On Capitol Hill, the latest Republican fad is to get in front of a microphone or a TV camera and demand the resignation of Kofi Annan. According to certain members of Congress, the U.N. Secretary General must leave office immediately because of reported corruption in the oil-for-food program.
Leading this mob is Senator Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota who is too impatient to await the results of pending investigations-including the probe that he himself has undertaken as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and the official U.N. inquest directed by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.
In an essay that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 1, Mr. Coleman held Mr. Annan solely responsible for Saddam Hussein’s alleged looting of more than $21 billion from the oil-for-food program. He accused Mr. Annan of impeding his investigation. He noted with shock that Mr. Annan’s son Kojo had been hired by a U.N. contractor involved in the program.
“Mr. Annan was at the helm of the U.N. for all but a few days of the Oil-for-Food program, and he must, therefore, be held accountable for the U.N.’s utter failure to detect or stop Saddam’s abuses,” the Senator claimed. Until the Secretary General departs, he wrote, “the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks and under-the-table payments that took place under the U.N.’s collective nose.”
Speaking on the Fox News Channel, Mr. Coleman expressed confidence that “many” of his colleagues would soon join his call for the Secretary General’s resignation. But not every Senator yearns for the McCarthyite method of convicting and sentencing Mr. Annan before the evidence is in.
Senator John McCain, for instance, sounds utterly unimpressed by Mr. Coleman’s grandstanding.
Asked whether he believes that Mr. Annan should step down, the Arizona Republican and outspoken hawk replied, “No. I think that we should have a full and complete investigation and then make decisions like that. Am I disturbed when I hear that his son was on payroll? Of course I’m disturbed about it, and apparently Kofi Annan was [disturbed] also.” He added, “I think Coleman is kind of a symptom of some dissatisfaction within Congress about the U.N.-but no, I think we need a full and complete investigation, and there’s plenty of time to decide whether people should keep their jobs or not.”
The popular Arizonan also said he didn’t doubt that the Volcker investigation, conducted pursuant to a Security Council resolution passed last April, would examine the oil-for-food program with rigor and integrity. “I have confidence in Volcker because he’s done a great job in the past, he’s a smart guy, and he’s tough,” said Mr. McCain. “And so I have no reason to think Volcker won’t do a thorough job.”
His support for the Volcker probe reflects U.S. government policy, although lately the President has played coy with reporters when asked about the U.N. Secretary General. After new evidence of oil-for-food corruption surfaced in Iraq, the United States sponsored Resolution 1538, which endorsed the Secretary General’s appointment of Mr. Volcker to head an independent investigation. That resolution instructed all member states and agencies to cooperate fully with the inquiry.
Aside from violating the spirit of that unanimous resolution, Mr. Coleman distorts the facts, too.
He knows that the Secretary General was scarcely alone in ignoring profits skimmed from the oil-for-food revenues by Saddam Hussein. The program was actually overseen by the Security Council, which created a special committee with the power to cancel any contract. Its members, including the U.S. and Britain, knew very well that Saddam was “secretly” selling billions of dollars’ worth of oil to Turkey and Jordan. They did nothing because Washington and London had a diplomatic interest in permitting energy to flow to their allies in those countries-and focused on preventing the Iraqi regime from misusing the program to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction.
In that respect, the oil-for-food program was an important success. Many Iraqis survived who might otherwise have died. That doesn’t mean the dictator didn’t steal billions, or that he didn’t abuse oil deals to win influence in other countries. He may even have corrupted U.N. officials. So far, however, there is no evidence that Mr. Annan himself took a single dollar-or that his son influenced him in any way.
To anyone familiar with the moral standards of Congress, the assault on Mr. Annan is absurd. The Republicans demanding his head recently rescinded their own rule requiring an indicted member to relinquish leadership. They aren’t troubled when their own relatives, including Tom DeLay’s brother, get rich in the lobbying business.
Those worthies should attend to their own disorderly House-and allow Mr. Volcker, a man of unquestioned integrity, to finish his job.
Follow Joe Conason via RSS.