucks stops here,” Mr. Annan leaves declaring the opposite. At his final news conference, when asked about the infamous “Oil for Food” scandal, he had this to say: “The scandal, if any,” he replied, “was in the capitals, and with the 2,200 companies that made a deal with Saddam behind our backs.”

Behind our backs?

With that phrase, Mr. Annan unwittingly provided a sad reminder of the way those who have run the U.N. have viewed their responsibilities. His mindset was reminiscent of the hapless Sergeant Schultz in “Hogan’s Heroes:” I know nothing, I see nothing, I do nothing.

In his astoundingly disingenuous and incorrect depiction of the facts, Mr. Annan once again revealed the blind and narcissistic arrogance of the United Nations — questioning not only the scandal’s existence, but whether the U.N. had anything to do with it.

The truth is that the largest grand larceny in human history went down in U.N. Conference Room #7 — not behind the U.N.’s back, but right in front of its face. The Security Council’s 661 Committee, named after the resolution that created the “Oil for Food” program that was supposed to help the Iraqis and drive Saddam from power, approved the 38,000 contracts. Mr. Annan’s own office, the Secretariat, had oversight over the program. The massive oil smuggling to Jordan and Turkey, which was permitted by the United States and Great Britain, was known to all and even put on record with the United States Congress.

This did not happen behind anyone’s back — but in the very papers carried by U.N. officials and diplomats in their leather Louis Vuitton briefcases.

As I wrote in my book, “The U.N. Exposed,” the Charles Duelfer C.I.A. report on Iraq concluded that “Saddam’s bribery system,” the practice of buying off votes from France, Russia and China, “was successful to the point where sitting members of the Security Council were actively violating the resolutions passed by the Security Council.”

All these goings on were a secret to no one. Paul Volcker, the former federal reserve chairman who was appointed by Annan to investigate what went wrong, characterized how “decisions were delayed, bungled or simply avoided,” and how, despite the fact that warnings of wrongdoing emerged almost as soon as the program started, only the Americans and British “publicly expressed concern.”

What else continues in the world, with the U.N. seemingly too inept to intervene?

• The threat of mass killings in Darfur
• The 300-plus allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo and elsewhere
• The 250-plus allegations of possible corruption in the U.N.’s procurement department
• The ten-year head start given to North Korea to develop its nuclear programs, before it exploded in a crisis with missile firings in July of 2006

Even when the Security Council finally resorts to action, it is thwarted by its own members. After the resolution condemning North Korea’s nuclear test passed, “The Washington Post” noted that “China blocked the tougher sanctions proposals, and both Beijing and South Korea have resisted U.S. pressure to enforce the measures rigorously.”

Can it really be claimed that this happened behind the U.N.’s back? Did Iran’s nuclear program take place for 18 years “behind the back” of the U.N.’s so-called watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency? It finally took an Iranian dissident to expose Iran’s duplicity in 2003.

When it comes to terrorism, it’s no wonder terrorist activities continue “behind our backs.” The U.N.’s terrorism committees are not taken seriously by the U.N.’s own members. More than five years after 9/11, nearly one-third of the nations continue to ignore demands for cooperation from the U.N.’s committee on non-proliferation. The committee on Al Qaeda recently admitted that 72% of U.N. member states failed to file mandatory reports detailing their actions against suspected terrorists. Even the U.N.’s top nuclear official, Mohamed Elbaradei, said that when it comes to facing global crises, “too often the Security Council’s engagement is inadequate, selective, or after the fact.”

It seems the world spins on, while so many of the problems challenging international peace and security occur “behind our backs.”

Saddam’s twisting in the gallows proved that a world despot can challenge the U.N. system and get away with it. He was tried and convicted by a court that had nothing to do with the U.N.’s judicial system, and found guilty of crimes against humanity that were not judged by an international court. Unlike the U.N., the people of Iraq refused to let Saddam’s crimes go unpunished.

Perhaps, as new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon steps behind Annan’s old desk on the 38th floor of U.N. Headquarters, and takes in the breathtaking panorama of the East River, he should perform one, simple but crucial act: turn around and take a long look at what boldly stares him and the rest of the world in the face.

Eric Shawn, a New York based senior correspondent for FOX News Channel, and the author of The U.N. Exposed: How the United Nations Sabotages America's Security and Fails the World. You can read his complete bio here.

Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnTV