Friday, March 30, 2007

Sanity Is the Real Hostage-full text

Sanity is the real hostage
In the case of the 15 British hostages, everyone is acting foolishly - and ignoring Iran's grievances.

Comment is free piece from the Guardian, as usual proving my point with rabid commentators wanting war, now!

March 29, 2007
Events in Gulf could be spinning out of control. And sanity is the missing factor in what looks like a replay of 1914.

George Orwell said, "There is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins. Nearly always one side stands more or less for progress, the other side for reaction".

I would submit that the threatened confrontation with Iran is the exception to Orwell's rule. It is looking like competitive cretinism. There are people in Washington who want an excuse to whack Iran, and there are people in Iran who seem determined to provide them with excuses to do so. The Iranians may have taken 15 British hostages, but the allies have 150,000 potential hostages in Iraq waiting to be mopped up the moment Israel or the US initiates military action.

Whether or not the British sailors that the Iranians took prisoner were on the Iranian side of the murky line up the Shatt al-Arab, the Iranians have not been clever. They've been acting as if they were coached in diplomacy by John Bolton, with a total disregard for how the rest of the world sees them, as they have been since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took power. With global opinion of the Bush administration at an all time low, it really takes studied ineptitude to drop the ball as often as Ahmadinejad has.

Sadly for Iran, the US has better diplomats than Bolton. Washington, with the eager connivance of London and Paris, has been spinning a web around Tehran. This side of divine judgment, it does not really matter that the Iranian President never actually called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Iran has done little or nothing to dispel the eagerly promoted perception that he did.

And yes, the US is holding five Iranians with diplomatic status in Iraq - against the protests of the allegedly sovereign Iraqi government - but all attention is focussed on the fifteen British prisoners. Even if they had been across the boundary, the clever thing to do would have been a showy protest and repatriation, rather than threatening charges against them.

But there is more than PR involved. It is true that the IAEA's reference to the Security Council was on dubious grounds, and that Iran has probably been more observant of the Non-Proliferation Treaty than the US, the UK or France - and certainly more so than India. But it should have noticed that whether it was through sweet talking or elbow twisting Washington secured a majority on the IAEA Council, and has gone on to secure a unanimous, if diluted, resolution in the UN Security Council. That is quite an achievement for Western diplomacy when you consider the almost universal mistrust of Washington's intentions, and indeed sanity.

Iran is quite right in saying that the UN Security Council resolutions disregard previous international law, not to mention justice and fairness. They have bitter memories of the almost total silence of the body during Saddam Hussein's eight-year war against them. But it is difficult to call for application of UN resolutions against, for example, Israel, if you disregard them yourself.

It is a bit like standing in the square in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, knowing just how obtuse and pig-headed both sides could be and the consequent gory results of the assassin's shot. If there is a war, there is unlikely to be a clear cut winner on either side: all sides will lose, untold thousands will die. There will be immense damage to whatever is left of the global framework of international law and almost certainly an enhancement of Islamic resentment against the west with all its consequences. This is a War for Terror in the future.

There are solutions: Iran wants normalization of relations with the US - such as has already happened with Libya and seems to be happening with Pyongyang. Supporting the deal with North Korea does not involve us canonizing Kim Jong Il, and a deal with Iran does not involve supporting its repression of civil rights at home.

While we may wish for regime change in both Tehran and Washington as one way out of the impasse; and, at the very least, Tony Blair should not be allowed to use the hostages as an excuse to back the war party in Israel and the US. He should also be pressuring Bush to do what the Iraqi government wants and release the Iranians - and to engage the US in direct talks. As well as the 15 sailors, he has to think of the remaining British forces in Basra, hostage to American or Israeli belligerence as much as Iranian Islamic fervour.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sanity Is the Real Hostage

Link for my latest post on Iran, hostages etc

do feel free to dive in an comment - lots of others seem to not quite sixteen annas to the rupee.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

High Spirits, Rum and Development

And now for something slightly different...
Latest Comment is Free Why I love rum
followed by the results of the competition, for aficionados

How else can you savour taste, enjoy history and aid the developing world? With rum, of course. A report from the Ybor City spirits festival.
Ian Williams

March 26, 2007 7:30 PM | Printable version

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Since my tome on Rum hit the stands, my book tours have been, shall we say, more high-spirited than most. Of course, after the audience has sampled some of the subject matter, they would applaud enthusiastically if I gave them a sermon in Sanskrit.

I've spent the last few days in Ybor City, an old Cuban enclave of Tampa, Florida, for the International Cane Spirits Festival, where, in addition to spreading enlightenment about the history of rum, I was a judge. Tasting over 80 rums in two days is no joke. Each sample is judged for appearance, nose, flavour and mouth feel. It requires no effort to spit out some of the really bad rums - certainly with some of the unaged cachacas you can see why it did not demand too much genius for the Brazilians to come up with putting the stuff in their fuel tanks.

On the other hand, it was a great temptation with some of the aged rums to swallow instead of spitting. But that path would end in disaster and the gutter. In the evenings, importers ply us judges with statistically significant samples of their distilled products, as the spring-breakers around us play beer pong - a game I had never seen before, but which I suspect is on a par with Bud in its sophistication.

Rum aficionados are gregarious and committed to the cause: in the US, the cause is mostly persuading people that there is more to rum than Bacardi - much more. In fact no other spirit has such a great history, or such an infinite variety, with a rum for every palate. Our gold medalists came from Tortuga to Tennessee, Martinique, Venezuala and Guatemala, Bermuda, Barbados and - just a little hike from the Caribbean - Nepal.

Rum was first recorded in Barbados, where, one suspects, some exiled Celtic prisoner from the British Civil War noted that the molasses left over from sugar making could be fermented and distilled. The distillation was necessary, because the molasses carried on fermenting in the belly of anyone desperate enough to try it.

It was the British in the West Indies who also discovered that distilling it a second time and leaving it to age worked wonders of alchemy on what was, with some justice, originally called "killdevil".

And the rest, as they say, is history. Samuel Pepys took time off his diary writing to begin issuing Naval rum to the fleet in Jamaica. (Any of you opposed to naval nukes may do so with redoubled fervour knowing that the Admiralty abolished the Grog ration with a public relations ploy: emphasizing the dangers of having sailors operating nuclear submarines under the influence.)

The American Revolution was not about tea. The Boston tea party was a bunch of smugglers throwing duty free tea overboard because it devalued the stuff they had already smuggled in. But mostly they smuggled molasses to make rum, to trade with the Indians for furs and the Africans for slaves.

Rum is now a global spirit, with the second and third biggest brands being Philippine Tanduay and Indian Old Monk. But its heart is in the Caribbean and around the Spanish Main, in keeping with its colourful and bloody history. That was where most of our 80-plus samples came from, ranging from the oaky cognac-like rhums agricoles of Martinique to the rich molasses based traditional rums of the Anglo-Caribbean.

The newcomers are the aged cachacas of Brazil - which show that even car fuel can develop subtlety if treated properly, and are perfect for Guardian readers' political sensibilities: an influx of smooth and well-matured Venezuelan rums such as Macuro -and Santa Teresa and Diplomatico, whose distributors resisted my attempt to rename it Undiplomatico in honour of Chavez. I am not sure that their makers are necessarily Chavezistas, but a tot for solidarity is no bad thing, whatever you think of the president.

In fact, most rums - apart from the big B which usually strives to keep its rivals, and not only the Cuban ones, off the market - come from developing countries that can't sell their sugar on European or the US markets because of tariffs and subsidies for home grown substitutes. High value-added aged rums make much better economic sense for them. Get out there, raise a tot and drink a toast to third-world development!




GOLD,Agua Luca,Leblon


Beleza Pura, Fazenda Mae De Ouro

BRONZE, Cabana, Cuca Fresca



GOLD, Fazenda Mae De Ouro Single Barrel 5 Year Old, GRM ‘Small Batch’ 2 Year Old,Ypioca 160

SILVER, Cuca Fresca Gold, Rochinha ‘Single Barrel’ 12 Year Old,Ypioca Ouro

BRONZE.Armazem Vieira ‘Onix’ Solera 16 Year Old, Ypioca Prata



GOLD Clement Premiere Canne

SILVER, J.M. Rhum White



GOLD J.M. Rhum Vieux X.O. J.M. Gold, J.M. VSOP, J.M. 1997

SILVER, Clement Cuvee Homere, Clement V.S.O.P., Depaz Blue Amber Rhum



GOLD, Mount Gay Special Reserve, Prichard’s Crystal

SILVER, Bacardi Ruby Rey Reserve, Ron Botran White, Santa Teresa Blanco

BRONZE, Havana Club (Bacardi version USA only) New Grove Oak Plantation, Mainstay Cane



GOLD, Khukri XXX, One Barrel,Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21

SILVER, Pirate’s Choice Molasses Reef

BRONZE, Jack Tar Superior Dark Rum, Rogue Dark



GOLD, Goslings Black Seal,Mount Gay Sugar Cane,Prichard’s Fine Rum, Ron Barcelo Imperial, Tortuga 5 Year Old

SILVER,Bacardi 8, Cockspur Fine Rum, Diplomatico Reserva, Goslings Gold, New Grove Oak, Santa Teresa Gran Reserva

BRONZE, Appleton Estate Reserve, Appleton Estate V/X, Bacardi Select,Centenario Anejo Reserva Especial, Mount Gay Eclipse, Ron Botran Anejo 8 Year Old, Ron Botran Oro (Gold)



GOLD, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva,Tortuga 12 Year Old

SILVER,Mount Gay Extra Old, Ron Botran 12 Year Old,Ron Zacapa 15 Centenario Year Old,

Santa Teresa Selecto




GOLD, Pyrat XO Reserve,Pyrat Cask 1623,Ron Macuro Anejo Ultra Premium,Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Year Old,Santa Teresa 1796

SILVER, Centenario Fundacion,Goslings Old, Ron Botran Solera



GOLD. Clement Creole Shrubb. Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur,Santa Teresa Araku Ron y Coffee Liqueur

SILVER, Castries Peanut Rum Crème,Prichard’s Sweet Georgia Belle Peach Mango Liqueur

Monday, March 26, 2007

Testing the Tightrope

From the April edition of the World Today, journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House.

Testing the Tightrope


As Winston Churchill said of his successor Clement Attlee, Ban Ki-Moon is a very modest man. It remains to be seen whether the United Nations Secretary-General also has ‘much to be modest about’. As the traditional hundred-day deadline for assessing new office-holders approaches, there is a quite remarkable lack of information on which to base any assessment. Ban shows no sign of rushing. With unprecedented time to effect a transition, he could have started running with a full team – unless he was waiting for former United States Ambassador John Bolton to go.

Ban Ki-moon brought a team of Koreans with him to the United Nations, seven according to most reports, regardless of his official nominations to office. Most notable is Kim Won-soo who was the mastermind of Ban’s election campaign to become Secretary-General. Now officially the assistant to newly appointed chef de cabinet Vijay Nambiar, UN staff report that Kim is no eminence grise, but is indeed very openly assertive in his authority.

But neither he nor his compatriots at UN headquarters are open about much else. Neither Ban nor his team have taken any great pains to explain themselves to senior staff, let alone to the media and the public.

Consequently, no one can be sure how deeply in debt Ban feels to the Americans for their electoral support, or indeed whether the nature of any such obligation has changed with the removal of Ambassador John Bolton and the change of control in Congress.

Spoils System

Ban’s appointment of B. Lynn Pascoe, a veteran United States diplomat, to head the Department of Political Affairs sent one sign. But his retreat from plans to put the substantive part of the peacekeeping department under the American, and his refinement of original proposals to downgrade disarmament affairs could be a joint product of a change of emphasis in Washington, or resistance from other member states.

Pascoe is an accomplished diplomat, well versed in Asian affairs, who even speaks Mandarin. If it had to be an American, then he is possibly the best for the position. Nonetheless, having an American, or for that matter, in the current state of the relationship between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush, a British nominee in such a crucial position, is bad for the UN and for Washington.

Despite its churlish lack of public enthusiasm, the US relies increasingly on the UN for major parts of global policing that would otherwise consume its increasingly challenged resources. And
one of the advantages of the UN is that its global legitimacy gives it an appearance of neutrality that Pascoe’s presence may belie.

The Security Council permanent members’ spoils system as applied to senior UN positions has led traditionally to a reliance on a kitchen cabinet of people you can trust. However, in Ban’s case, these all seem to be Korean. Senior UN staff report that insofar as the Korean team has manifested an agenda, it is ‘reform’, which it is pursuing with singular intensity – and on which it also seems to be taking advice from the Americans, although it is certainly a personal preoccupation of Ban’s.

Reform Rhetoric

Following an American reform agenda could be very frustrating since the Humpty Dumpty principle applies, ‘When I use a word, it means just what I want it to mean, neither more nor less’. For significant constituencies in Washington, reform means that the organisation will do what it is told, when it is told, by the US. In particular it would be expected to drop its traditional support for international law in the Middle East, particularly the Palestinian rights programmes.

One indication of trouble ahead is indeed the Middle East. Retiring Secretary-General Kofi Annan got scant thanks for trying hard to engage Israel in the organisation, without abandoning the Palestinian case in international law and the catalogue of UN decisions. There are some indications that Ban is not overly concerned about the latter, and by being somewhat over-receptive to Washington’s input, is heading for a confrontation with Arab and Islamic states and their non-aligned allies. In the UN version of Kremlinology, it was regarded as significant that Israel steered him away from going to Gaza during his March visit.

The Group of 77 developing nations are, with some justice, concerned because they know the American political agenda lurking beneath the managerial reform rhetoric. Bolton could hardly be accused of hiding it! Many would prefer an inefficient status quo in which their concerns will be addressed, to an efficient machine that excludes their agenda.

It must also be admitted that for a developing country ambassador, the prospects of a reincarnated career in the UN also looms large in the calculations. They know how to work the present system and would not welcome a slimmed down meritocracy they suspect would be under western control.

Tactical not Technocratic

Ban has tried to pre-emptively head off their opposition to his plans with senior appointments carefully spread around the global south. Many people suspect that, unless he has seen hidden depths unobserved by others in some of his appointees, a number of selections have been more tactical than technocratic.

Very late in his second term, Annan went to the long neglected root of the rot in the UN’s personnel system – and even then only after appointing Anne
Veneman, the White House nominee to head the traditional American fiefdom of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to avert US opposition.

Briefly the UN advertised and conducted a passable search process for candidates for senior positions, for example choosing Kemal Dervis of Turkey for the traditional Anglo-Saxon realm of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). And then right at the end, under heavy White House pressure, after consulting Ban, Annan appointed a Bush nominee, Josette Sheeran Shiner as head of the World Food Programme. She is a former editor of the Moony-owned Washington Times.

Following that, Ban abandoned this brief burst of genuine reform and has chosen a series of candidates who appear to represent pay-offs to powers that could have, but did not, veto his candidacy. Despite a reform pledge to cycle anyone more than five years in one position, he reappointed the French candidate, Jean-Marie Guéhenno as head of peacekeeping.

Sir John Holmes, a Blair nominee, became head of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, a task in which he may succeed, but for which he is less qualified than the political affairs job the
British hoped for. And of course the reason that London had to accept a consolation prize was the most significant pay-back of all, Pascoe. It may be reform, but hardly root and branch.

Short on Substance

So what are Ban’s prospects? Any Secretary-General has to balance the aspirations of the bulk of the membership and the imperious demands of the great powers, in particular the US. Annan was extremely adept at this, for which he was rewarded with mutterings from the nonaligned that he was an American puppet and a two year campaign of vilification from US conservatives.

The Bush administration policy was ‘Bear not false witness: let the lie/Have time on its own wings to fly’. The White House did not start the slanderous campaign about the failures of the Iraq Oil for Food Programme, but it certainly did nothing to rein it in, and took advantage of Annan's weakened position. Ban should learn the lesson that that American support lasts only
until the first disagreement.

Some observers, unimpressed by Ban’s approach, and perhaps irritated by his own boast to the title of the ‘slippery eel’, for his avoidance of substance, have assumed he is the lacklustre product of a
backroom fix. But that is no truer than of any of his predecessors.

Indeed, while last year’s voting itself had all the transparency of a papal conclave, the campaign was unprecedentedly open, and Ban acquitted himself well on the hustings. For example, when asked about the International Criminal Court, and the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, he declared himself unequivocally in favour of both – even though one was hardly designed to woo Bolton’s vote, while the other was not exactly what Beijing may have wanted.

Like Annan, Ban is personally very affable and approachable, but quietly spoken, and has given evidence of strong ethics. No one could be foreign minister of a fulcrum state like South Korea without developing Annan-like skills at tightrope walking. In recent years South Korea has contrived to loyally disagree with Washington even though its survival has depended on American military support. Indeed, the few hints we see of his decision-making suggest some very intricate balancing acts.

Annan, more than any recent Secretary-General realised that in the absence of serious military or financial power, careful cultivation of a public persona of trustworthy moral authority provided the best substitute. Despite indifferent speaking skills, and very carefully weighing every word, he was
initially very successful in this.

One way in which Annan succeeded was to open up the organisation to the media in an unprecedented way. Previously, staff rules forbade talking to the press, but he reversed the position so that they were mandated to do so on areas in which they had competence. He also surrounded himself with a team that could articulately fill in the gaps in his diplomatically constrained public discussion.

It is to be hoped that Ban may begin to realise what he is missing. There is no point in having the world’s most prominent bully pulpit if he is not prepared to read the occasional sermon and deliver some ringing ex cathedra judgments. He will find that soft power is the strongest weapon in his armoury.

IAN WILLIAMS is Editor of the forthcoming Guide to the UN, published
by CQ Press

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Foxes that didn't bark-full text

Dogs don't bark for the GOP
American conservatives love to go after the UN, even on the most dubious charges. So why aren't they doing so when a Republican is involved?

March 22, 2007 8:30 PM |
Sherlock Holmes aficionados will remember the story about the dog that did not bark. It sprang to mind this week as I strained to hear the deafening sound of silence from the usual suspects - the Murdoch/Fox hunters - who are so well trained to bay at the first hint of a UN corruption story.

Consider. A senior official of a UN agency that Washington banned for many years because of its alleged corruption and anti-American bias has just resigned, shortly before the auditors closed in with a devastating report. The official is a former legislator from the party currently running his government back home - and currently mired in nepotism and corruption scandals. Nominated by his President, once ensconced in the agency's offices, the official sliced and diced consultancy contracts into segments smaller than $100,000 so that he could award them on a no-bid basis to an influential company back home. To do so, he used funds totaling over $2m earmarked to combat illiteracy in Africa, and even used half a million at one point for a sycophantic reception in honour of the spouse of the president who nominated him. These charges were made in the French press three months ago, and have been circulating among the knowledgeable ever since - even though those who raised questions about the official found themselves transferred from Paris to plum postings like Zimbabwe.

