Sunday, December 19, 2004

Slate's Michael Crowley offers what I think is a definitive smack-down of all the hemming and hawing about the U.N. Oil-For-Food scandal. I was intrigued by the hilarious Fred Barnes quote he unearthed, so I tracked it down for context. Here's Barnes, a proud member of the 27th Fortified Keyboarders Brigade, on Fox News:

On the other hand, what has changed is a scandal, this Oil for Food scandal that was I think money wise, probably the biggest scandal in human history, has now become one of the biggest political scandals. International political scandals in an awful long time, where the French officials and other officials are being bribed with Oil for Food money by Saddam Hussein, so they would work and get the sanctions lifted. And certainly the French, the Russians and the Chinese and others were moving in that direction very, very forcefully. It's a gigantic scandal.

A "gigantic" scandal. The "biggest scandal in human history." Excuse me while I climb back into my chair. Remember Enron, Fred? They're being sued for $25 billion. Considering that the Enron fiasco contributed directly to a stock market decline that cost trillions of dollars in wealth, I'd say oil-for-food has a long way to go before it even sniffs Enron's dirty underwear.

But as Crowley notes, oil-for-food really wasn't so bad at all. Most of the billions in illicit oil went toIraq's neighbors, largely to Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. Not only did the U.S. know about this the whole time, but it was quietly tolerated because Jordan and Turkey are two of the strongest U.S. allies in the region. Another $7 billion or so was bilked from overcharges, kickbacks, and other financial trickery, as well as some outright bribery of oil executives and allegedly a handful of government ministers in places like France. Since the program was in operation for seven years, we're talking about a total of $3 billion a year. If you exclude regional oil sales, it's $7 billion in seven years, which is hardly the stuff of earth-shattering scandal. That hardly qualifies as an accounting error at Halliburton.

The reason the hyperbole annoys me is not because the scandal wasn't wrong -- it certainly was. I say out the people and companies who deserve to be outed for doing business with such an odious regime in violation of UN sanctions. Root out the corrupt officials at the UN who are responsible for the wrongdoing. As Crowley notes, Annan launched an ongoing investigation and seems determined to pursue it.

But of course, no one on the right is really worried about fighting capitalist corruption -- they're desperate for yet another reason to justify their catastrophic war in Iraq, and they also take unrestrained delight in trashing the UN, a convenient and perpetual lightning rod for conservative rage. If the oil-for-food program was broken, they reason, then the sanctions regime was destined to come tumbling down, and then -- look out! -- Saddam would have "reconstituted" his weapons programs in a matter of no time. A little cash exchanges grubby hands in Baghdad, and before you know it, kablooey, mushroom clouds over New York, the end of Western civilization. And the scandal must "discredit" the UN, the font of all evil, the villain in every millenarian fantasy about the End of Days. I can just hear the Dick Cheney snarling to Scooby that "We would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for those darned UN bureaucrats!"

Look, it's perfectly simple. Anything the UN undertakes is only as good as the member nations who take part in it. That goes for peacekeeping, resolution-enforcing, disease-eradicating, refugee-saving, and all the other things that the UN quietly does without the approval of His Royal Majesty Victor Davis Hanson and his Vice Regent William Kristol. It just so happened to benefit everyone involved in the program to allow Saddam to funnel some oil to his dirt-poor neighbors, and to look the other way while oil executives lined their pockets. The program managed to significantly lower the disease and death toll from the sanctions, while still keeping revenues low enough to cripple the Iraqi military. In other words, it was working. It was just humming right along until the United States decided it needed to overthrow the Iraqi government.

And you've got to love all the Milton Friedman conservatives who usually get all misty-eyed about the invisible hand of the market, who dismiss the Enron scandal as a harmless little aberration, and who now express shock, shock! that the oil industry might generate some corruption. If graft is the price of doing business in America, it must be the price of doing business elsewhere, even at the United Nations. Love it or leave it.

As far as I'm concerned, oil-for-food pales in comparison to the ongoing war-for-absolutely-no-good-goddamned-reason scandal.


At 11:41 PM, Blogger jdeadzone said...

Right on point about these distorting, lying right wingers. By the way here is a list to consider:

Iraq is not Vietnam

Faithfully yours…

• Not that it matters as regards to a faith-based foreign policy endorsed by people with real values, unlike those snobby upper-West Side liberal latte swirlers who are ruining everything everywhere, but I was inspired to consider all of the various ways in which this war differs from the one we fought in Vietnam.

Unlike Vietnam, our allies are treating the local populace well and are fighting effectively.

Unlike Vietnam, our troops are not torturing anyone or committing any atrocities anywhere.

Unlike Vietnam, our allies are committed to democracy, and are capable and experienced in carrying it out.

Unlike Vietnam, we are backing strong, independent leaders, rather than quislings and puppets whose power base rests with our military forces and economic support.

Unlike Vietnam, we are beloved by the people we are saving.

Unlike Vietnam, our president and his cabinet officers are leveling with the nation about the costs of victory and likelihood of defeat.

Unlike Vietnam, we have the support of the international community.

Unlike Vietnam, it is particularly popular in the region where the war is being fought, and among the alleged audience abroad we seek to impress with our wisdom and resolve.

Unlike Vietnam, our actions are not inspiring anyone to take up arms against us and thereby increase the level of threat we face.

Unlike Vietnam, dissenters within the government, particularly those with expertise in the history and culture of the people we seek to govern, are being heard with care and respect for their views.

Unlike Vietnam, this is also true for experts in academia and with direct experience in these nations.

Unlike Vietnam, our wise leaders have a clear idea of the cultures into which we have inserted ourselves.

Unlike Vietnam, we are not asking the poorest and least well-connected among us to the fighting and dying.

Unlike Vietnam, our troops are well-trained for their well-defined mission, (a particularly hearty congratulations goes to Colin Powell for so effectively preventing the same kind of abuse of grunts he witnessed in Vietnam).

Unlike Vietnam, our civilian leaders are taking seriously warnings and advice of more experienced military leaders.

Unlike Vietnam, those who point out problems with the present course are not being sullied as “counsels of despair and defeat,” and giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Unlike Vietnam, we have the whole thing well-planned out.

Unlike Vietnam, this is a necessary war against an enemy that had the will and capacity to threaten our lives at home.

I could go on, but you’ll have to take the rest… on faith.

(Author’s P.S. To editor: Please save a version of this column, and we’ll do a “control H” on “Iran” for “Iraq” when that war becomes nothing like Vietnam.)


Post a Comment

<< Home