United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered his farewell speech Monday, squandering yet another opportunity to apologize for his failures and come clean about the U.N. Instead, he used the occasion to exalt the U.N., especially his own role there, while berating the Bush administration and insulting the people of the United States. That he chose this course was not for lack of willing speech-writers; I am confident there are plenty of folks out there who would have been glad to draft a rather different set of remarks for him — indeed, I have been receiving e-mails all day from people versed in the U.N., suggesting things they wish he’d said. Here’s my offering, a speech Kofi Annan did not make:
Thank you for that generous introduction. I don’t deserve it. Please hold your applause until you hear what I have to say. This is not false modesty. I am quite serious — I don’t deserve the honor of speaking here today. At least once in every life there comes a moment of honesty, and for reasons I cannot fathom — perhaps the shock of looking back at just what a self-serving failure I have been — this is mine.
During my decade as secretary-general, and indeed for some time before that, I have indulged in more than my share of half-truths, quarter-truths, cover-ups, immoral inanities and staggering hypocrisies. I have shuffled paperwork while ignoring genocides, I have rushed to shake hands with tyrants while deriding democrats; I have suffered from memory gaps while adroitly recalling just enough to know what needs covering up. I took office promising to reform the U.N., and instead produced a record that deserves to be summed up by such phrases as peacekeeper rape, procurement bribery, and Oil-for-Food.
I have praised a “reformed” Human Rights Council that functions as a complete farce. I have demanded “peace” deals and pushed for a brand of morally blind diplomacy that has paved the way for a terrorist takeover of Lebanon, worsening turmoil in the Middle East, and a nuclear-armed Iran. In contradiction of the U.N. charter, which describes my role as the U.N.’s “chief administrative officer,” I have styled myself, in my own phrase, as “chief diplomat of the world,” setting up a vast array of opaque trusts, projects, partnerships, and programs which have massively expanded the U.N. beyond any provisions for oversight, while providing me with opportunities for patronage, and places to park my cronies. At the same time, while entrusted with a budget of billions, and a world stage, I have shirked all responsibility for my own failures, shifting blame especially to the United States.
Frankly, it’s an insult to the memory of President Harry Truman, who oversaw the founding of the U.N., that I have staged this farewell speech here today, coming to the Truman Presidential Museum and Library with the express purpose of singling out for criticism not the leaders of Iran, or Syria, or North Korea, or even China or Russia, but of America, and — by extension, since this is a democracy — America’s voters (who also happen to be the taxpayers who have made my U.N. career possible). In truth, if Harry Truman had foreseen the swollen, corrupt, and anti-American reality of today’s U.N. — including my own efforts to meddle in U.S. politics — he might have scrapped the whole project.
There was an op-ed published in a major American newspaper this morning, under my byline. Don’t assume that I actually wrote it myself, of course. I have enjoyed an $85 million annual budget for “public information” alone, a big chunk of that funded, of course, by you — the U.S. taxpayer. This operation, much of which actually functions as a big propaganda shop, includes my bevy of ghostwriters. But I hire these folks, and I discussed this op-ed, and I signed off on it. So let’s call it mine, even though you helped pay for it.
In this op-ed, I lectured Americans, in particular, on accountability and how to better live up to what I expect from them in the way of serving the U.N. system. I laid out “five lessons” full of sanctimonious U.N. gobbledygook that boils down to demanding that America pay the bills and take the blame while deferring to the U.N. on whatever my corrupt and tyrant-infested organization might wish to do — however perverse or damaging to America’s interests. It was the kind of article that doubles as an open invitation for some of my favorite blame-America-first tycoons to bankroll me as a mouthpiece for their pet projects after I retire at the end of this month.
In my farewell speech, here at the Truman Library, I was planning to expand on my five lessons, taking one more good whack at U.S. leadership, with the whole world listening in. But in this strange and no doubt fleeting fit of honesty, I have decided to make five rather different points:
1) We all know it is laughable that I, of all people, should lecture anyone on good governance and accountability. I apologize. Before I try that stunt again, I will release, immediately, the personal financial “disclosure” form that for months I refused even to file in-house, and have flatly refused to disclose to the public. I also concede that it was a gross conflict of interest that I accepted a $500,000 personal prize this past February from the ruler of Dubai, via a jury stacked with my own U.N. colleagues and appointees. Belatedly, I have finally understood that it is not solely a matter of giving up the purse when the press finally discovers I have given a fancy job to one of the prize jurors. There is also the principle that a sitting U.N. secretary-general should not be open to accepting large sums of cash.
