Yesterday I skimmed through the final report of the Independent Commission investigating the UN's Oil for Food Program. For 1000+ pages (for which my office's printer won't soon forgive me), it didn't contain a lot of surprises - the Duelfer report on WMD already revealed a lot of this information, and press leaks have revealed a lot of the rest - but it did contain a lot of useful documentation and fascinating detail about the operation of the program. Here are what I take to be the most significant of its findings:
- Benon Sevan, the director of the Office of the Iraq Programme, comes off very poorly - a poor administrator who did not maintain control of a wildly out of control operation, did not investigate widely disseminated rumours of corruption and abuse, did not provide either transparency or accountability, and probably took substantial kickbacks.
- Kofi Annan is criticized for not providing effective oversight of Sevan - and for appointing and promoting him despite evidence of his shortcomings - but the report declines to endorse allegations of his personal involvement in the scandals, and does not consider the evidence of his knowledge of his son's activities to be conclusive.
- There's a sensational, and lengthy, section detailing Saddam's efforts to bribe Boutros Boutros Ghali, but no evidence that Boutros Ghali accepted the bribe or acted on Saddam's behalf.
- The Oil for Food Programme was a bureaucratic nightmare, with agencies playing roles far beyond their competence and, again, little accountability, transparency, or oversight. There was rampant corruption and profiteering.
Those are the findings which address the so-called "oil for food scandal" or "UNscam" or whatever it's being called these days. What is interesting is that Volcker, Goldstone, and the Commission refused to limit their investigation to those politicized issues (leave it to Norm Coleman to focus on the politically useful theater). The major findings of the commission support the main arguments of anti-sanctions critics, and of many academic and think-tank researchers on the subject of the Iraq sancitons, by distributing blame to the Security Council and its 661 Committee, the Iraqi government, and private companies as well:
- The key problem was the role of the 661 Committee, the Security Council's committee whose fuzzy, undefined mandate blurred lines of responsibility and accountability. The report faults the 661 Committee's consensus rule, domination by P-5 political considerations, and its complication of effective administration. The 661 Committee, of course, was a creature of the Security Council, and especially of the United States - I was told during my own research on the Iraq sanctions that the U.S. was responsible for some 98% of the 'holds' placed on contracts in this committee.
- The other key problem, noted by almost every analyst of the program, was that the Iraqi government - and not the UN - had the power to award contracts. This gave Saddam tremendous leeway in rewarding friends and punishing enemies. And this, of course, was negotiated by the United States in Resolution 986 - and can not be blamed on the UN.
- The private companies which signed these contracts and made these deals deserve scrutiny and condemnation, not just the UN which failed to oversee them. This should be obvious, but again may prove politically problematic for the UNSCAM enthusiasts, especially when those companies turn out not to have Russian or French names.
- As other reports have already indicated, Saddam got far more revenue from smuggling outside the Oil for Food Programme than he got from the kickbacks and pricing schemes within the programme. And because much of that smuggling went through American allies Jordan and Turkey, the U.S. prevented the 661 Committee from dealing with it.
And one last detail, which the report details in a separate paper: for all its corruption, ineffectiveness, and contributions to strengthening Saddam's domestic and foreign policy position, the Oil for Food Programme "reversed a serious and deteriorating food crisis" in Iraq. It saved a lot of people, especially the young and vulnerable. It didn't do enough - no critic could be harsher than the successive directors of the program (Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck) who resigned over the programmes failures. But it did succeed at one of its core missions: getting food to the starving and suffering. Other bureaucracies and governments have done worse. The report criticizes the Programmes "relief" focus, which it argues came at the expense of broader development or reconstruction approaches, but that has to be understood in the context of the OIP's mandate - the 661 Committee for a long time adamantly rejected any kind of "development" spending.