Wow. Are the Foxes hunting? Is the Wall Street Journal op-ed page about to declare war on someone and demand US withdrawal from the UN?

No. The sound of silence is deafening. Why? Elementary, my dear Watson.

The official concerned is former American Republican Congressman Peter Smith, nominated by President George W Bush to go to UNESCO and reform the organization after 19 years of American boycott. UNESCO is based in Paris, and the auditors are those used by the French government.

The company that was the beneficiary of Smith's Halliburtonesque contracting practices was Navigant, a big Washington company whose website, you will notice, does not claim any educational expertise at all.

UNESCO critics claim he transferred over $200,000 from literacy projects in Mauritania, Iraq and Palestine to bankroll the conference hosted by Laura Bush and the White House in September last year, where Ms Bush was feted as the Honorary Ambassador of the United Nations Literacy Decade. The New York caterer was the beneficiaries of the children's loss.

Of course, it is possible that he is entirely innocent. But when you consider the Oil for Food allegations, you have to wonder why some parts of the fourth estate don't show the same restraint before going after foreigners, liberals and globalists of various hues.

Indeed, the relative silence is an interesting contrast to the two year furor over the Oil For Food programme. After hyperbolic talk of billions of dollars improperly diverted, the scandal ended up as a whimper, not a bang: The allegation is now that the former head of the programme, Benon Sevan, received $160,000 over four years, which is claimed to have come from a friend who bought oil from Saddam Hussein. Sevan had declared it on his UN forms, saying it came from his aunt, and denies any connection. (Of course, he is a Cypriot, and spent a lifetime working for the UN, and had no known connection with the GOP - so his guilt has been assumed from the beginning.)

But the silence is also reminiscent of the blanket over the $10bn that the UN Oil for Food programme handed over to US occupation authorities. Congressman Henry Waxman has been trying to find out what happened - and has been quite successful in uncovering the serious incompetence and corruption of the Americans who handled these huge bricks of cash. His efforts have had less than one per cent of the publicity of the unproven and frankly dubious Oil for Food scandal.

The lesson is clear. If you want to be corrupt in the UN, being an influential Republican is as good as ticking the box for no publicity.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Foxes that didn't bark

My piece is on Comment is Free in the Guardian site on the GOP corruption scandal at UNESCO - on why the dogs have not barked for a Republican nominee alleged to have been assigning sweeetheart contracts to his friends.
click and check

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Iraq: the run to Iran

Guardian Comment is Free

see below in the last post for the link
March 20, 2007 9:30 PM |

Four years after the start of the Iraq war, the White House has a twin strategy. Dig deeper in Iraq And dig another on in Iran - with bunker busters. As Yogi Berra said, "it's deja vu all over again". The same incremental process that led into the Iraqi quagmire is being rolled out for Iran.

Optimists think that because it makes no sense for the US to initiate or support an attack on Iran, it can't happen. The fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq is a good time to recall that no one has yet produced a convincing reason for that war, either. And the same people are still in charge - and up to their same tricks at the UN.

The WMDs, as we now know, were a chimera, and even at the time they were obviously just a diplomatic McGuffin - a way of getting UN authorization for Tony Blair and those faint-hearts in the State Department who wanted legal cover. One can't help thinking that the alleged Iranian nukes are equally draped in McGuffin tartan.

While the US leaves Darfur on the back burner in the Security Council, the Bush administration is pushing inexorably against Iran by trying to get the UN, an organization whose authority Washington constantly questions, to implement a Non-Proliferation Treaty that the US has selectively sabotaged, against Iran - a country that is not in breach of it.

The IAEA Council was bullied into referring Iran to the Security Council. Ironically one of the key swing votes was India, a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and an open nuclear power, which voted against Iran in return for Washington blessing New Delhi's nuclear efforts!

Having got it on the UN agenda - even more ironically, under the title "Non-Proliferation" - the US and the UK are now applying their well-honed skills to chivvying the others to the brink in easily digestible gobbets. (Indeed, many international lawyers think that the UK Trident replacement programme actually puts it into breach of the NPT - a point the Iranians have been quick to make.)

The west may not get a resolution authorizing actual war. But close is good enough. Before the Iraq war, heavy British and American diplomatic pressure ratcheted up the resolutions in a battle of diplomatic attrition, drawing in the Russians, the French and others in small steps. When the others members finally refused to vote for an actual attack, the British Attorney General and the US State Department invoked all the small print that their opponents on the council had conceded earlier to "prove" that the war was being fought to implement UN resolutions.

The same tightening of the screws is happening with Iran. The draft resolution they are pushing has the phrase, "recalling the requirement on States to join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council", which one can, without too much paranoia, see retrospectively invoked for a coalition of the coerced.

Even though the IAEA has expressed some concern over Iran's ambitions, it has made clear that Tehran is a long way from nuclear capability - unlike India, Pakistan and Israel, about which Washington seems blithely unconcerned (and indeed, in the case of India and Israel, actually to condone).

The farce anticipates the tragedy. The White House took appropriations and troops voted for Afghanistan and diverted them to Iraq. It now seems to be assembling forces in the region, under the guise of an exit strategy for Iraq, and aiming them towards Iran. Two carrier groups off Iran are hardly appropriate for enhancing the safety of the ordinary Iraqis on the streets of Baghdad.

Other clauses in the draft impose a ban on conventional arms trade to and from Iran, "in order to prevent a destabilising accumulation of arms". You do not have to be an Ayatollah-lover to wonder about the destabilizing effect of the American arms build-up in the region, or the overt threats from Israel against Tehran, to suspect that this is more than a little provocative - and almost surely setting up the Iranians, this time with enthusiastic French support.

There is even the same pattern of turning on a former protégée. It really is time to get Ollie North back in harness. He had no problems negotiating with the Iranians and supplying them with arms before. Send him over to talk. He may even get a few contracts for Halliburton while he is there. And he could take Scooter Libby with him.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Run from Iraq to Iran

Latest Comment is Free on the Road to Iran, which leads through Iraq!

Let Him Who is without Sin, Get His Hand out the Till

For those who complain that my blog is not short enough, here is seriously bad news. My article in the current edition of the WORLD POLICY JOURNAL • WINTER 2006/07, to which you should subscribe runs to many thousands of words. All of them golden of course. Check their site, and check the story, yet another homage to Little W's Big Adventure in Mesopotamia.

The True UN Scandal: Who Pocketed the $10 Billion for Iraq?

Ian Williams

In December 2006, Kofi Annan finished his two-term tenure as secretary general of the United Nations. Among his greatest achievements was undoubtedly shepherding the principle of “The Responsibility to Protect” through to adoption by the Heads of State Summit in the General Assembly in September 2005. By beginning to put some teeth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and overturning the traditional concept of absolute national sovereignty, this prefigured a huge change in international law, even if, as the ongoing conflict in Darfur demonstrates, its implementation leaves much to be desired.

Sadly, however, in the United States at least, many commentators tied Annan’s name to the alleged “Oil for Food” (OFF) scandal. It is perhaps timely to take a retrospective look at this, not least since the miasma it raised at the time still lingers around both him and the organization. Perhaps no molehill has ever been made into such a mighty mountain.

Following attacks by the conservative UN-hating media in the United States, and to a lesser extent in the United Kingdom, Secretary General Kofi Annan convened an Independent Inquiry Committee into the OFF program to be headed by the former Federal Reserve chair, Paul Volcker. His committee had unprecedented access to documents, emails, and phone and financial records across the world. Annan’s act was not that of a man who had anything to hide.

In October 2005, and with the investigation costing almost $50 million dollars, the report (1) came out, and in summer 2006 it was followed with a précis “Good Intentions Corrupted: The Oil for Food Scandal and the threat to the UN.”(2) Paul Volcker wrote the introduction but two of the investigators, Jeffrey A. Meyer and Mark G. Califano, authored the content. In contrast to the enthusiastic coverage from the conservative media about the so-called scandal, the report did not garner much media attention, perhaps because, in general, it exonerated the United Nations from the hyperbolic accusations made against it. Its conclusions are relatively sober, unexceptional, and essentially repeat those of many previous reports on the failings of UN management.

The book recounts examples of the five ambassadors holding permanent seats on the Security Council bypassing UN procurement procedures, and of U.S. naval cover occasionally being provided for oil smuggling operations, which, in total, amounted to $8.4 billion of revenue for Iraq in defiance of sanctions. It notes the general apathy of Security Council members to reports of smuggling, kickbacks, and surcharges, which netted the regime another $1.8 billion. It also points out that the Security Council gave the UN Secretariat and the Oil for Food program the mandate and framework that made it possible for Iraq— and many companies and governments—to manipulate the program.

In the précis to the report, Volcker writes, “I did not, and do not today, believe that the evidence developed by the committee justifies a sweeping allegation that financial corruption is or was characteristic of the institution as a whole. Rather...there is a ‘culture of inaction,’ of a strong tendency to evade administrative responsibility. That culture is rooted both in the character of the UN organization and in broadly political considerations.”

