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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Kofi Annan's future

FOR a variety of reasons, the information from various investigations into the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq is leading to calls for the resignation of Secretary General Kofi Annan.

It is imperative that the United States move carefully before joining the stampede to get rid of the guy.

The only valid reason for replacing Mr. Annan would be if the investigation that he himself commissioned, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, not only showed serious internal U.N. corruption but was also followed by a failure by Mr. Annan to take disciplinary action against corrupt U.N. officials.

The current focus in the affair is on the role of Mr. Annan's son, Kojo, who evidently profited considerably from his employment by the Swiss firm Cotecna Inspection Services, at the heart of the oil-for-food affair. There is no evidence so far that Kofi Annan himself is crooked; he says he didn't know what his son was up to.

What also needs to be examined is the motivation of some Americans, including the congressional committees involved, who are avidly stirring the pot on the oil-for-food matter. On the one hand, given the importance and magnitude of the deception, and the fact that Saddam Hussein and his fellow thugs in Baghdad profited from it mightily, an independent American investigation is justified.

What is more disturbing in Congress' approach is that it automatically assumed that the Volcker inquiry would not be straight and that Mr. Annan would somehow seek to steer its results, to protect his son or himself or his U.N. associates, or because he and the United Nations comprise in general a nest of thieves in the eyes of some Americans.

This perception of the United Nations could be partly fueled by Bush Administration resentment that Mr. Annan has continued to consider the Iraq war illegal, and to be somewhat reticent about throwing full U.N. support to America's various enterprises in Iraq, including the January elections.

What is needed at this time is continued caution and patience as the Volcker inquiry proceeds. Where it shows wrong, Mr. Annan will then be entirely on the hook to take strong disciplinary measures against those responsible.

The United States took great pains, when it was time in 1996 for Boutros Boutros-Ghali to depart as U.N. secretary general, to help select and support Mr. Annan as his successor. The reasons for that position at the time were good; on balance, little if anything Mr. Annan has done since would justify a withdrawal of U.S. support for him.

So Americans should sit tight until the results of the Volcker investigation are in and Mr. Annan has had an opportunity to act on them.

In the meantime, America needs Secretary General Annan for the full range of activities in which it cooperates with the world body. His death by a thousand small cuts would serve no purpose.



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