2) On the matter of my son, his U.N.-related business ventures, and that Mercedes he bought at a diplomatic discount and shipped duty-free to Ghana in my name: I am prepared to answer, immediately and directly, without insult or prevarication, all questions from the press, or indeed, the wider public. The car traveled under the U.N. seal; therefore I admit it was a matter that very much involved the U.N., as does the mystery of what then happened to this vehicle with its U.N. documentation. I understand that while the $20,000 or so saved on the car may seem small change to me, it represents huge wealth to the impoverished people I am forever talking about. And I am more concerned with respecting the integrity of the U.N.’s top office than with trying to gloss over an episode I wish had never come to light.
3) That brings me to Oil-for-Food. For the first time, I apologize for this enormous fraud, which contrary to some of my recent statements was not a trivial blip, but a world-record scandal. I knew about the rampant graft, and did nothing to stop it or alert the public; on the contrary, I continually urged the Security Council to expand the program on grounds that more funding was needed, although I was aware at the time that Saddam was leeching away funds for his own uses, in violation of U.N. sanctions. I apologize to the people of Iraq, for in effect supporting their dictator. I apologize to the world public, especially the U.S., for withholding from the public U.N. records that would have shown clearly that Saddam was busy buying favor with select members of the Security Council, and I apologize further for then disparaging the idea that such bribery might have worked.
I am sorry that for many months I ignored and then denied the need for any outside investigation into Oil-for-Fraud. And I am sorry that the U.N.’s own investigation left so many questions unanswered. In a complete reversal of course, I request, urgently, that Paul Volcker release to the public the full files of his secretive Oil-for-Food investigation, instead of following the path I have been quietly arranging, in which he is now likely to hand over the full archive at the end of this month to the oblivion of the shredder-equipped U.N. I further request that Volcker arrange the removal of the seven-year gag order against one of his former investigators, Robert Parton — who before he was silenced by way of that court order, alleged that I had received special treatment in the investigation. I will also demand publicly and vigorously — which I have not done to date — the immediate return to New York of my former handpicked head of Oil-for-Food, Benon Sevan, to answer questions not only about the payoffs he is alleged to have taken on Oil-for-Food deals, but about his former U.N. associates — including myself.
4) Before I pursue any pet projects in retirement, or write any self-congratulatory memoirs, I will sit down, compile, and release to the public a full list (including, if necessary, helpful diagrams), of the webs of crony connections, murky trusts, potential conflicts of interest, and weirdly redundant, meaningless, or in some cases over-reaching initiatives I have seeded within the U.N., or appended to its fringes This, not a lecture to the United States, is the most valuable gift I could give to the public, and to my successor. I’ll start by providing the real history of the Alliance of Civilizations, a project grandfathered out of an Iranian proposal back in 1998, which has since served both as a vehicle for keeping my document-shredding former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, equipped with U.N. access and travel privileges; and this past September served as a ticket for former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, to go touring around the U.S. spouting propaganda in the name of peace.
5) In view of the vital role that honesty and integrity should play at the U.N., and in good-faith recognition of the contributions that are indeed needed from the United States, I plan immediately upon my retirement to humbly request that President Bush re-nominate John Bolton as his ambassador to the U.N. In my imminent new role as a private person, instead of shilling for anti-American interests, I will then detail to the public the various ways in which the U.N. has provided itself with substantial lobbying abilities in Washington. I apologize if this might in any way have affected the decisions of any senators. In the event the Senate does not then confirm Mr. Bolton, I would urge that Mr. Bolton be appointed by the new U.N. Secretary-General to comb through the newly public Oil-for-Food (see item 3, above) archives with an eye to discovering why, in connection with in this multibillion-dollar fraud, my own secretariat never fired a single staffer.
I could go on for days. But I have tested your patience long enough. If you wish, I now welcome your applause.
– Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.