It is, however, that political context that is mostly missing from “Good Intentions Corrupted,” just as it was from the Volcker report. There were good reasons why the Iraq program was not robust in its enforcement of sanctions, no matter how much shock the report expresses about inattention to such details. It is unlikely that the Security Council, cognizant of the hardship that Iraqi sanctions caused,will ever again agree to impose such comprehensive and draconian economic sanctions. Indeed, another lesson from the affair may be that, in a globalized world, any attempt to micromanage the foreign trade of an entire country’s economy is not only futile, but risks disastrous socio-economic consequences. Since, the Security Council has limited subsequent sanctions to rogue regimes or against strictly military trade.

The Background to OFF

In a vindictive mood at the end of the original Gulf War in 1991, the Americans, with British and (at the time) French support, instituted a crushing package of economic sanctions, reparations, and monitoring against Iraq. Not since Versailles had victors imposed such measures on the defeated. The sanctions did not have a “sunset clause.” A positive vote of the Security Council was necessary to lift them. It was only possible because, at that immediate juncture, the Soviet Union, and then Russia, cooperated. Later, other members asked for “light at the end of the tunnel”—a demonstration that Iraqi compliance with Security Council resolutions would lead to lifting the sanctions—but the United States made it plain that it would veto any such attempt while Saddam Hussein remained in power.

The original sin was the rush of enthusiasm in the aftermath of the Gulf War and the Cold War, when the UN looked likely to become the executor of Washington’s foreign policy. A more independent secretariat might have warned of the pitfalls of the policy the Security Council adopted, although, to be fair, at the time few foresaw that sanctions would still be in effect a decade later.

As the economy imploded and public services collapsed, it soon became apparent that the sanctions’ primary victims were ordinary Iraqis. Indeed, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ruminated on CBS’s 60 Minutes in 1996: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima.... Is the price worth it?... I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” She has since regretted the statement, but at least it had the benefit of candor. Clearly, Washington did think that the political and strategic benefits outweighed the costs paid by Iraqi civilians, otherwise it could have relaxed the sanctions.

Sadly, it was the United Nations that tallied those casualty figures, though staff members saw their job as developing economies, not destroying them; saving children, not starving them. They tended to see the sanctions as an American-enforced aberration from the true mission of the UN system. High-profile officials—such as Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, in September 1998, and Hans Von Sponeck, in March 2000—resigned in protest against complicity in what Halliday called genocide. It did not help that the resolutions earmarked 30 percent of the proceeds of oil sales to war reparations, which went mostly to Kuwait and major oil companies and which provided an additional pretext for Baghdad’s defiance.

Without firm opposition within the United Nations, for a few years during and after the Gulf War, Washington and its junior partner in London promulgated instructions inside the UN as if it were an extension of their own foreign policy apparatus. It was a brave staff member who resisted their wishes—as indeed Egypt’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali himself discovered when his term as secretary general was not renewed, in part because he was insufficiently cooperative with Madeleine Albright.

In the Arab and Muslim world, and even in Western Europe, the palpable suffering of Iraqi citizens eroded support for sanctions and diminished the moral standing of the world organization. The stark contrast between the relentless application of pressure on Iraq, and the free diplomatic pass given to Israel in enforcing compliance with Security Council resolutions, also exacerbated disaffection. While legally significant, the contrast between resolutions censuring Iraq, which contained their own means of enforcement, and those against Israel, which did not, merely reinforced the perceived disparity. Even Saddam Hussein’s cavalier disregard for, and defiance of, UN disarmament resolutions found defenders in the face of Washington’s relentless antipathy. As the sanctions wore on and American officials began to call for regime change, UN members chafed at what seemed a blatant attempt to flout the bedrock principle of national sovereignty. (No UN resolutions ever mentioned overthrowing Saddam— indeed George H. W. Bush had deliberately avoided that option at the end of Operation Desert Storm in order to preserve the international coalition.) Clearly, if the sanctions had needed a reauthorization vote—as peacekeeping operations do—it is unlikely there would have been a Security Council majority to re-impose them, apart from the potential veto that the Russians, Chinese, and later the French might have wielded.

Besides the moral considerations, Iraq represented potential oil concessions and trade with Russia, China, and France. By 1997, sanctions were losing support and were about to crumble completely. For the majority of the council, and for much of the secretariat, since the U.S. veto was an insuperable obstacle to lifting sanctions, the Oil for Food program was seen primarily as a way to mitigate the effect of the sanctions on ordinary Iraqis by providing food supplies. In contrast, for Washington, whose basic assumptions the Volcker report reflects, the purpose of the Oil for Food program (to which it reluctantly agreed) was to maintain sanctions in the face of growing worldwide reluctance to cooperate.

Smuggling Condoned

Though a hostile conservative press has accused the Oil for Food program of providing billions of dollars to the Iraqi regime, most of the smuggling was already under way before the program was established. This was known to Western intelligence services and the media—or indeed anyone who wanted to know. The Americans and the British kept sending mixed messages—not officially condoning, but never overtly condemning Iraq’s oil trade with Western allies. Under Article 50 of the charter, Iraq’s neighbors, like Turkey and Jordan, were entitled to compensation for costs they incurred in maintaining sanctions. However, no one really wanted to pay up, least of all a U.S. administration that had for years found it difficult to obtain congressional approval of UN dues. So from the outset there was massive oil-trading, referred to as “smuggling” in the press and committee reports, across the borders to Jordan and Turkey, which the Volcker report confirms was well established by the time Oil for Food had begun.

The American-allied Kurds in the north siphoned a significant percentage from oil sales to Turkey that passed through their territory, and the Jordanian economy would have collapsed without the oil trade across the border—for which Amman did ask permission of the Sanctions Committee, which “noted” the request without delivering an opinion. It was the diplomatic equivalent of a wink and a nudge. The Western powers only began to be irritated about the “smuggling” in 1997, when Damascus negotiated a rapprochement with Iraq and later re-opened the Syrian pipeline. The flurry of indignation from the British and others was hard to sustain, as they could not explain why this was in any way more censorious than the leakage to Turkey and Jordan.

The Matter of Sovereignty

Anomalously, Iraq was formally a sovereign member state of the UN even as it was being treated as a defeated nation. For example, to respect the letter of international law, the UN applied for Iraqi visas for its personnel in the Kurdish areas where Baghdad had no practical authority whatsoever, and allowed the regime to veto personnel.

The United Nations Special Commission, the nominally UN weapons inspectors team, had proven to be an extension of U.S. intelligence, which played directly to Iraqi Ba’athists’ paranoia. The Iraqis did not want a fresh team of weapons inspectors using the cover of the Oil for Food program serving on behalf of a state threatening military action against them. When the Security Council agreed to the Oil for Food program after initial American resistance, Saddam’s regime showed that it could be equally opportunistic in its feigned principles, and initially cited national honor in resisting inspections.

To get the food to the population, UN officials—who cared more about the Iraqi citizenry than either Baghdad or Washington—in effect had to compromise with the Ba’athists’ pretenses about “national honor” to get the program running. As a result, while the United Nations managed the escrow fund into which all oil sale revenue went, and which paid for the food, the program had no say about which companies or countries Baghdad chose to sell oil to, or to buy food and supplies from.

Unsurprisingly, given hostility in Washington and London, Baghdad did not award many contracts to American or British companies, and used commerce to reward and influence countries like France, Russia, and China, whose votes they coveted in the Security Council. It would be naïve to assume that those contracts had no influence in determining their votes. Certainly France’s position changed considerably over this period. At least Baghdad’s ill will towards Washington had the effect of sparing most American companies from the temptation to join in the kickback scheme.

Taking all this into account, while the Volcker report spreads the blame among the member states, the Security Council, and the secretariat for the program’s failure to enforce sanctions on Iraq, it misses the point in reprimanding the UN staff. To many, and very possibly a majority, while the Iraqi sanctions may have been legal under the UN Charter—they were illegitimate, and arguably immoral. Hence the contrast in outlook between the United States, as reflected in the Volcker committee’s report, and much of the world. For most of the UN staff, the OFF program was about feeding Iraqis. For Washington it was about starving the regime of funds for rearmament. It needs reiteration that in both contexts it was hugely successful. By the end, the program was providing essential food and medical supplies for over 80 percent of the Iraqi population, and, as was subsequently proved by both Hans Blix’s UN Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission inspectors and their American successors, it was also successful in stopping Iraqi rearmament.

Indeed, it was so successful that the U.S. occupation authorities asked the UN to continue the program after the 2003 invasion and then praised its performance after it ended. A surplus of more than $10 billion dollars was handed over to the Occupation’s “Iraq Development Fund” to be disbursed under the scrutiny of an international monitoring board. Such was the context when Kofi Annan asked Paul Volcker to establish and head the Independent Inquiry Committee. Yet surprisingly, the committee did not take into account the very political circumstances of its own creation.

How Success Turned to Scandal

Within a year of the Iraq invasion, the anti-UN media in the United States began to trumpet the “UN Oil for Food Scandal,” which was, according to the neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, “the biggest financial scandal in the history of the world.” Some of the wilder pundits claimed it involved the mismanagement of “hundreds of billions of dollars.” The real target of the attacks was the United Nations itself, and, especially, the reputation of the secretary general. When, in December 2004, Republican senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota called for Kofi Annan’s resignation, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune provided a succinct explanation of what lay behind the attacks. Describing Coleman’s call as a “sordid move,” a December 4, 2004, editorial explained, “For months before the election, the right-wing constellation of blogs and talk radio was alive with incendiary rhetoric about Annan and the oil-for-food scandal.... This is really all about Annan’s refusal to toe the Bush line on Iraq and the administration’s generally unilateral approach to foreign affairs. The right-wingers hate Annan and saw in the food-for-oil program a possible chink in his armor. They went after it with a venomous fury.”

