Rep. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) has surely had much tougher political duty than what has occupied him in recent days: garnering cosponsors for a House resolution calling on Kofi Annan to resign as secretary general of the United Nations. By late afternoon Monday Wicker already had 52 signatures, in the latest sign of building political momentum in the U.S. behind the dump-Annan movement. Wicker’s resolution expresses the sense of the House that “due to the allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and abuse within the United Nations Oil-for-Food program Kofi Annan should resign from the position of secretary general of the United Nations to help restore confidence that the investigations into those allegations are being fully and independently accomplished.”
Since we last called on Annan to quit, Sen. Norm Coleman (R., Minn.), head of a key Senate investigation into Oil-for-Food corruption, has called for Annan’s resignation, in a key political development. Sen. John Ensign (R., Nev.) has joined Coleman’s call. A bevy of columnists, beginning with William Safire, support Annan’s ouster. Besides Wicker’s resolution, Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) is proposing to dock U.S. funding of the U.N. as long as Annan stonewalls a full investigation into the scandal, and senators are considering a measure to withhold U.S. funds from Annan’s eventual U.N. pension if he continues to hang on.
The dump-Annan movement has predictably prompted a countermovement. Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, 54 African nations, the European Union, and the editorial board of the New York Times have all have expressed their support for Annan. A key argument by his supporters is that it would be unfair for him to leave before the investigations into the Oil-for-Food scandal and Annan’s role in it are complete. But which investigations exactly do they mean? The investigations that Annan is obstructing, or the one that he is influencing?
“Kofi Annan is guilty
on a world-shaking scale.”
The U.N. has a nominally independent commission of inquiry headed by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker investigating the scandal. But Annan appointed Volcker and pays for his investigation–appropriately enough, with funds from the Oil-for-Food program. Volcker’s commission doesn’t have full subpoena power, possesses little transparency, and lacks external oversight. Given the circumstances, it is hard to take this commission seriously, even if Volcker personally is above reproach.
The five ongoing congressional investigations are obviously more independent, but Annan appears to be deliberately stifling their work. The U.N. refuses to give up 55 internal audits of the Oil-for-Food program, because Volcker–very conveniently for the secretary general–says their release would interfere with his investigation. Nor will the U.N. release an internal report on Annan’s son’s dealings with Cotecna, the firm that had an Oil-for-Food-related contract and had Kojo Annan on a monthly retainer into 2003.
Annan’s defenders proclaim that he should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But this courtroom standard is inappropriate. The question of Annan’s criminal culpability is beside the point. He is guilty of mismanagement on a world-shaking scale, presiding over history’s greatest corruption scandal. No one can deny that Benon Sevan, the man Annan appointed to head the Iraq program, received a voucher from Saddam for 13 million barrels of oil. Why, even the New York Times dubs this transaction “worrisome.” Annan and U.N. officials have repeatedly deceived the public about the extent and nature of Kojo Annan’s relationship with Cotecna–whether because, primarily, Kofi or Kojo is a liar is yet to be determined. Annan lacks the credibility to lead a world body that badly needs reforming.
So long as we’re going to have the U.N., it should at the very least avoid enriching dictators in large-scale corruption schemes. Kofi Annan has failed at even this minimal responsibility. Which is why we wish Rep. Wicker happy signature gathering.