Since the first hints of the massive Oil for Food scandal, many have suspected that Saddam Hussein used the program to buy friends in France, Russia, and states that neighbor Iraq.
Over the past two weeks, three new disclosures comprehensively confirm that suspicion.
On October 5, a subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee held hearings which featured first-time-in-public testimony from executives of key Oil for Food contractors. Their testimony confirmed that Saddam abused the Oil for Food program in order to pocket billions while the U.N. office in charge of the program ignored evidence of such problems as a result either incompetence or conspiracy.
On October 6, the Wall Street Journal reported it had obtained a copy of a secret Iraqi audit report that confirmed the U.N. official in charge of the Oil for Food program had received rights from Saddam Husseins regime to acquire 13.3 million barrels of oil over a five-year period. The Iraqi report valued these rights at an estimated $1.2 million.
The allegation that the official, Benon Sevan, had benefited personally from the Oil for Food program first surfaced in January. But the Iraqi audit report provides vital details to support the charge. Specifically, the report shows Sevan received allocations for 13.3 million barrels and actually sold 7.3 million barrels to a Panamanian company.
Also on October 6, the CIA released a final report from weapons inspector Charles Duelfer which provided new details about the extent of corruption in the Oil for Food program and the ease with which Saddam was able to ignore international sanctions and illegally export oil with the cooperation of his neighbors.
Most disturbing, however, was the Duelfer reports disclosure that supposed U.S. allies, most notably France and Russia were literally trading their friendship with Saddams regime for billions of dollars in profits from the sale of oil and humanitarian goods. Frances and Russias "friendships" apparently also included the illegal sale of guns, ammunition, military spare parts, and so-called dual use items like dump trucks that can be easily converted into missile launchers.
Many concluded long ago that the real motive behind Frances and Russias opposition to U.S. plans in Iraq stemmed from the billions they were getting from Saddam Hussein. But the Duelfer report finally provided many of the details that had been missing, and left the French and Russians without their proverbial clothes.
What lesson should the United States learn from this experience? What conclusions should we draw from the apparent fact that two of our supposed allies were actively assisting and even arming our enemy?
First, that any call for multilateralism must be met with skepticism. Nation-states still act in their own interests and they should. We cannot count on some benevolent sentiment to overcome national interest. Any belief otherwise is fantasy. When it is in the interests of nations to work together, they will. But ultimately, only the United States can protect its own interests and advance its agenda in the world. No one is going to do it for us.
Second, as we continue with the War on Terror, the United States must be prepared to forcefully expose nations who are talking out of both sides of their mouths, even if they are supposedly our allies. During the Iraq debate, France successfully persuaded many nations to oppose U.S. plans, but no one highlighted French transgressions or uncovered French motives. We cant allow that kind of duplicity to undermine us again.
Finally, we must do a better job of choosing our friends. During this politically charged period, some are arguing that we must recommit ourselves to multilateralism and work to become "respected again in the world." Thats hogwash. As the Duelfer report makes clear, there is simply nothing that anyone could have done to persuade the French and Russians to join our efforts in Iraq. They were bought and paid for by Saddam Hussein courtesy of the U.N. Oil for Food program.October 14, 2004