The story of how Oil for Food mushroomed into a UN scandal begins with Claudia Rosett, a former Wall Street Journal writer who is now journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. In a 2002 New York Times op-ed, just after Bush went to the UN to seek authorization for an invasion of Iraq, she called the Oil for Food program “an invitation to kickbacks, political back-scratching and smuggling done under cover of relief operations.... If the oil-for-food operation is extended, however, it will have a tremendous influence on shaping the new Iraq. Before

that is allowed to happen, let’s see the books.”

The idea that the UN had failed by not backing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein’s continued malfeasance could be blamed on the UN, was very much part of the house philosophy of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Its board included such GOP eminences as Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Frank Lautenberg, Newt Gingrich, and James Woolsey, as well as Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer. Its own website advertised its connections with the Iraqi National Council and Ahmed Chalabi, its leader-in-exile. Chalabi’s position was crucial. He disliked, in particular, Annan’s special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, who was assembling an interim government in Baghdad and had correctly assessed the lack of indigenous support for Chalabi in Iraq. At one point, Chalabi had called the secretary general’s office in New York to pressure Annan to appoint him to a position commensurate with his self-perceived importance. When Annan’s office resisted, Chalabi and his team carried out their threat to propagate the claim that Benon Sevan, the retiring Oil for Food chief, was on a list of 267 people for whom Saddam Hussein had authorized commissions on oil trades. This claim provoked a rash of stories focusing on the alleged UN connection.

With so much smoke, the media seemed to assume that there had to be a fire. Interestingly, these stories were mostly in the op-ed pages. The Wall Street Journal news section undertook some sterling investigative work that did not point at corruption in the UN, but rather at collaboration between private companies and member states in providing revenue for Baghdad.

In March 2004, Annan, backed by the Security Council, appointed former Federal Reserve bank chair Paul Volcker to head an inquiry. Soon, however, the same people who had demanded the inquiry began to accuse Annan of under-funding it. When he then obtained $30 million from residual OFF funds set aside for administration, he was immediately accused of taking bread from Iraqi children’s mouths.

The New York Post denounced the inquiry as a cover-up, and New York Times columnist William Safire referred to Annan’s “manipulative abuse of Paul Volcker,” whose reputation for integrity was “being shredded by a web of sticky-fingered officials and see-no-evil bureaucrats desperate to protect the man on top who hired him to substitute for—and thereby to abort—prompt and truly independent investigation.”

The chorus grew louder following the leak of a letter in which Annan cautioned the U.S.-led coalition against a frontal assault on Fallujah. Fox television’s Bill O’Reilly declared that “it’s becoming increasingly clear that UN chief Kofi Annan is hurting the USA.” On November 24, 2004, the National Review declared “Annan should either resign, if he is honorable, or be removed, if he is not.” And, on December 1, 2004, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Norm Coleman called for An-nan’s resignation. When asked, President Bush did not repudiate Coleman’s call with any expression of confidence in Annan, but called simply for the investigation to take its course. A week later, Prime Minister Tony Blair joined much of the world in expressing support for Annan, to whom delegates in the General Assembly gave a standing ovation.

By this time, the Volcker committee had won over the conservative press, albeit inadvertently. The interim reports publicized many allegations from the UN’s own, widely derided Office of Internal Oversight Services, without publishing rebuttals from UN staff. The hostile press also welcomed the Volcker inquiry’s censure of Annan over his son’s involvement with Cotecna, a company contracted to inspect food deliveries. Kojo Annan had lied to his father in declaring that he had severed his relationship with the company, and it was discovered that he had concealed continuing payments from Cotecna.

Volcker’s team found no evidence that the Secretary General had in anyway been involved in the procurement scandal but held that he had not treated these allegations seriously enough. Annan had asked for the advice of his (U.S.-appointed) undersecretary general for management, and of his undersecretary general for legal affairs, who told him that since he had no contact with the procurement process, he did not need to take further action. And, though Volcker countered that he should not have believed his son and authorized a major inquiry, the published report effectively cleared Annan and the UN of the vast majority of the corruption charges leveled by the conservative media. Apart from Annan’s involvement, this was a lesser matter than the ever-growing billions that the critics alleged the UN had squandered.

About Benon Sevan

In the face of allegations of tens of billions floating from the gulf, the sole finding of direct UN corruption was leveled at Benon Sevan, the Cypriot head of the $100 billion program, who declared $147,000 in gifts over four years from an aunt, which the committee decided had come as commission on otherwise legitimate oil trades from a company run by his friends. If true—and the evidence the committee adduced was circumstantial—this was clearly unethical, but not necessarily illegal. They also took Sevan to task for his style of management. Sevan did run the program at arms’ length from the secretariat, but his colleagues, while admitting that he could be stubborn and idiosyncratic, also pointed out that secretariat interference in OFF would have slowed down its work. By insulating it from bureaucratic interference, many believe the Cypriot abetted the program.

Sevan returned to Cyprus in 2005 and has not been in New York since, which does not necessarily imply an admission of guilt. In New York, he faced a politically motivated prosecution in an atmosphere poisoned by media allegations. In January 2007, a U.S. district attorney filed charges against him. He denies guilt and cannot be extradited. Indeed, one suspects that the Volcker team’s report devotes a chapter to him because, in the end, this was the only substantial accusation of serious impropriety against any UN official directly related to the program. For all the time, money, and effort put into the Volcker report, there are several significant omissions that obscure an accurate overall judgment of the Oil for Food program. For example, the inquiry does not look into what happened to the $10 billion in OFF surpluses that were handed to the American occupation authorities for the Development Fund for Iraq, for which no accounting has been provided either to Congress or to the International Advisory and Monitoring Board. It was not in his committee’s mandate, said Volcker, to determine how much money was handed out, much of it in no-bid contracts, to companies close to the White House. Stuart W. Bowen, the

U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction since October 2004, has also been unsuccessfully trying to find out what happened to the $10 billion, which had been augmented by a matching amount from frozen Iraq reserves. Notably, the press that had fulminated against the United Nations has been silent on this matter. Similarly, little attention has been paid to the fact that the Oil for Food program funneled $20 billion of Iraqi oil revenues to the largest reparations scheme since Versailles. Even at current reduced rates, 5 percent of Iraqi oil money will be diverted indefinitely to pay the balance of $30 billion in accepted claims. Kuwait has refused to discuss dropping these reparation demands. These figures clearly overshadow Sevan’s alleged $147,000 in payoffs—both in quantity and their effect—but have not had one-hundredth of the media coverage. The Security Council voted for both handovers of cash, which perhaps makes a much stronger case for political reform of the organization than the Volcker report makes for the long accepted need for managerial reforms.

Neither the United Nations nor any other organization should be allowed to excuse incompetence or corruption by pointing the finger at other organizations and countries. There were serious faults in the OFF program, inherent in the mixture of political controls and motives behind it, and, as Annan himself said, it was far too ambitious a program for the UN to undertake.

But, it is legitimate to contrast the froth and indignation over OFF with the relative silence from the same critics over the missing funds provided to Iraq. What was immediately apparent was that the UN reconstruction effort proved incapable of defending itself against a politically motivated assault on its integrity. Though there is a big constituency for the United Nations within the United States, it is essentially passive: with a few honorable exceptions, no leading figures stood up to defend the organization. Even as Kofi Annan retired, the stains lingered on both him and the organization.

Among the obvious lessons are that the international community should never impose such draconian economic sanctions on a nation, and that such resolutions should, in any case, contain a sunset clause to prevent veto holders maintaining penalties in pursuit of selfish national interests. The biggest lesson, however, is the need for an independent and strong international civil service in the secretariat. This has not been helped by the failure of successive U.S. administrations to pay UN assessments on time and their tacit connivance in slander campaigns. In an interview with Kofi Annan just before he resigned, he put it with typical understatement: “There have been times when it has been tough, particularly when some people on the Hill or the right wing begin attacking the UN and the secretary general, and no one pulls them back even though that’s the same organization that you are going to turn to tomorrow. If you undermine the organization to that extent, your own population may ask you ‘Why are you going to this organization that you’ve discredited so much?’” Why, indeed?


1. The Volcker reports are available online at
2. Jeffrey A. Meyer and Mark G. Califrano, Good Intentions Corrupted: The Oil-for-Food Scandal and the Threat to the U.N., introduction by Paul A. Volcker (New York: PublicAffairs, 2006). WORLD POLICY JOURNAL • WINTER 2006/07

Monday, March 19, 2007

The UN and Iraq

As we approach the fourth Anniversary of Little W's Big Adventure, here is the chapter I wrote on the UN and the Iraq War for
the collection The Iraq War: Causes And Consequences edited by Rick Fawn and Ray Hinnebusch.
Well worth buying, as Fred Halliday of the LSE said:
"This is a treasure-trove of a book. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the policies of the major international and regional states leading up to the war, as well as the immediate consequences, and at the same time relates this analysis to broader issues in international law, foreign policy, and international relations theory. It sets a standard to which all subsequent discussion, in public policy debates and in academic analysis, will have to refer."-

The UN and the Iraq War

Ian Williams

Depending on the point of the view of the observer, the United Nations is a total failure either because it failed to support the US invasion of Iraq – or because it failed to prevent it. Certainly, ideologically motivated commentators in the United States cited the failure of the U.N. to endorse the attack on Iraq as evidence of the organization’s uselessness, and in the aftermath of the invasion neo-con Richard Perle exulted that “the U.N. was dead – Thank God!” However, a more nuanced view of the organization, would be that its failure to support the invasion maintained at least the principles of international law, and that the US return to the organization to assist in the aftermath was recognition, albeit grudging, of what Kofi Annan has called the “unique legitimacy” that only the organization can provide.

