Sunday, October 17, 2004

Not a free-marketeer or Atlanticist, just a plain old Blairite

While various nominees for Barroso’s Commission have been experiencing problems with the European Parliament (not that it can do anything very much apart from expressing disapproval of such outrageous things as Christian morality) the one who was supposed to be the real free-marketeer and Atlanticist has sailed through with flying colours.

Peter Mandelson, an astute politician and a staunch Blairite, whatever that may mean at any given time, gave all the right answers and pressed all the right buttons. No, he would never go against any existing EU policy (not that he could, as these policies together with the budget are laid down for years ahead) and no, of course, he will not bring any new ideas to his position. Yes, of course, he believes in free trade but only as defined by the EU, which is usually somewhat Orwellian in the true sense of the word, that is meaning the exact opposite of what it says. (Remember Ministry of Truth, whose job it was to produce complete lies day after day?)

Mr Mandelson is, as we know, very smart when it comes to politics, though, perhaps less so in private financial matters. He has always managed to present different faces to different people. (And, let it be said in patenthesis, proved himself to be a very skilful Northern Ireland Secretary.) It would not have taken him long to work out that the European Parliament and its so-called tough grilling of candidates is of little significance. On the other hand, why antagonize them unnecessarily? None of this proves that he is a free-marketeer or a true Atlanticist, merely that he is a Blairite.

His comments on the Iraqi war during a jamboree of centre-left politicians in Budapest prove the same point. Mr Mandelson suggested that the UN should have supported the war in Iraq; had it and the various members of the Security Council done so, much of the present instability in that country would have been avoided.

The second part of that statement is the sort of feel-good comment that is easy to make and impossible either to prove or disprove. There is absolutely no reason to suggest that the neo-Baathists and power-hungry extremist Shia clerics would have behaved any differently had that “second” UN resolution been passed. What makes anyone think that these people do not view the UN as another evil tool of decadent western imperialism?

Or perhaps Mr Mandelson meant that there would have been more international troops in Iraq to deal with the insurgency. Given the NATO and, specifically French and German shenanigans over the much needed troops in Afghanistan this, too, is questionable. Who else would have gone in and what would they have done?

The statement does, however, illustrate the obsession with the UN that European politicians and media seem to have. Mr Mandelson’s comments were analyzed in various ways to see whether he really meant that Britain should not have joined an undertaking that had not been blessed by the UN (having joined various others, such as the sorting out of the Balkans). He was very careful not to say so, merely to stroke the back of the pro-UN transnationalists, many of whom stop being transnationalists or internationalists once their own real or perceived interests are at stake. See France, Russia and China passim.

On the other hand Mr Mandelson’s statement could have implied a criticism of the UN, whose track record at sorting out tricky problems and standing up to aggressive dictators is distinctly patchy, and of those members of the Security Council who furiously opposed the war for their own private, less than admirable reasons.

Which brings me to the food for oil scandal, unsurprisingly not referred to by Mr Mandelson. The French media, as we know, is refusing to write about it, on the slender grounds that it is not news (what is, one wonders, in their opinion) and the outrageous fact that apparent French participants have been named while American ones cannot be until everything has been investigated.

I imagine some American participants have been named on the odd blog but, in any case, what is to prevent the French authorities investigating the various claims or the “accused” defending themselves? Of course, at least one of them, Charles Pasqua is under investigation in France for sundry other peccadillos, which makes him rather busy.

The British media has covered the scandal for one day, then decided that it was less important than the latest football story. Other media outlets have been more bemused. In a thoughtful leader on Friday the International Herald Tribune maintained that, despite the gradually emerging details of the enormous scam,
“[t]he now-maligned program not only saved the lives of countless Iraqis, but it also kept the sanctions alive politically for years, right until the invasion.”
Both of those statements are questionable, since a good deal of the money that should have ensured the saving of lives was diverted into private pockets. Furthermore, in so far as the “now-maligned program” kept Saddam and his psychopathic family in wealth and power, it was hardly a benefit for Iraq or the rest of the world.

According to the Trib the preliminary findings published in the Duelfer report do not imply
“… that the UN is fatally hobbled by corruption or incompetence.”
That, surely, is a matter of opinion. The documents point to the fact that the oil for food scam reached into the heart of the UN establishment and involved several members of the Security Council. The Trib says that these countries were sympathetic to Iraq from the start. Either the fact that they were benefiting from the scam played a part in their sympathy “from the start” or they are naturally sympathetic to corrupt bloodthirsty dictators.

Furthermore, the oil for food scandal may be the biggest but is only the latest tale of either corruption or incompetence connected with the UN in Srebrenice, Rwanda, DR Congo, the Balkans in general, most recently Sudan and others, too numerous to list.

The difference here is that the whole of the UN seems to have been involved. The Trib thinks that “Kofi Annan has wisely asked the respected Paul Volcker to head an investigation”. Others disagree. The Volcker investigation is suspected of being little more than a cover-up.

As Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation wrote in the Washington Times:

Members of the United Nations seem to have been deeply involved in the scandal. For example, Benon Sevan, once the executive director of Oil-for-Food, was included on an Iraqi Oil Ministry listing of hundreds of people who allegedly received oil vouchers as bribes from Saddam's regime. ...As such details have dribbled out, the U.N. has reacted predictably - by trying to sweep Oil-for-Food under the rug or change the subject. For example, the U.N.'s commission of
inquiry, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, has been at work for almost six months. But it doesn't seem to be making progress.”
Mr Volcker, respected or otherwise, does not seem to be too anxious to examine either Benon Sevan’s role or that of Kojo Annan, son of Kofi. His committee has no subpoena or enforcement powers. Nor will it have the authorit to punish or discipline anyone in connection with the scam. In fact, it is not clear who does have the authority to punish or discipline employees and people connected with the self-appointed guardian of the world’s morality, the UN. After all, it is not actually responsible to anybody.

Meanwhile the World Health Organization, the UN’s agency that is supposed to deal with crises all over the world (though not, one assumes, in Geneva, where it is based) has issued an angry statement that the international community was not providing the money needed to deal with the emergency in Darfur.

It is interesting the way the UN, which has a great deal of money, as it happens, ceases to be the international community as soon as action is required. Besides, whose money are we talking about? The EU, has provided well over €100 million since the beginning of the year for various projects. It is just that there has been no accounting of the money and no evidence that any of it has done any good at all. The same can be said for the UN in general. Before countries, such as the USA or Japan contribute more to the never filled coffers of the UN and bearing in mind such problems as the food for oil scam as well as the remarkable lack of any action in Darfur, should we not have some accounting of what the WHO, the UN, the EU and all the other members of the “acronymia” have been doing?

I imagine Mr Mandelson knows all this very well. He also knows how to make friendly purring noises. It will be a pleasure to watch him in action in Brussels.

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