Iraq and the relations between the United Nations and the Bush administration

Some American Republicans are calling for the resignation of Kofi Annan as UN general secretary. The alleged reasons are accusations of corruption. As always the real reason lies elsewhere. It is part of the onging conflict between the major powers over the war in Iraq.

In January the Iraqi people are being called on to take part in the elections, elections which are being organised under US military occupation. With the present state of Iraq, there are no guarantees that these would be fair and democratic elections. In reality they are an attempt on the part of US imperialism to legitimise their presence there.

Unfortunately for Bush and his friends the other powers are not playing ball as they should do. Right from the very beginning other major powers questioned the sending of troops to Iraq. This emerged quite clearly on the UN Security Council, where the Americans failed to get that one last resolution that would have “legalised” the war in the eyes of many people.

Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the UN, has blown hot and cold on this question, reflecting the contradictory pressures he has come under. Back in September he even said that the war in Iraq was “illegal,” and on this basis he refused to provide a large team to help in the Iraqi elections due to be held in January. He also criticised the recent assault on Fallujah.

Now a US senator, Norm Coleman (a Minnesota Republican), has called for the resignation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. However, Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain, and many other countries have rallied to support Annan. Of course, the stated reason for this demand for resignation is not the position Kofi Annan has taken on the war in Iraq. What they have done is use the old and tested method of finding some dirt and “exposing” Annan on questions relating to corruption and so on.

The United States administration has taken somewhat of a different stance from most of the other major powers. Bush has not come out in support of Annan. Instead, he has demanded “a full and fair and open accounting” of the UN’s oil-for-food programme in Iraq. The programme is being investigated because of allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Bush is arguing that this is a necessary measure as it is the only way of convincing “US taxpayers” to continue funding the United Nations. He added that it was also the only way of maintaining “the integrity of the organization.” What utter hypocrisy! Doesn’t it come as somewhat of a surprise that Bush is concerned about the “integrity” of the UN? There is clearly more to it than that.

In the United States the issue has become very big. A huge campaign has been mounted by several leading newspapers demanding the resignation of Kofi Annan. In the Wall Street Journal (December 1, 2004) Norm Coleman wrote that Kofi Annan should resign because, “the most extensive fraud in the history of the UN occurred on his watch.”

The oil-for-food programme is the apparent target of the Republican Senator. The programme was set up back in 1996 several years after the UN had imposed sanctions on the Saddam Hussein regime. It allowed the regime to market oil if the income was used to buy food, medical supplies and so on.

According to Coleman the Saddam Hussein regime was able to make more than $21.3 billion irregularly out of the oil-for-food programme. Now an investigation is underway.

There is no doubt that a lot of irregularities have taken place during the oil-for-food programme. It may even turn out to be the worst managed project in the UN’s history. It seems that Saddam Hussein manipulated the programme to stash away billions of dollars. He also most likely bribed politicians, businessmen and leading UN officials. So instead of alleviating the real problems of the Iraqi people, it served to enrich members of the Saddam Hussein regime, and some of the UN officials involved in running it.

However, it is only in the US that such a big fuss is being made about this question. The other powers are supporting Kofi Annan. While Bush has not distanced himself from his fellow Republican’s attacks, Chirac and Schroeder phoned Annan personally to convey their support. China’s UN Ambassador Wang Guangya has also come out in support of Annan.

In reality the target of this attack is not the oil-for-food programme. It has nothing to do with any alleged irregularities in the programme. As we explained above, it is a means of putting pressure on Kofi Annan. With his statements Annan continues to refuse to legitimise the war in Iraq. He is also holding back help in legitimising the present running of the country. And by not giving full UN support to the organisation of the January elections, he is casting doubt about the legitimacy of any government that would emerge from such an operation.

US imperialism has therefore decided to teach the UN yet another lesson in power politics. Unless the UN abides by the will of the US, then it will be kicked, pushed and cajoled into line. If necessary a nice little corruption scandal will do to achieve this. This is merely the continuation of the conflict that emerged within the UN over the war in Iraq, a conflict of interest between different imperialist powers. Bush has never really forgiven the UN Security Council for its refusal to authorize the war in Iraq.

Here again we have a case of Bush and his cronies twisting things to meet their own needs and objectives. The oil-for-food program was controlled directly by the UN Security Council, as it was a matter concerning sanctions. The officials ran the programme according to the interests of the member states of the Security Council. The US and Britain, as permanent members of the Council, did everything they could to stop Iraq from importing anything that could be used in any way for military purposes. They went to the ridiculous lengths of banning the imports of pencils, using the argument that the graphite contained in them could be used to make weapons! Many other essential products were banned using the same criteria. The French, Russians and Chinese used their influence to counter the US and Britain. They tried to reduce the effects of the Un sanctions. Russia and France, especially, had big interests to defend in Iraq, with longstanding contracts and a lot of money owed to them by the regime. Thus even the running of that programme revealed the deep conflicts between the major powers.

However, preventing theft and corruption was the last thing on the minds of these people. The US had scores of officials checking every contract. Not one of them was blocked on the grounds of bribery or any other such irregularity.

Now Bush wants to put all the blame on Kofi Annan. No doubt, Annan will have turned a blind eye to any such irregularities. But isn’t that normal practice anyway? How can the UN be any different from the countries that make it up? Corruption is inherent to capitalism. Does, for example, the Bush administration want us to believe that they themselves are not involved in such methods? Four years ago there were clearly many “irregularities” in the way the Presidential election was organised. We saw no indication that Bush was prepared to resign then. The number of corruption scandals involving US institutions and companies is also endless.

As usual, behind the demands for investigations, resignations, etc., there is the real reason for all this. The Bush administration failed to get the support of the Security Council for its war in Iraq. That was not Kofi Annan’s fault. That was because of the major contradictions which exist between the US and powers such as France, Germany, Russia and China.

So long as the UN was prepared to rubber stamp the demands of US imperialism in the past it was fine. As soon as this was no longer the case, US imperialism simply ignored the UN. Bush said that it would become irrelevant. But the UN still stands, and the propaganda of the media over many years has presented the UN as some kind of legal world institution, and in the eyes of many people it is still seen as such.

We have explained many times that the UN has no real powers. It has never solved any serious major crisis. It could deal with situations when all the major powers agreed. Therefore it could intervene against the small fish. But who can sort out the big fish? The big fish don’t have to listen to anyone! And that is precisely what Bush did in Iraq.

However, the UN still remains a nuisance. What Bush cannot accept is that an international body, even one with such limited real powers, can pass judgement on the legality or not of US operations in Iraq. This can still be used against him in swinging important sections of “public opinion”. Therefore it would be in the interests of US imperialism to discredit the UN, to paint it as corrupt and unreliable. Of course it always has been. This is nothing new to us. As usual, the capitalists start to tell some of the truth only when it suits them. That is why the present scandal over the oil-for-food programme comes in so useful.

As we said above, so far Bush has not come out openly against Kofi Annan. He has left this to one of his senators, but he has not supported Annan either, unlike the leaders of the other major powers. Clearly he wants to appear as impartial.

Bush is sending his messenger boy to do the dirty work, but doesn’t want to be seen as being directly involved. He wants to leave his hand free to manoeuvre. You see, the war in Iraq didn’t quite go according to plan, and the situation is getting worse, not better. One and a half years since Bush declared the war in Iraq over, US troops are involved in fighting on a daily basis. Instead of weakening the resistance it has been getting stronger. When Bush wanted to go to war he ignored the UN. But once the going got tough he turned to the UN (which means to France, Germany, Russia, China and so on) for help. He started asking for UN troops, for UN aid.

Now Bush requires more help. He desperately wants to legitimise his position in Iraq. The UN is participating in setting up the forthcoming January elections, but as we have said Kofi Annan has only been lukewarm on this. This reflects the contradictory pressures that are being brought to bear on the UN by the different powers that have any weight within it.

So the present demands for the resignation of Kofi Annan can be interpreted in another way. What is required of him is that he fully backs the electoral process in Iraq, thus covering for the US’s failures. At the same time, if there is a problem Bush can always blame the UN. That way he has it both ways.

This scandal, like many others, will most likely blow over, but for now it serves a purpose. It highlights what we have always said about the United Nations. It can only appear powerful when it is doing what the biggest superpower in history tells it to do. When the contradictions between US imperialism and the other secondary powers become so acute that the UN cannot take a clear decision then it appears naked before the world, an empty shell.

Kofi Annan last year suggested some changes that should be made to the structures of the UN, especially to the way the Security Council works. They are discussing how many permanent members there should be on the Council, and how big it should be and so on. It represents a desperate attempt to rescue the UN from the crisis it finds itself in. But no amount of structural changes can make up for the fact that there are fundamental conflicts of interests between the major powers. These cannot be papered over.

This state of affairs merely confirms that the real decisions are taken elsewhere. The UN can play no real role in the world today. It is the duty of genuine Socialists, genuine Communists, to explain this to the workers and youth around the world. We must not be like the reformists in the labour movement, the labour leaders, the utopian pacifists, who wish to lull the workers into the false illusions that these major contradictions can be wished away by referring to a reformed UN, a better UN.

The only way any lasting peace can be achieved is through the revolutionary transformation of society. We cannot sit by and hope someone else will do the job for us. Either we, the working class and poor of the world, destroy the very system that is at the root of all the problems society is facing, or we will be dragged down with it.

Join Us

Join the International Marxist Tendency and help build a revolutionary organisation to participate in the struggle for socialism worldwide!

In order to join fill in this form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.