The Pre-war Struggle in the Security Council

During 2002 it became increasingly clear that the US was bent on war against Iraq, the only question being whether it would act unilaterally or take a multilateral route through the United Nations. The advice of Bush senior, Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were the compelling factors behind the President’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 2002. Set in the context of decades of perennial American conservative abuse of the UN institution, the President’s speech was a relatively skillful attempt to woo the United Nations and its member states to join in his attempt to deal with Saddam Hussein. Invoking the ineffectuality of the League of Nations and its consequent fate, he pointed out that the UN was supposed to be different. Praising the organization for its part in liberating Kuwait, he catalogued Iraqi defiance of the U.N., which was at the time undeniable: he referred to Iraqi breaches of resolutions on weapons inspectors, refusal to hand over prisoners, and Saddam’s continuing repression of his own people.
Giving notice of the administration’s impending demands on the U.N. Bush declared, “Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.” He demanded that Iraq abide by all outstanding resolutions. However, without being irremediably offensive, the speech gave warning that Washington would only stay on the UN highway as long it went swiftly and smoothly in the direction the President wanted. “If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively, to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions, but the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable, and a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.”
Iraqi intransigence over admitting inspectors had also left the regime with few friends in the UN, while making the strictly legal case against it incontrovertible.
However, when the American draft resolution on Iraq finally arrived at the Security Council, it included provisions that had no chance of being accepted by other Council members, but which were there to please the hawks in the Pentagon and around Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. The draft, which was originally only shared with the five permanent members of the Security Council, recalled the original resolutions authorizing the use of force by members, and found Iraq “in material breach” of the ceasefire resolutions. It demanded entry for UN weapons inspectors and mandated armed U.N. security forces to be deployed to protect them; it also would allow the five permanent members of the Security Council the right to recommend sites to be inspected, individuals to be questioned, and request permission to have their representatives join the inspections. Of course, only two of the five were likely to exercise such rights, or provide forces.
The inspectors would have the right to declare no-fly/no-drive zones, exclusion zones, and/or ground and air transit corridors. Iraq would have to provide the Security Council, before inspections, but within 30 days from the date of the resolution, “a complete list of its programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as all other chemical, biological and nuclear weapons production or material."
Iraq would have to provide a list of personnel involved in the programmes, whom the Inspectors would have the right to interview in or outside Iraq. Any false statements or omissions in the list of programmes or personnel submitted by Iraq and or its failure “at any time to comply and cooperate fully in accordance with the provisions laid out in this resolution, shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations, and that such breach authorizes member states to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area.”
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Iraqis agreed to talk to Hans Blix of UNMOVIC and Mohamed El-Baradei of the IAEA and following their discussions seemingly announced that the inspections could resume, but the letters they sent giving their version of what had been agreed was so hedged around with qualifications that it bolstered the American case for war.
Even when it was cleared up, Blix and ElBaradei then refused to send in inspectors until the American draft resolution was dealt with, since they did not want to send staff into a war zone. The draft was frozen, not least because the only version ten elected members of the Council had seen was in the newspapers, which did not dispose them favorably to the process. In any case, neither they, nor the inspectors liked what they had read of it.
A principal issue in negotiation over the draft was whether member states, i.e. the US and Britain, could act on their own authority against Iraq if they deemed it in non-compliance. US secretary of state Powell pledged an additional meeting of the Council before the US acted on the trigger clauses in the draft resolution, but that was not enough for most members, since it would still give Washington a free hand to determine when to mete out the threatened “severe consequences” and what form they would take.
The steady stream of belligerent leaks from the Pentagon civilians did not help since they brought the hidden agenda--war at any cost--out in the open. Ambassador Sergei Lavrov for Russia articulated the suspicions during the debate. “If we're talking, not about the deployment of inspectors, but about an attempt to use the Security Council to create a legal basis for the use of force, or even for a regime change of a U.N. member state, and this goal has been constantly alluded to by several officials publicly, then we see no way how the Security Council could give its consent to that."
Even, Powell, the most urbane member of the administration, did not reassure others when he said that "any resolution that emerges from this will be a resolution that preserves the authority and the right of the president of the United States to act in self-defense ... in concert with the international community or with like-minded nations rather than through the U.N. should it not wish to act."
When the resolution was finally brought back to the permanent five on Monday 21st October, there were still not enough concessions to win over the doubters. It still included the key language that members feared would give the White House the excuses it wanted: seven days for the Iraqis to comply, a declaration that Baghdad was already in “material breach” of UN resolutions and a warning of consequences.
While the hawks dictated the initial American positions, the White House in the end opted to go with the more diplomatically feasible route of UNMOVIC and IAEA inspections backed by a strong resolution. Bush and Cheney’s meetings with Blix and El-Baradei were in part a reassuring signal to the waverers on the Security Council that after the President’s initial diplomatically disastrous fit of pique when Iraq had first accepted inspections, the White House was now backing them.
Based on previous experience of Iraqi intransigence, the other members of the Security Council almost all conceded that when the inspectors went into Iraq they should be backed by the threat of force and the implication was that if Baghdad resisted, then the Council would back military action. In private the Russians, Chinese and French all admitted that this was Iraq’s last chance, not so much because they wanted it that way, but because they saw no percentage in resisting Washington to cover for Iraqi irrationality.
In the end most members were also prepared to accommodate US whims, even fairly lethal ones, to preserve the appearance of legality, since they tacitly bought into the administration argument of the irrelevance of the UN if it failed to enforce its resolutions. If the alternative was the world’s most important nation ripping up the UN Charter, it was best to go along with it and try to keep what Blair called a hand on the steering wheel. As it was to turn out, it was a runaway train, with no steering wheel, and little in the way of the brakes.
With the final unanimous acceptance of UN SCR 1441 on 8 November, just after the US elections, the US had certainly triumphed in its major point. Despite the dubiety of every other nation except Israel, Iraq was now elevated to the top of the global security agenda. From the positive side, the US had now made its plans for an invasion of Iraq legally and diplomatically contingent on the regime’s non-cooperation with the inspectors, or at least on their discovery of undeclared weapons of mass destruction. The much amended resolution seemed to offer Iraq a genuine opportunity to avoid war by cooperation with UNMOVIC and the IAEA.
It also avoided giving the US the automatic right to attack that the hawks had originally insisted on, and Blix had successfully secured the removal of the provisions allowing the Permanent Five members to foist staff onto the inspection teams. However, he had been less successful with his argument that the 30 days for “full and frank” disclosure by the Iraqis was not enough.
The US had made assumptions in depth that their casus belli was on its way. They assumed that Iraq would not cooperate, then that it either would not deliver the disclosure in time, or if it did that it would provably lie in it. Fanned to fever heat by Washington leaks, the next few months were to see a succession of alleged make or break dates. Firstly would Iraq accept the resolution, and secondly would Baghdad deliver the “Full and Frank Disclosure” demanded?
In the end the Iraq regime belatedly offered unprecedented cooperation to the UN inspectors who began their rounds in Baghdad. Frustrated, the Washington hawks tried to talk up Iraqi potshots at US planes patrolling the no-fly zone into a material breach of the resolution meriting the “serious consequences,” that they so seriously want to mete out. However, the rest of the world, from Kofi Annan to every other member of the Security Council, pointed out that this had been specifically excluded when the terms of the resolution were negotiated, since no one else accepted that the allied over-flights were sanctioned by UN resolutions.
Similarly, nagging press spin from Washington about the weakness, or suspected collusion of inspectors seemed designed to preemptively devalue any report that did not match the expectations of the war party. As the 12,000 pages of definitely full and possibly frank hard copy dropped with a depleted-uranium-like thump on their desks, the disappointed hawks realized that this casus belli was not going to fly – or at least not very soon. By the volume, and even the Arabic medium of much of the declaration, the Iraqis ensured that the inspectors could not produce a reliable assessment of the fullness or frankness until the end of January 2003.
Since the disclosure could not be proven to be other than full and frank, and had landed on time, the hawks in the US administration now had to fall back on finding actual weaponry that the Iraqi documents had not declared. In the New Year of 2003, on the pressure on Washington to return to the U.N. for a second resolution before military action built up, both inside and outside the Council, as key allies like the Turks and Saudis, from whose territories the invasion was planned, demanded a UN mandate before cooperating. Most of the world wanted solid evidence of Iraqi defiance of Resolution 1441, and was not prepared to accept that Washington could unilaterally determine when and how to apply previous UN resolutions.
Even London preferred a second resolution but chose not to regard its absence as an absolute prohibition on military reaction if the Council “unreasonably” withheld its support – for example if there were a veto in the face of clear evidence of Iraqi “flagrant breaches.”
UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix had started the inspections with the assumption that Saddam’s previous declarations of disarmament was untrue, and was frustrated that despite unprecedented cooperation from the Iraqis, there was no sign of the suspected weaponry. It was a task which UNMOVIC complained was being carried out with minimal assistance from the much vaunted resources of US intelligence, which Blix reportedly compared with a librarian who would not lend books.
By then, however, the unprecedented Iraqi cooperation with the inspectors was beginning to raise doubts in Blix’s mind. As inspection after inspection following American leads showed no results, maybe Saddam Hussein had told the truth? There were no such doubts in Washington. On February 5th, Colin Powell made his famous presentation on Iraqi weapons. It was professional, well illustrated, slick, yet sadly unconvincing and as we now know, totally insubstantial.
On February 14th, the battle lines were really drawn. In their reports to the Council, Blix and El-Baradei implicitly contradicted many of the specifics of what Powell said and the tone of their reports and the comments of most other delegates dashed any hopes Bush and Blair may have had to use the weapons issue as an excuse to let slip the dogs of war within the next two weeks.
When French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin spoke, the diplomats, press and staff clustered on the rows behind the actual delegates burst into applause, the first time this had happened since Nelson Mandela had spoken there. They were applauding the clear Cartesian logic of Villepin’s speech, “the option of inspections has not been taken to the end and that it can provide an effective response to the imperative of disarming Iraq; -The second is that the use of force would be so fraught with risks for people, for the region and for international stability that it should only be envisioned as a last resort.”
Before they voted for 1441, other members, particularly France, had successfully extracted American agreement that there should be another meeting of the Council to consider the weapons inspectors' reports on whether or not Iraq had culpably failed to cooperate and why there had to be a second resolution to authorize force. Tony Blair won his case with George W Bush that the two allies should go for a second resolution to secure Security Council support for the war, but he did not win an absolute guarantee.
Bush insisted that the invasion would not be delayed past March, with or without a resolution. Washington pled the climate, but no one has yet provided a truly convincing or rational explanation for the obduracy about the launch date. The Anglo-American draft “second” resolution, which Tony Blair called a "last push for peace," noted that "Iraq has submitted a declaration pursuant to its resolution 1441 (2002) containing false statements and omissions and has failed to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, that resolution," and concludes that the Security Council "acting under Chapter VII of the charter of the United Nations, decides that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in resolution 1441." The difficulty with this resolution was that the actual inspectors were still reporting increasing cooperation from Iraq – and had found no evidence of serious evasion, so the core of the resolution was simply untrue as far as most of the Council was concerned.
The draft’s allusive and elusive wording also derived from Washington’s insistence that it already had war powers from the ceasefire resolution 687 and that anyway, in matters of “national interest” the US had the right to do whatever it likes regardless of the UN. The US did not, indeed, seek an explicit authorization of the use of force in the draft because to do so would have conceded that it did not have that right to act unilaterally.
It was clear that the resolution was dead in the water. Most of the Council members despite visible oscillation, were increasingly inclining towards a nay vote or abstention, meaning that the resolution would not even get the basic nine votes needed to pass under Council rules regardless of any vetoes. Determined to go to war against a majority of the UNSC, the US/UK tried to fudge the matter by ensuring that the votes were never counted and to blame France for its veto as if that were all that stood against the resolution’s adoption.
Cannily, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British Ambassador left the resolution on the table. It could then be argued that the Council was still “seized of the matter,” and so since it was technically not deadlocked, arguably, it could not be taken to the General Assembly under the “Uniting For Peace” procedure which applied when a resolution had been vetoed. The invasion went ahead, and the UN did –nothing.
In the end, it could not impose sanctions on or invade the US and Britain, partly because they could and would veto any resolution, but more importantly in concession to the realities of world power. It is significant that despite the opinion repeated by so many nations and by Kofi Annan himself that the invasion was a breach of the UN Charter, not one resolution was moved to say so, either in the Council or the General Assembly.
The US exerted huge diplomatic pressure behind the scenes, warning member states that it would be considered an extremely unfriendly act if any of them supported convening a Special General Assembly which could consider any matter on which the Council was deadlocked and which could have asked the International Court of Justice for an advisory ruling: the President of the General Assembly, Jan Kavan, the former Czech dissident and Foreign Minister, who would have acted on any such request to convene a meeting, waited in vain. To be fair, the member states scrupulously refrained from retrospectively legitimizing the deed – as had implicitly happened, for example, with Kosovo. Scrutiny of the Security Council resolutions will show that at no point did they legitimize the invasion itself, even as they sought to deal with its consequences. No UN body ever considered, let alone passed a resolution that legally condoned the invasion, but neither did they legally condemn it.

