Make Oil Not Love

Back when things were really heating up with Iraq in the winter and spring of 2003, the Wall Street Opinion Journal ran several pieces about French and German companies who had allegedly violated UN sanctions in trading secretly with Iraq. Those were serious allegations and insinuated that France and Germany might have ulterior motives in opposing the Iraq War.

Now, an even more alarming revelation has surfaced about the UN Oil for Food Programme. The London Times has exposed a preliminary report on the wide-spread corruption that saturated that program, identifying the method and individuals who profited from the scheme. Among others, France, China, and Russia all benefitted from ultra-cheap oil and turned a large profit off of the plan, according to the report:

“The regime gave priority to Russia, China and France. This was because they were permanent members of, and hence had the ability to influence decisions made by, the UN Security Council. The regime . . . allocated ‘private oil’ to individuals or political parties that sympathised in some way with the regime.”

As to Russia,

A former senior aide to Putin allegedly organised the sale of almost 4m barrels of oil at a profit of more than £330,000. At the time the oil was sold, Russia was blocking the UN from supporting America’s demands to attack Iraq. According to the report, the aide, who worked in the presidential office, received 3.9m barrels of oil between May and December 2002.

As to France,

A French oil company teamed up with the regime to bribe a UN-appointed inspector monitoring exports of Iraqi oil. The inspector, a Portuguese national working for Saybolt, a Dutch firm, was paid a total of £58,000 in cash to forge export documents.

The French firm is linked to a close associate of Jacques Chirac, the country’s president. A spokesman for Saybolt said it would be investigating the allegations.

And interestingly, the corruption in this program allowed Saddam to make arrangements for himself in case of an invasion:

In the two months during the run-up to the war, the Iraqi regime illegally sold about £30m of oil to a Jordanian-based company with the money deposited in a Jordanian bank account established by the regime. This is suspected to have been an attempt to secure safe passage for Saddam’s family in the event of war.

This is exactly the type of thing that conservatives have long criticized about the UN. First of all, it is stereotypical of the conservative criticisms of the inefficiencies of “big government.” Second, it underscores the fundamental distrust of conservatives for the international community. It actually seems that these concerns of theirs, which the Left labels as scaremongering or dismisses as slippery slope argumentation, are to some extent justified. After all, if the networks and business systems in the countries that make up the body of the UN are so corrupt that they don’t even function properly, then how can the UN body be expected to function properly, even if it is funded largely by the United States, a country that has a well functioning economy and government.

At the very least, these revelations should temper France’s and others’ criticisms of the United States in choosing to award reconstruction contracts only to those countries who supported the Coalition (because France and those other countries were already profiting from the other side, so why should they expect to profit from the regime’s downfall as well?).

The other implication of this is that France’s, China’s, and Russia’s rhetoric about diplomacy and temperance etc. is somewhat suspect. France and the others were profiting from the UN Oil for Food Programme. Also, if the reports in the Wall Street Opinion Journal are true, then private companies in those countries were also profiting by violating UN Sanctions, another sign of corruption. Perhaps France’s real interest was in making oil not love.

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8 Responses to Make Oil Not Love

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ah France! Well, of course all nations act in their own interest. No surprise there. America’s burden is that when it acts, it affects everyone else (for good or ill). (The EU isn’t at that point, yet…) As for the UN, I understand conservatives’ concerns, but as the only international organisation we have, I think it deserves a little faith.

    John, your post reminded me of a dilemma which I still find myself in. I was a passionate critic of the sanctions on Iraq. To me sanctions seem like a medieval siege, and in the case of Iraq, the people suffered terribly. A case can be made that Saddam manipulated the sanctions and that his people’s suffering was still his fault, but I was disturbed that they gave him that power.

    But how else to contain him? The French and Germans would have kept on with the same sanctions regime (whilst engaging in some convenient backdoor trading). I disagree with this. But I also have come to oppose the war, and I don’t trust US/British motivations any more than the French.

    Am I a liberal flip-flopper. Yikes! Vote Kerry! 

    Posted by Ronan Head

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ronan, good to hear from you.

    First, I was pointing out the justification behind conservatives’ concerns about the UN in light of this new report. But I wasn’t necessarily signing on to those concerns myself. On the one hand, I deplore the corruption rampant in so many of the world’s society and which thus spills over into the UN as part of the daily routine. But on the other hand, I agree fully with you that it deserves “a little faith”–in fact, I think it deserves a lot of faith and that we should seek ways to improve and strengthen it. That, however, might entail large-sclae reforms, particularly in this post Cold War era.

