Jewish World Review April 29, 2004 / 8 Iyar, 5764
How to buy a French veto
ANYONE who pines for genuine international multilateralism would do well to follow the bribes now being uncovered in the United Nations' Oil-for- Food scandal.
Why did France and Russia oppose efforts to topple Saddam Hussein's regime? And why did they press constantly, throughout the '90s, for an expansion of Iraqi oil sales? Was it their empathy for the starving children of that impoverished nation? Their desire to stop the United States from arrogantly imposing its vision upon the Middle East?
It now looks like they it was simply because they were on the take. Saddam was their cash cow. If President Bush has suffered some discredit over his apparently false - but not disingenuous - claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the lapse is minor compared to the outright personal selfishness and criminality that appears to have motivated many of those who opposed his efforts to rid the world of one of its worst dictators.
Throughout the '90s, France and Russia badgered the United States and Britain to increase Iraqi oil production. President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair fought them at each step, but then reluctantly gave way. First Iraq was allowed to sell 500,000 barrels daily. Then, on Franco-Russian insistence, it was raised to 1 million, then to 2 million and, finally, to 3 million barrels a day.
Each time, America and Britain - the nations now accused of coveting Iraqi oil - resisted the increases in Iraqi production and urged tighter controls over the program. Each time, the French and the Russians prattled on about the rights of Iraqi sovereignty and the need to feed the children.
Now we know why the French and Russians were so insistent. Iraqi government documents (leaked to the Baghdad newspaper Al Mada) list at least 270 individuals and entities who got vouchers allowing them to sell Iraqi oil - and to keep much of the money. These vouchers, and the promise of instant great wealth they carried with them, bought vital support in the United Nations to let Saddam stay in power.
The list of those receiving these bribes includes France's former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua (who's a leader of Chirac's party) and Patrick Maugein, the head of the French Oil firm Soco International. France's former U.N. ambassador, Jean-Bernard Merimee, got vouchers to sell 11 million barrels.
In Russia, the payoff chain reached right into the "office of the Russian president." President Vladimir Putin's Peace and Unity Party also got vouchers, as did the Soviet-era Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov and the Russian Orthodox Church. Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky shared in the largesse.
Not to be left behind, the Rev. Jean Marie Benjamin of the Vatican got the rights to sell 4.5 million barrels as recompense for setting up a meeting between Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and the pope.
Indeed, the list indicates that Benon Sevan, the United Nations official in charge of the Oil-for-Food program. received vouchers. He denies the charge, but has decided to retire next month anyway.
At the start of the Oil-for-Food program, America and Britain proposed that the money flow only to accounts entirely controlled by the United Nations. Soon this standard was lowered to include accounts not actually controlled by the United Nations, but only monitored by it.
Then-Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) warned that "oil is fungible" and noted that once Iraq was allowed to pump and sell it, Saddam could sell all he wanted outside of officially sanctioned channels and nobody could tell which black liquid was legal and which not. But nobody imagined that there were actual bribes going to specific French, Russian and U.N. officials as part of the program.
Now it appears that Secretary-General Kofi Annan's sanctimonious posturing may have concealed oil bribes which reached high up in the ranks of the U.N. organization itself.
The defect of international coalitions is that they include the just and the unjust, the bribed and the honest, the democratic and the autocratic. And their members cannot be trusted equally. The group that stood up and backed the invasion of Iraq was nicknamed "the Coalition of the Willing." Now it appears it was also "the Coalition of the Honest."
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris