Carol Platt Liebau

Thursday, February 03, 2005

CNN is going to try to convince Americans that no one should be upset about the UN Oil-for-Food scandal because the United States knew that some illicit transactions were occurring. Read about it here.

But there is an important distinction that the CNN story fails to make -- in fact, tries to hide. The only "condoning" that came from the US was its policy to allow Jordan and Turkey -- key allies -- to buy Iraqi oil. That doesn't delegitimize any objection to the widespread corruption that is becoming ever more evident at the UN. There's a big difference in permitting Saddam to sell oil for our strategic purposes and Saddam giving bribes and kickbacks in the form of oil vouchers to secret allies at the UN and on the Security Council in order to change UN policy.

Amusingly, the story focuses on how much money Saddam Hussein made from the transactions -- more, relatively, from those with Jordan and Turkey (and Egypt and Syria, of which we did not approve), than from the U.N.-approved oil exports and illegal kickbacks on subsequent Iraqi purchases of food, medicine, and supplies. But that's not the point.

The point is that the former sales were for strategic goals (including keeping Saddam encircled, and obtaining intelligence). The latter was corrupt -- funding a greedy network at the UN and elsewhere. And so the issue isn't how much Saddam made relatively from each (after all, he already had more than he could possibly spend). The point is that Saddam gave enough to the corrupt to be able to influence their approach to dealing with his country. And that, my friends, is the scandal.


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