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The Right's Assault on Kofi Annan | The Nation

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The Right's Assault on Kofi Annan

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Like the Swift Boat story, even though the fuss was essentially confined to these outlets, the conservatives made so much of the affair that the rest of the media seem to have concluded that there must be a flicker under all the smoke. Certainly the serious papers seem not to have thought they had a dog in this fight or that it was their job to exonerate the UN. And the UN's own response was, as usual, tepid.

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Ian Williams
Ian Williams is The Nation's UN correspondent. In addition to his work for the magazine, he frequently comments on...

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Although Kofi Annan's tenure was shadowed by political catfights, he leaves the United Nations as one of its most successful secretary generals.

Understandably, Annan had assumed that his appointment in April of former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to head an inquiry, backed by the Security Council, would see a return to sanity. However, the same people who'd demanded the inquiry then began to accuse Annan of underfunding it. When he found $30 million for it from residual oil-for-food funds set aside for administration purposes, Rosett, Safire and the rest accused him of taking bread from Iraqi children's mouths. The New York Post denounced the investigation as a cover-up, while Safire referred insultingly to Annan's "manipulative abuse of Paul Volcker," whose reputation for integrity, he said, "is being shredded by a web of sticky-fingered officials and see-no-evil bureaucrats desperate to protect the man on top who hired him to substitute for--and thereby to abort--prompt and truly independent investigation."

The witch hunters kept the caldron bubbling along until, at the end of October, Annan wrote a private letter to Iraqi Interim President Iyad Allawi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush, suggesting that a frontal assault on Falluja was not the way to win Iraqi hearts and minds. After all, at the request of Washington, the UN is supposed to be overseeing elections there. Then the pot bubbled over. Within days, Fox's Bill O'Reilly was pontificating that "it's becoming increasingly clear that UN chief Kofi Annan is hurting the USA." On November 18 former New York Mayor Edward Koch followed with a column in the New York Sun claiming that Annan's "ability to lead the UN is seriously impaired. He no longer has the confidence of America because of his failure to create a consensus on Iraq among the permanent members." On November 24 National Review declared that "Annan should either resign, if he is honorable, or be removed, if he is not." This was echoed on November 29 by Safire, who ended a New York Times column with the comment that the "scandal" would not end "until Kofi Annan, even if personally innocent, resigns--having, through initial ineptitude and final obstructionism, brought dishonor on the Secretariat of the United Nations." Finally, on December 1 in the Wall Street Journal, Norm Coleman, the chair of the Senate investigations committee, called for Annan's resignation. Inspired by his example, Representative Scott Garrett raved a few days later, "To me the question should not be whether Kofi Annan should be in charge. To me, the larger question is whether he should be in jail."

When asked, President Bush pointedly did not repudiate Coleman's call with any expression of confidence in Annan but simply called for the investigation to take its course. A week later, after Blair had joined the rest of the world in expressing warm support for Annan and delegates in the General Assembly had given him a standing ovation, even the White House realized the damage Coleman & Co. had done to American diplomacy.

The best that Bush could manage was to have his lame-duck UN ambassador, John Danforth, give a halfhearted expression of support on his behalf. An unabashed Coleman read between the lines and held his ground: "I simply do not share the Administration's position on this matter," he said. "It is my personal and steadfast belief that Mr. Annan should step down in order to protect the long-term integrity and credibility of the United Nations."

The attacks on Annan and the UN are not likely to abate soon. Bashing the UN is an issue that allows the unilateral interventionists to ring the till, gathering support from paleocon isolationists across the country. As one GOP staffer embarrassed by Coleman's Joe McCarthy imitations gloomily predicted, the right wing is not going to drop the subject, because "they raise too much money out of bashing the UN, from the big foundations and from those small-town Rush Limbaughs."

Former Gore 2000 campaign head Donna Brazile, who says she is reconsidering her affiliation with the FDD, denounced the calls for Annan's resignation before the investigation is finished. "I worked on Capitol Hill before Kofi Annan, and the UN has always been a dirty word there," Brazile noted. "It just goes back to the neocons and their entire approach to multilateral institutions and their role in the world. They've got the airwaves to themselves. I just hope the Democrats stand up against them on this issue."

If the Democrats want to do that, they should begin by distancing themselves from the Democratic Leadership Council's shameful call for Annan's resignation and join those who signed Representative Dennis Kucinich's letter deploring the attacks. And they should join Representative Henry Waxman in demanding that the Governmental Reform Committee investigate the real oil-for-food scandal: what happened to the more than $8 billion unspent from the oil-for-food program that the United States insisted be handed over to the "Iraq Development Fund," overseen by US occupation authority head Paul Bremer. The rest of the Security Council reluctantly agreed to this payment, but only on condition that the fund be monitored by international auditors. The auditors were never allowed to do their work, and it is now suspected that most of that money went to Halliburton on no-bid contracts. Now there are grounds for some resignations. But you know who won't be calling for them.

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