A fair look at the United Nations

We should examine the United Nations’ problems, seeking to be correct and accurate.

Is it possible to be fair and accurate? Or was that not the intention of Darren Bernard’s Feb. 17 opinion “When good leaders go bad”?

There is absolutely no doubt that the United Nations needs to be taken to task for the corruption and mismanagement of the oil-for-food program. But let’s do it from a position of strength that includes accuracy and correctness.

The oil-for-food investigation offers a grand opportunity to correct the United Nations’ defective operational culture. And let’s not forget that we, the United States, are an integral part of that culture.

It was the U.N. Security Council, of which the United States is the most prominent member, that passed some 34 resolutions addressing the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, including resolutions that authorized the oil-for-food program.

When it comes to corruption and mismanagement, many are culpable: the Security Council, for not exercising oversight; the U.N. secretariat (Kofi Annan et al.), for not being transparent and demonstrating accountability; the U.N. agencies that implemented the program; and all the governments through which buyers of oil and suppliers of goods had to go through to participate in the program.

Contrary to Bernard’s assertion, the United Nations is not a corporation and the secretary general is not the chief executive officer. He has no authority whatsoever over much of the U.N. system. Most parts of the United Nations (UNICEF; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; United Nations Development Program; Food and Agricultural Organization, etc.) are built on their own keels and run under their own steam.

Getting rid of or changing the secretary-general will not alter the United Nations’ operational culture as it needs to be changed.

Believe it or not, the secretary-general does not run the United Nations as people might think. Maybe he should and then be held accountable as Bernard suggests, but that’s not the way it is.

It isn’t that way because we, the United States, and others have not made the changes urgently needed many years ago.

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is making a good contribution, but he has been way out of line in discrediting the United Nations by trying to show that the funds Saddam Hussein illegally gained came from the oil-for-food program.

Some did, a bit. Most, however, came from smuggling that had nothing to do with the program. This has been amply confirmed by revelations that the U.S. government knew about smuggling through Jordan and Turkey from day one and officially allowed it.

This revelation is an unfortunate distraction from the thrust of Coleman’s worthy effort to show something was terribly wrong with U.N. management of the program. Coleman’s work needs to be properly understood and measures must be put in place to prevent it from happening in the future.

Let’s examine the United Nations as we would any other public service institution, but let’s do it from a position of strength based on accuracy and a better understanding of what the United Nations is all about.

Stafford Clarry is a former humanitarian affairs adviser to the United Nations. Please send comments to [email protected]