Oil for Food: A Look Back

In the new issue of the World Policy Journal, Ian Williams offers the final word on the often discussed, but little understood, Oil For Food program. The article is a study in how a small number of determined right-wing pundits in the United States turned their vendetta against Kofi Annan into an easily swallowed media narrative about rampant corruption at the UN.

You can read the entire piece (as a pdf) here. Some highlights are below the fold. And as always, for more information on the program, visit Oil for Food Facts.

For most of the UN staff, the OFF program was about feeding Iraqis. For Washington it was about starving the regime of funds for rearmament. It needs reiteration that in both contexts it was hugely successful. By the end, the program was providing essential food and medical supplies for over 80 percent of the Iraqi population, and, as was subsequently proved by both Hans Blix’s UN Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission inspectors and their American successors, it was also successful in stopping Iraqi rearmament…

How Success Turned to Scandal
Within a year of the Iraq invasion, the anti- UN media in the United States began to trumpet the “UN Oil for Food Scandal,” which was, according to the neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, “the biggest financial scandal in the history of the world.” Some of the wilder pundits claimed it involved the mismanagement o “hundreds of billions of dollars.” The real target of the attacks was the United Nations itself, and, especially, the reputation of the secretary general…

The chorus grew louder following the leak of a letter in which Annan cautioned the U.S.-led coalition against a frontal assault on Fallujah. Fox television’s Bill O’Reilly declared that “it’s becoming increasingly clear that UN chief Kofi Annan is hurting the USA.” On November 24, 2004, the National Review declared “Annan should either resign, if he is honorable, or be removed, if he is not.” And, on December 1, 2004, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Norm Coleman called for Annan’s resignation…


[Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker’s] team found no evidence that the Secretary General had in anyway been involved in the procurement scandal but held that he had not treated these allegations seriously enough. Annan had asked for the advice of his(U.S.- appointed) undersecretary general for management, and of his undersecretary general for legal affairs, who told him that since he had no contact with the procurement process, he did not need to take further action. And, though Volcker countered that he should not have believed his son and authorized a major inquiry, the published report effectively cleared Annan and the UN of the vast majority of the corruption charges leveled by the conservative media.

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