    Second, I have been conflicted on sanctions for a long time. On the one hand, I truly think they are a terrible way to deal with a dictatorial regime because that regime as a general rule does not care for the well being of its people. Rather, its people are only a means to the end of absolute power within that system. When we impose sanctions, as you have noted, we only hurt the normal people; the rich dictators and their families still live in luxury, supporting themselves on the misery of their people. But on the other hand, I wonder what alternatives can be employed to cripple a dangerous dictatorship. This is a much more complicated issue than can be properly fleshed out in a comment here, but I actually lean towards no sanctions, even in light of this need to curb brutal dictators. My belief with Cuba, for example, is that economic prosperity would bring political change in tow. Perestroika needs to precede Glasnost, which was the problem with Russia. But it is also what gives me hope for China, where that is ineed happening. 

    Posted by john fowles

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ronan, good to hear from you.

    First, I was pointing out the justification behind conservatives’ concerns about the UN in light of this new report. But I wasn’t necessarily signing on to those concerns myself. I consider myself socially conservative on many moral issues, but I am an avid internationalist (as I hope you well know). On the one hand, I deplore the corruption rampant in so many of the world’s society and which thus spills over into the UN as part of the daily routine. But on the other hand, I agree fully with you that it deserves “a little faith”–in fact, I think it deserves a lot of faith and that we should seek ways to improve and strengthen it. That, however, might entail large-sclae reforms, particularly in this post Cold War era.

    Second, I have been conflicted on sanctions for a long time. On the one hand, I truly think they are a terrible way to deal with a dictatorial regime because that regime as a general rule does not care for the well being of its people. Rather, its people are only a means to the end of absolute power within that system. When we impose sanctions, as you have noted, we only hurt the normal people; the rich dictators and their families still live in luxury, supporting themselves on the misery of their people. But on the other hand, I wonder what alternatives can be employed to cripple a dangerous dictatorship. This is a much more complicated issue than can be properly fleshed out in a comment here, but I actually lean towards no sanctions, even in light of this need to curb brutal dictators. My belief with Cuba, for example, is that economic prosperity would bring political change in tow. Perestroika needs to precede Glasnost, which was the problem with Russia. But it is also what gives me hope for China, where that is ineed happening. 

    Posted by john fowles

  4. Anonymous says:

    I tend to agree about abandoning sanctions altogether, but Cuba and Iraq might be different. I don’t think Castro poses any danger to the US, so just let them get on with it. But Iraq? As today’s report reveals, Iraq posed no danger either, but is that because of sanctions? Madeline Albright famously suggested that the price of sanctions (thousands of dead Iraqi children) was “worth it” to keep Saddam under control. I refuse to accept that, but I can’t think of a better way. I actually argued for “smart-sanctions” on Iraq, but it may just be shades of grey…  

    Posted by Ronan Head

  5. Anonymous says:

    Right. I am with you in not knowing another approach besides sanctions, even though I feel that sanctions are not good since they target the wrong group (i.e. the powerless civilians rather than the dictator and his cronies). 

    Posted by john fowles

  6. Anonymous says:

    It’s pretty obvious that the United Nations has been playing a corrupted game for some time now. Countries such as France and Russia (I’m not sure yet about China) certainly have played a major role in corrupting that political body, at least in regards to its policies towards Iraq and Saddam.

    I’m just glad Saddam is out of power. It’s a mess but I’m convinced there’s much more hope for progress now that Saddam is gone than there was with him there. 

    Posted by danithew

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am impressed with your blog Mr. Fowles. Keep up the good work. Having little of substance to add, I will simply say that I am disturbed (but sadly not surprised) that the mainstream American press has not really fleshed out the oil for food scandal as it relates to Bush’s efforts to bring our allies(?) on board for operation Iraqi Freedom, especially in light of Kerry’s criticisms of Bush’s “failed” diplomacy. 

    Posted by Pete

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m also bothered by the lack of press that this has gotten. Any thoughts on why the Bush campain hasn’t jumped on this? It seems like is a pretty good defense against Kerry’s accusations that the US should have waited and let the UN take care of things. Although I regret that the US got to the point where it needed to (or felt as if it needed to) go to war, it seems like the currently toted argument that the US should have left it up to the UN seems to have some serious holes in it. Now, that there was any other course of action that could have avoided war is still possible, but I don’t hear presenting anything but those two options. 

    Posted by aw fowles

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