Sunday, December 05, 2004

Bigger fish

The Sunday Times appears to think that George Galloway’s somewhat Pyrrhic victory over the Telegraph newspapers is something to celebrate. They are clearly not aware of what the judgement implies. The judge did not say that the documents were lies or forgeries, merely that the Telegraph newspapers should not have published them in such a hurry, as it gave a nasty impression of what Galloway was up to.

Apparently it is absolutely fine for Home Secretaries to demand DNA tests and conduct public vendettas against former lovers and equally fine for newspapers to publish photographs of that woman and her child whose life the said Home Secretary is trying to blight but it is not all right for a newspaper to inform its readers that documents have been discovered, which indicate financial and political malpractice on the part of an elected member of parliament. Rum world we live in.

There was one interesting comment that George Galloway made. In his view the war against the Telegraph newspapers (not over yet, since the group is thinking about appealing against the judgement) is merely the beginning of his path, which will end, presumably, in his total glorification. He is going after bigger fish, he announced confidently.

It is not clear what he means by that. Standing against Oona King on behalf of his rather ridiculous party cannot be it, although Mr Galloway may think so. After all, one of the advantages of leading a small party is that you become a very big fish, indeed, in a small and fetid pond. (Another similar pond is being dug by the indefatigable Redgrave siblings, I note. Relations between the two peace and respect parties should be interesting to watch.)

Still, Galloway is right. There is bigger fish to fry. Much bigger than a back bench MP with a nauseating track record of support for tyrants and terrorists. The oil-for-food scandal is spreading like an oil slick itself. It is now Kofi Annan who is in many people’s sights.

Another article in the Sunday Times talks of the American right attacking that would-be saintly character. The more they attack, says the article, the more other people spring to his defence. However, as Sarah Baxter, the author, points out, the defence is only so-so. E-mails by high UN officials demanding support for the Secretary-General from other employees, who had no option but to sign, are not indicative of real feeling.

The oil-for-food scandal and Kojo Annan’s continuing payments by the Swiss company investigated as part of the enquiry come on top of a great deal of dissatisfaction with the UN.

Annan is seen as responsible for the inept handling of Rwanda, which resulted in the largest massacre for many years. As the man in charge of the peacekeeping forces, he was the one from whom more help had been requested by the UN general on the ground and he was the one who refused to send that help.

Then there is the lack of discipline of UN troops. There were many stories of this in Bosnia though it was the ones in DR Congo that hit the headlines. (And while we are on the subject of Bosnia, there is the minor problem of UN troops not doing their job of protecting unarmed citizens. Srebrenice was the biggest story but there were numerous other, smaller ones.)

There are complaints about his handling of staff, the most recent one being his pardoning a high UN official who was accused of sexual harrassment. An earlier story was a refusal to prosecute a Rwandan employee, who is suspposed to have participated in the massacres.

There is, of course, the knee-jerk reaction of defending the UN and Kofi Annan, no matter what:
“Indeed, the more the American right has criticised Annan, the more the world’s 191 member states have rallied to his side. Britain, Germany, France,Russia, and China publicly defended him last week, while 54 African nations sent a letter of support. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, declared Annan to be doing “an excellent job”.”
Of all those defenders only three can be called democracies (and one of them, France, has an extremely iffy attitude to political shenanigans). That is, of course, the problem.

Kofi Annan wants to put through various reforms, whose aim is to tilt the balance away from the West and, above all, dilute the influence of the United States. In fact, the United States has very little influence despite being the chief paymaster and that is the reason why it has decided to go ahead with pre-emptive or any other war whether the UN likes it or not. This seems to be a blind spot among the UN defenders. They cannot understand that the United States under Bush and after Bush is in no mood to listen to lectures from corrupt and bloodthirsty dictators.

Most of the ideas behind the reforms are self-defeating. Enlarging the Security Council will ensure that it will never be able to take another decision. Playing around with states and regions will take away what little legitimacy the body possesses now. Laying more emphasis on its importance as dispenser of international legality will only show up the complete illogicality of such an idea. Whose legality and whose law? Britain’s? America’s? Russia’s? China’s? Zimbabwe’s? Iran’s?

Above all, nothing will solve the paradox of the United Nations. It was founded by the victors in the Second World War, supposedly on the basis of ideas such as democracy, human rights, transparency and legality. The Soviet Union being one of the founders and the owner of three seats, undermined all those concepts from the very beginning.

Now the UN has 191 members. How many of them even understand, never mind practise, legality, democracy, transparency, human rights? Very few. This is an organization that is supposed to be upholding concepts most of its members do not believe in or allow within their own territory. It is not, therefore, surprising that, as the Sunday Times puts it, the organization is
“under siege for its tepid support for democracy, tolerance of dictators, phoney ballots and alleged corruption over oil for food to Iraq”.
According to the article, the United States cannot lose. President Bush has refused to endorse Kofi Annan in a recent statement, though he did not actually call for the man’s resignation. Neither he nor any of his cabinet bear much love for the man who has called the Iraqi war “illegal” (without specifying on what grounds) and tried to prevent the clearing out of the terrorists and kidnappers from Fallujah.
“A wounded lame duck secretary-general might lack the authority to push the reforms through against Bush’s wishes. Alternatively, the departure of Annan under a cloud of scandal could pave the way for the appointment of a new West-friendly secretary-general who has the moral stature to cleanse the UN. In diplomacy it is called a “win-win” situation.”
Perhaps. But the problem of that vast, expensive, corrupt organization, full of representatives of kleptocracies, arrogating to itself power above elected and accountable governments will remain.

Another rather jolly thought is that Annan’s disgrace whether it results in his resignation or not adds yet another dash of darkness to that most preposterous of all international awards, the Nobel Peace Prize.

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