The Right's Assault on Kofi Annan
The story of how the neocon echo chamber made oil for food into a UN scandal begins with Claudia Rosett, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who is now "journalist in residence" at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). In a 2002 Journal op-ed, just after Bush broke with his own hard-liners by going to the UN to ask for backing for an Iraq invasion, she called the program "an unholy union between Saddam and the U.N.," in which "Saddam has been getting around the sanctions via surcharge-kickback deals and smuggling." In an April 2003 New York Times piece she said "lifting the sanctions would take away the United Nations' remaining leverage in Iraq. If the oil-for-food operation is extended, however, it will have a tremendous influence on shaping the new Iraq. Before that is allowed to happen, let's see the books." Denying that the foundation, or for that matter Chalabi, set her on her quest, Rosett says she began looking at the program as part of a broader look at the Iraq economy, and that as soon as its structure was explained to her, "it was obvious that there was enormous opportunity there for graft."
The idea that the UN has "failed" by not backing the US invasion of Iraq and that everything Saddam did could be laid at its door was very much part of the house philosophy of FDD, whose masthead is a comprehensive list of those who pushed for the invasion of Iraq. The organization itself, as one observer commented, is the Project for the New American Century--the major cheerleader for the Iraq war--in another form. Its board includes Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Frank Lautenberg, Newt Gingrich and James Woolsey, not to mention Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer. Tom Barry, policy director of the International Relations Center and historian of the neocon network, says FDD "has suddenly become a major player on the right and among neocon policy institutes, one reason being that it is so richly endowed." As its own website boasts, it is closely connected with the Iraqis around the Iraqi National Congress and Chalabi.
Clifford May, FDD president and former RNC spokesman, is eager to admit that "oil for food is something we have been working hard on" but denies "that either Claudia or I have called for [Annan's] resignation." That's not because May admires the UN; he calls it "an institution badly in need of reform, whether it's for the sex scandals in the Congo or for the pretense some people in it have to become a super government for the world, or a world Supreme Court." Asked her opinion about the use others have made of her work, Rosett says, "I have focused on reporting the story, and where I have so far called for changes at the UN, have urged much greater transparency and accountability."
There is indeed a lack of transparency at the UN, but all those contracts were examined by the sanctions committee and the US State Department. Rosett denies "going after" the UN and says that "whatever was done wrong should be brought to light." But she is adamant that the UN is most at fault and she has neglected to give similar attention to US diplomats and other actors.
In subsequent articles Rosett maintained the pressure, but the issue really only exploded into the wider media world in 2004, after her revelations last March in National Review that Annan's son had been employed by Cotecna (followed several months later with the news that he had continued to get "noncompete" payments after he left). From January onward, the claims by Washington's then-favorite Iraqi, Chalabi, that retiring oil-for-food chief Sevan was on a list of 267 people for whom Saddam had authorized commissions on oil trades led to a rash of stories by Rosett and others focusing, as Chalabi had, on the one alleged UN connection.
When asked about Sevan in the Senate, Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, admitted that his only evidence against Sevan was "what was indicated in Iraqi documents"--i.e., Chalabi's list--which has still not been authenticated. Indeed, another person named on the list was George Galloway, a British MP who has just won a $290,000 libel claim against the Daily Telegraph for its unwarranted inferences from that fact.
Rosett and her colleagues ran hot with the story, not least on MSNBC and Fox, which retained her as a paid "oil-for-food" contributor. Soon the scandal was "the biggest in the history of the Universe," according to her FDD colleague and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. William Safire picked up on Rosett's work and fulminated in the New York Times, drawing in House International Relations Committee chair Henry Hyde, who's since been on the case with all the assiduity one would expect of someone who'd said the United States should leave the UN.
Monica Crowley, hosting Scarborough Country on MSNBC in November, inadvertently substantiated the Star Tribune's claim of a "right-wing constellation." She complained that the "elite" press was ignoring the oil-for-food story, "with the exception of an intrepid reporter like our friend Claudia Rosett.... Bill Safire over at the New York Times, sort of the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal and the New York Sun, they have been covering it. But why haven't we seen more extensive coverage? This is the world's biggest swindle?" She modestly omitted MSNBC, Fox and the conservative radio circuit from the list.