Make Oil Not Love

October 6, 2004

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.