The Role of the Secretary-general
Even as President Bush outlined his plans for Iraq on September 12 2002, Kofi Annan responded to the war drums that could already be hear thudding in the administration. He put his cards on the table in his speech, just before the President’s. “Any State, if attacked, retains the inherent right of self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter. But beyond that, when States decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations.”
He was to repeat that formulation often, strengthening it as the contingency against which he had warned came to pass. A year later, the debate which had bubbled under the surface for a year was summarized by again by Annan who repeated that formulation to the 2003 General Assembly, but in his most explicit consideration – and rejection - of the US and British positions added that “now, some say this understanding is no longer tenable, since an ‘armed attack’ with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time, without warning, or by a clandestine group.
Rather than wait for that to happen, they argued that states had the right and obligation to use force pre-emptively, unilaterally and even on the territory of other States, even while weapons systems that might be used to attack them are still being developed and are not obliged to wait until there is agreement in the Security Council.” However he countered, “This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last fifty-eight years…. if it were to be adopted, it could set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without justification.”
Somewhat provocatively, he had also suggested that the UN “needs to consider how it will deal with the possibility that individual States may use force “pre-emptively” against perceived threats.” The formulation usually used by Annan was that the war was “outside the UN Charter” but in September 2003 one particularly relentless BBC reporter stayed on the offensive long enough to wrest from him an admission that this meant that it was “illegal.”
At the end of October, 2004, as the US launched the offensive which flattened Fallujah, Kofi Annan sent a private letter to the US, UK and Iraqi administration suggesting caution, thereby missing an opportunity to go on record publicly as the conscience of the international community. The letter was leaked from Washington, and added to the ire of diehard conservative opponents of the UN from using inflated or invented allegations of corruption in the Oil For Food programme to attack the organization, and Annan personally. Kofi Annan may have originally been the US’s candidate for Secretary-General but Washington found, to its dismay, that holders of the office tend to take their role as keeper of international law and world peace quite seriously.

