The Corner

Missing The Big Picture

Josh Marshall and Nick Confessore both find this passage from the Financial Times compelling:

The witch-hunt against Kofi Annan and the United Nations over the Iraq oil-for-food scandal is, quite simply, a scandal all on its own. The leaders of this lynch mob in the US Congress and the rightwing commentariat are not gunning for Mr Annan so much as aiming to destroy the UN as an institution. That would be a disaster – for all of us, including, especially, the US. …

First, the oil-for-food policy was devised and run by the member states of the UN Security Council, not by the UN Secretariat. All of the roughly 36,000 contracts were approved by a Security Council committee dominated by the US and the UK. Of these, about 5,000 were held up. But objections were entirely about imports to Iraq that might have offered Baghdad dual-use technology with which to reconstitute its weapons programmes. There was not one objection about oil-pricing scams, although UN officials brought these to the attention of the committee on no fewer than 70 occasions. …

If the independent inquiry headed by Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, finds any UN official complicit in Iraq’s roughly $4.4bn oil price skimming, then that person should have his diplomatic immunity lifted and be prosecuted. But there is nothing here to be laid at the door of Mr Annan, even though the lobbying activities of his son Kojo, who was still receiving severance payments from a company seeking Iraq’s trade after oil-for-food started, will have hurt him.

Confessore is particularly vexed by the fact that Republicans who don’t like the UN at all are claiming to care about the UN’s credibility in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal. Now, while I haven’t followed it that closely, I do think the FT’s point about the Security Council deserving more blame is a sound one.

Nevertheless, as someone who has consistently stood on solid principle that the UN sucks (let’s not gild the lilly), let me see if I can clarify what is not an inconsistent position at all.

Countless liberals have imbued the UN with a glowing moral stature that has never existed. Because they want the UN to be great, they often lapse into believing the UN is great. A classic case of confusing ought and is. Meanwhile, people like me see the UN as a flawed institution which relentlessly exploits this misperception. But, because UN-lovers have so skewed the debate, it is almost impossible to persuade the unpersuaded that the UN sucks unless you speak in “responsible” terms. Saying US out of the UN, UN out of the US in “sophisticated” company is seen as no less antediluvian than fretting about fluoridated water sapping our precious bodily fluids. And, since it’s not going anywhere (sigh) one must fight for the changes one can. Holding Kofi accountable for that hothouse of sanctimony and quasi-legalized corruption seems like a nice place to start. I know a lot of liberals who loathe, say, Fox News but who constantly use the same language — “losing it’s credibility” etc — that the Republicans Confessore dislikes are using about the UN. Should liberals who think the world would be better off without Fox News be considered inconsistent hypocrites for sounding like they actually care about Fox’s credibility?

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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