Global Policy Forum

Neo-Cons Hop on Extreme Right's Anti-UN Drive


By Jim Lobe

Inter Press Service
November 30, 2004

Daunted by setbacks in Iraq and the prospective difficulties in achieving ''regime change'' in Iran and North Korea, neo-conservative hawks have joined the U.S. extreme right in training their sights on a much weaker target, the United Nations, beginning with its secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

Jumping on reports that Annan's son remained on the payroll of a Swiss auditing firm hired by the world body to monitor the implementation of the ''oil-for-food'' programme in Iraq for four years after he left the firm, two prominent neo-conservative voices -- 'New York Times' columnist William Safire and the editorial page of the 'Wall Street Journal' -- called Monday for the secretary-general's resignation.

The two columns were immediately seized on by the Rupert Murdoch-owned FoxNews television channel, presumably to draw more attention to the issue. It noted that the 'New York Sun' had broken the story about the 2,500-dollar monthly payments by Cotecna Inspections to Kojo Annan that followed his departure from the firm five years ago.

Safire, who has been writing for months about alleged U.N. complicity in the skimming by ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of billions of dollars from Iraqi oil sales under the programme, declared that the latest disclosures marked ''the end of the beginning of the scandal''. ''Its end will not begin until Kofi Annan, even if personally innocent, resigns -- having through initial ineptitude and final obstructionism brought dishonour on the Secretariat of the United Nations'', wrote Safire.

At the same time, the Journal's editorial page, which, like Safire, has been playing up the oil-for-food scandal for months, ran a column by right-wing blogger Glenn Harlan Reynolds, publisher of, calling for Annan's replacement with the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel.

Conveniently, Havel now serves as co-chairman of the international wing of the new Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a neo-conservative-dominated group that believes the Bush administration's ''war on terrorism'' is the equivalent of ''World War IV''. ''The U.N. is losing what shreds of moral legitimacy remain, even among those who were once sympathetic, as the extent of its corruption becomes too obvious to ignore'', wrote Reynolds, noting growing discussion about replacing or supplementing the world body with a ''community of democracies'' ''that would draw its support from legitimate governments, not thugs and kleptocrats''.

The two columns appear to be the latest in a campaign to discredit the United Nations that has been building steadily in neo-conservative and far-right circles here since the United States and Britain invaded Iraq in March 2003 without the Security Council's blessing.

Indeed, on the day of the invasion Richard Perle, a leading neo-conservative and former chairman of the Pentagon Defence Policy Board (DPB), wrote a column in London's 'The Guardian' that celebrated the death of ''the fantasy of the U.N. as the foundation of a new world order''.

Relying on the Security Council to ensure world order and international law, Perle wrote, was a ''dangerously wrong idea that leads inexorably to handing great moral and even existential politico-military decisions, to the likes of Syria, Cameroon, Angola, Russia, China and France''.

On just the second day of the invasion, the Journal, which has long espoused the idea of what it calls a ''league of democratic nations'' to replace the U.N., wrote a column entitled ''Au Revoir, Security Council'' that called for the U.S. to leave the body in order to ''strip (it) of the pretence of legality and seriousness and remove it as an obstacle to genuine collective security''.

In the same vein, neo-conservatives and the extreme right continued to warn against giving the U.N. any responsibility for running Iraq during and after the occupation, even as it became clear that without greater international participation, the burden on the U.S. military and treasury was fast becoming too much.

It was during George W Bush's re-election campaign in September, however, when Annan said in reply to a reporter's question that the invasion had been ''illegal'' under the U.N. Charter, that the anti-U.N. campaign became both more personalised and fiercer.

'Kofi Votes Kerry', ran one column in the Journal by former U.S. Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger, while another, by the editorial staff, suggested the secretary-general might have been trying to divert attention from the U.S. Congress' probes of the oil-for-food programme.

Since then, the op-eds and essays in right wing and neo-conservative media, such as the Murdoch-owned 'Weekly Standard' and the 'National Review', have been coming fast and furious. In addition to the alleged corruption of U.N. officials in the oil-for-food programme, and the refusal to comply with demands to hand over documents on the programme to congressional investigators -- the U.N. is conducting its own investigation headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker -- these articles have made much of various issues.

They include the world body's failure to intervene forcefully to stop what the U.S. government has called ''genocide'' in Darfur, Sudan; Libya's chairmanship of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; continuing Security Council resolutions censoring Israel's behaviour in the Palestinian territories as evidence of its moral bankruptcy; and Annan's caution against a major military offensive in Fallujah.

The suggested remedies have been varied -- from leaving the U.N. altogether, to creating a community of democracies body as an alternative, to withholding or reducing the U.S. contribution to the U.N. budget -- as Washington did beginning in the late 1980s through much of the 1990s -- in order to impose certain changes to its liking. Washington currently is obliged to contribute 22 percent of U.N. financing. ''President Bush has a mandate to rethink American relations with the United Nations'', wrote Anne Bayefsky, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, another neo-conservative think tank, in the 'National Review' Online just after the election. ''The campaign'', she went on, ''smoked out something more sinister than impotence or ineptitude at Turtle Bay; namely, a U.N. secretariat dedicated to undermining the president's success''.

Of course, right-wing hostility to the U.N. is not new. The extreme right in the United States has sought Washington's withdrawal from the world body -- and the U.N.'s departure from U.S. territory -- from its very birth, believing it to have been a plot by communists, socialists, and, in some versions, Jews and Freemasons, to create a world government that would destroy U.S. sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens, beginning with their right to bear arms.

Neo-conservatives began moving against the United Nations after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and accelerated that after the 1973 October war, when Israel found itself repeatedly isolated and assailed in the General Assembly and the Security Council by the Soviet bloc and the Third World countries in the Non-Aligned Movement. In reaction, U.N.-bashing became a staple of 'Commentary magazine', a monthly that has been the major exponent of neo-conservative thought, in the late 1960s.

Just last month, for example, it published a seven-page essay by Joshua Muravchik, a colleague of Richard Perle's at the American Enterprise Institute, entitled 'The Case Against the U.N'. The article, which castigates the organisation above all for its ''overweening animus toward Israel'' and ''the U.N.'s complicity in legitimising terrorism'', concluded that the threat or use of U.S. military power over the past 60 years has been far more effective at safeguarding ''international peace and security'' than the Security Council.

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