The UN’s Vital Role in the Aftermath
In the aftermath of the invasion both the Secretariat and like-minded countries were keen to bring about a United Nations role in the post-war administration and relief of Iraq. Resolution 1472, unanimously passed in on 28th March, decided that “to the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population” and that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, “those causing the war should meet the humanitarian needs of the civilian population.” In diplomatic language this was a fairly clear message that the war had not been part of any UN operation.
The resolution allowed the UN officials of the continuing Oil For Food programme to act as a surrogate for the disbanded Iraqi government and was essentially about helping the Iraqi people – a cause which even opponents of the war could and did support.
The U.S. was forced to come back to the UN yet again because it could not sell Iraqi oil without the clear title only a UN resolution could give and because even many alleged Coalition countries wanted a UN resolution before they would join in the occupation. Although the UN and the international community had considerable leverage, the US secured a key concession: the right to sell Iraqi oil and use the revenues. The surplus from the Oil For Food programme was to be handed over, along with any Iraqi funds across the globe, to “The Iraqi Development Fund,” to help fund the occupiers’ responsibilities and though the Fund was to be monitored by an independent board, with representatives from the UN, US non-cooperation made that a dead letter. The board has never been able to find out exactly what happened to this money.
Resolution 1483 also welcomed the “willingness” of other states to provide troops, thus giving a UN fig leaf for the many hitherto nominal Coalition members who would want to ingratiate themselves further with the White House by sending troops, without themselves having the obloquy and legal obligations of occupying powers. Given the reality of American power and its fait accompli, the Council substantially gave Washington what it wanted. In effect, the UN provided a legal framework for functioning of an occupation which resulted from an invasion that most of its members considered illegal.
As part of these developments, the UN got a foothold in Iraq. Kofi Annan appointed Sergio Vieira de Mello as UN representative in Iraq. He was able to speak to factions in Iraq that would not talk to the Americans, and used his influence to ensure that the American-appointed “Interim Governing Council,” was representative of more factions in Iraq than the exiles that the Americans brought with them.
However, in retrospect, most UN officials, including Kofi Annan, felt that the price of close involvement with the US was too high. There is no way of telling if the terrorists who blew up the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19th August 2003 were really interested in the nuances of UN Resolutions, but the explosion and the death of de Mello certainly reinforced the fairly general feeling in the Secretariat staff that the organization had allowed itself to be too closely identified with the occupation.
Annan withdrew the UN international staff, and effectively kept them outside the country as the security situation grew progressively worse.
But by now, the White House was itself perturbed that events were not following the script written by the war’s promoters. It began to see a genuinely vital role of the UN: getting the US out of the hole it had dug for itself. In view of the failure of the previous resolutions to entice more troop contributions, the US wanted a resolution that would be more successful in doing so, and in coaxing more contributions and cash for reconstruction from reluctant governments. It wanted the return of UN civilian staff to Iraq and to legitimize the occupation in the face of the resistance. The key issue for which Russia, France and Germany had been holding out was a timetable for a constitution, elections and independence. Resolution 1511 of October 16th 2003 provided for that. It amounted to a timetable for a timetable: the Iraqi Governing Council was to present a timetable for constitution and elections by 15 December, and laid out the steps for a handover of authority. The former occupying army became a MultiNational Force there at the request of the government it had installed.
In order to help resolve this logical conundrum as soon as possible, the resolution also “requested” the Secretary-General to send civilian personnel back to Iraq “as circumstances permit” in order to help with rebuilding and the electoral process. Annan promised to do his utmost “bearing in mind the constraints on building up the required capacity, and my obligation to care for the safety and security of United Nations staff.” Most of the UN civilian staff were still outside the country even a year later at the beginning of 2005. The UN position became that it would not return to Iraq until security had been restored,
No more than the other resolutions did this one secure additional troop contributions. Indeed as attacks on those present increased, more and more countries withdrew their token forces.
In 2004, as Bush faced re-election amidst continuing resistance in Iraq, the US, wanting to give the appearance of a transfer of sovereignty to Iraq and playing with the idea of Iraqi elections, became aware of the usefulness of a UN role, especially as the Iraqis were keen for “the unique legitimacy” that the organization could confer on a post-occupation regime. They wanted the UN to send a technical mission to Iraq to advise on the feasibility of elections. By the time the debate began in May 2004 over what would be Resolution 1546, the balance of power had been shifted against Washington by the doubts as to whether Bush would be re-elected, the torture pictures and stories from American prisons in Iraq, and the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction.
The resolution held that U.S. troops were to lose their mandate as soon as the constitutional process was finished, and that their presence could be “reviewed” even earlier - as soon as the Iraqi government wanted and in any case within twelve months. Those sunset clauses were insurance against Bush & Co changing their minds if re-elected. One of the main fudges in the resolution was over the extent to which the Iraqi administration had effective direction, if not direct command and control of the so-called MultiNational Force (the Occupation forces).Powell’s compromise pledge – in an exchange of letters- endorsed by the resolution but not in the text itself, was that “The commander of the MNF will work in partnership with the sovereign Government of Iraq in helping to provide security while recognizing and respecting its sovereignty.” This bows to the Pentagon by not giving the Iraqis an explicit veto and to the Security Council and the Iraqis by re-emphasizing the latter’s sovereignty. Hastily contrived, verbose, fudged and filled with diplomatic ambiguity as it is, Security Council resolution 1546 was an epitaph to the wilder dreams entertained by the more extreme unilateralists in the US administration, since for all its failings, it was the UN that was to provide legitimacy and certify the sovereignty of the new Iraqi administration.
The appointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as the special representative of the Secretary General was indispensable for reaching any type of agreement on a new interim government or on elections among the Iraqi factions. Without his role, it would not have been possible to form the Interim Government on June 30 2004. Brahimi brokered the timetable and modalities of the elections, but Annan resisted US demands for a substantial UN presence on the dangerous ground in monitoring the elections. Still, the American insistence on their presence was an oblique testimony that only the United Nations could declare a handover to be legitimate and genuine.

The failure of the US/UK to be bound by the UN had damaging consequences for world order; for example, it tended to discredit the notion of “humanitarian intervention,” reinforcing Third World suspicions that it was only a ploy to cover Western hegemony. Quite apart from the issues of national sovereignty, and the rights or wrongs of enforced regime change, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion, too, that Iraq would be in better shape, and the world a safer place if the United States had not been prevented by its ideologues from involving the United Nations in a more realistic and meaningful way. On the other hand, the invaders had to concede eventually that they needed the UN’s “unique legitimacy” to cope with diplomatic, legal, and indeed economic outcomes of their unilateral actions.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How Green is My Guinness

Here is the full text of my St Pat's day screed, which got an interesting mix, mostly of supportive comments, apart from the few determined to prove its point about bigotry... some of whom had clearly not read past the headline.

March 16, 2007 8:30 PM

As we approach St Patrick's Day, it's possible to buy Kerrygold Irish butter in all its yellow-salty-artery-clogging glory in New York. But it's small reward for the outrageous tribalistic shamrockery that will accompany it - including the ubiquitous Bailey's Cream that is made with what's left of the milk when the butter is churned away.

I remember a friend from Dublin hooting when a waiter in a second avenue Irish bar offered the corned beef and cabbage that is passed off as traditional St Patrick's Day fare. "For God's sake man, I came thousands of miles to get away from that crap."

Stout is difficult to dye, but many bars will tint their lesser beers green, and as the St Patrick's Day parade meanders up the spine of Manhattan, filling Fifth Avenue with an emerald flood, it commemorates the days when it was, to say the least, very useful to be Irish to get a city job in New York. In a city where public drunkenness is actually quite rare - at least compared with Saturday night in any British town - the bars will be teeming with firefighters and cops in advanced states of leglessness.

That binge drinking could explain the website which declares, without blinking, that the first parades were held in 1766 - and in 1762.

There will of course be some interesting adoptive Irish-Americans leading the parade: running for any office in the Tri-State area is sufficient to qualify. Sixteen presidents are proudly billed as Irish Americans - but only one, Kennedy, would actually qualify under the strict terms of the devoutly Catholic Irish fraternity that organises the event. Fifteen of them were Protestants.

Indeed, some devout souls were very unhappy when the 1996 Parade nominated Baptist Bill Clinton, an abortion rights supporter, as "Irish American of the year".

Which moves on naturally to the point that of the much touted forty million
Irish Americans, more than half were Protestant and Scotch-Irish, and ancestrally as much inclined to toot the flute in an Orange Day march as to play the (Scottish) pipes in a St Patrick's day parade organised by a somewhat clerically dominated group of Irish Romanists. (Though if Bob Jones alumnus Ian Paisley's opinions on buggery in Belfast are any indication, some of the Orange order may well be close an brothers with those bigoted Ancient Hibernians who fought so long and hard to keep gays out of the march.)

Indeed, they have been so successful that Christine Quinn, the lesbian Speaker of New York City Council, is flying to Dublin to take part in its more tolerant parade because the Hibernians will not let overtly gay organisations march in New York. It is symptomatic of the difference between the actual Irish and the more embittered fossilized Fenians of the diaspora.

New York Irish may argue that theirs is the original parade (at some risk of a donnybrook with the Bostonians), but they have to contend with its inconveniently concrete origins in the British Army Irish regiments stationed in colonial New York.

Unwittingly, generations of exiled Irish nationalists have flaunted the Scottish kilt and the Highland bagpipes, alive in the illusion that they were part of the Irish republican tradition. But then tartanry was a Walter Scott-inspired romantic invention that only preceded by a century or so the Irish shamrockery of kilts and pipes.

Inconveniently, St Patrick himself was a Welshman, or at least a Romano-British aristocrat from the British west coast, kidnapped by Irish slave traders. That makes him a Celt, of sorts, and these things have become pan-Celtic talismans, so there are even Welsh kilts now, which is at least an improvement on the pseudo-Druidic bedsheets of the Eisteddfodau. So many of our "timeless" national traditions are figments of nineteenth century romanticism and deserve far less respect than they get.

St Patrick's Day parade should revert to its more ecumenical origins. As well as dispensing with the bigotry, my personal wish would be to celebrate progress in Northern Ireland by inviting some of the Orange Lodge bands over. Once those New York police bands hear the Orangemen's resonant Lambeg drum - it won't be long before they adopt them with the pipes and unleash the world's two most fiercesome instruments of war to echo around the canyons of Manhattan.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How Green is My Guinness

After annoying Yanks, Serbs, Israelis, True-brits and others now check out my ecumenical attempt to get the Orange and Green on my case in Comment is Free St Patricks' day riff.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

US Healthcare

Guardian Comment editor Georgina Henry asked regular contributors, "What is the one thing you would most like to see happen by this time next year?"
Today she comments that this contribution "brought a generally thoughtful and civilised discussion, with comments that made their point but kept to a reasonable length." Since the comments on the page often read like it's a virtual care in the community project, I'm mildly proud to have been so therapeutic!

The health of a nation

Universal healthcare is on the agenda again in the US, and maybe this time the tide will finally turn.
Ian Williams

March 14, 2007 8:00 PM

QUESTION: What is the one thing you would most like to see happen by this time next year?

Last year, because of a missed invoice, I was without health insurance for a month. We hardly dared let the three-year-old out of the door. After all, medical bills are the biggest cause of personal bankruptcies in the US and most of them were people who lost their insurance when their illness cost them their jobs. Health insurance in the US almost invariably comes from employers.

This year the tide may finally turn. Universal healthcare is on the agenda again for the first time since Hillary Clinton destroyed it by insisting on keeping the insurance companies on board. They rewarded her by sinking her plan.

Since then the insurance companies' unaccountable bureaucracy has probably made the case better than anyone else. My personal best was being told that they had pre-authorised the removal of 15 inches of intestine, but not putting it back together again. Most Americans can pull out similar stories.

In addition, while for decades the big US corporations saw a national health service as big government intrusion involving yet more taxes and creeping socialism, there are signs that reality is bursting their ideological bubble.

Companies like the big automakers are creaking to bankruptcy under the burden of providing insurance and the costs keep mounting - and one-third of the cost is the administration by the insurance companies. Walmart, which is under heavy pressure to provide similar benefits for its hundreds of thousands of low-paid employees, has suddenly, expediently, begun to see the benefits of universal provision.