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What happened at the U.N. with the Oil for Food Program was wrong.  The innocent suffered and the evil prospered.

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Coleman Accepts Defender of the Constitution Award at CPAC Renews Demand for U.N. Reform

By Senator Norm Coleman

Thank you for this evening and this special recognition.  When you come right down to it, you are only thanking me for doing what I swore to do in my oath of office… to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”  It is the least I could do.

It was the distinguished British jurist William Gladstone, who looked at our Constitution from afar and said, “The American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”  It is such a unique and powerful document in the history of life on this planet that it deserves the word “miraculous.”

The genius of the document is that it is at one time incredibly idealistic about human aspiration and very cautious about human failure.  Utopian visions always fail.  So do documents that fail to inspire us to greatness. 

The U.S. Constitution has stood the test of time because it brings out the best in us while controlling the worst.

But as they say, every good and noble idea is one generation from extinction.

After the Constitutional convention, a Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

We have received a precious Constitutional inheritance.  Our job is to keep it.  I appreciate the efforts of this organization to encourage the current custodians of our Republic to be careful stewards of what we’ve been given.

I came to be a Republican Senator from Minnesota by an unusual road.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and never knew a Republican or Lutheran before I went to college.

I was a campus activist in the sixties.  I passionately fought for the ideals I learned growing up in a close-knit Jewish family from the history of America

I worked for the City of New York and started law school at night.  But New York went bankrupt about that time, and I headed off to finish law school in, of all places, Iowa.  Prior to that I had thought of Iowa as the only place in America where milk was considered a spice.  But I came to love it there and came to love the law there.

After graduation, I headed north to the Hubert Humphrey’s Minnesota and the Attorney General’s office where I worked for many years, serving as chief prosecutor and then as the state’s Solicitor General.

Eventually I married an Irish Catholic Minnesotan – my introduction to bipartisanship – and entered public office as mayor of Saint Paul.

And in the mid-nineties, I began to see the party of my birth not as the force of opportunity and change, but as the defender of its privileged and powerful position.  It became obvious to me that it was more interested in the status quo than either the past or the future.  I didn’t change my ideals, I simply moved to a party where I thought I had a better chance of achieving them.

And I’ve never regretted it a single day.  I’m very proud of our president and the way he understands what is best about America and boldly leads from our strengths.  I believe he came along at a crucial moment in history and is fulfilling America’s destiny in a changing world.

One of the cornerstones of our Constitution is the way it establishes the sovereignty of the American people over this territory.

Sovereignty is an interesting word.  Its root in the Latin deals with superiority.  To be sovereign is to be above all competitors.  Sovereignty is defined as “complete independence and self-government.”  The Constitution’s statement of American sovereignty fulfilled the Declaration of Independence’s claim.

Therefore, we defend our sovereignty every time we assert our independence. 

That independence faces many threats in today’s world.  Globalization breaks down borders and legal systems.  Someone has said that the internet is a country without borders, laws or taxes.  (I am sure somewhere in this city, someone is trying to find a way to create a new IRS: the Internet Revenue Service.)

Another concern is the fact that the life blood of our economy – energy – comes from abroad.

So is the amount of our national debt held by non-Americans.

Another threat to our sovereignty is the growth of international organizations.  That leads me to the main topic I want to address:  the role of the United States in international organizations.

Tomorrow, we have a significant annual event in the Senate.  On or around Washington’s Birthday, one Senator reads aloud Washington’s farewell address.  One of Washington’s most important legacies was his warning about “entangling foreign alliances” because of the threat they posed to American sovereignty.

Obviously, the other Founding Fathers of our country were also focused on defending America against threats to our economy and sovereignty because they empowered Congress in Article I, Section 8 and Clause 10 to “define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations.”

Against this historic backdrop, let’s turn to the role of America in international organizations in today’s world.

America is the world’s leader in every way.  We are the overwhelming military power, and our economy is still the best in the world.  The generosity and charity of the American people is second to none.  America is the greatest nation on this planet, and the political and economic freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries are the reason.

But America alone should not bear every burden.  We cannot act as policeman in every corner of the world.  We cannot solve every humanitarian crisis that appears – and we cannot be expected to. 

It is in our national interest to work with our allies and to develop lasting relationships, in order to share with our friends and partners the responsibilities and challenges of these historic times.

The United Nations, for better or for worse, plays a role in world politics.  It gives us an opportunity to have dialogue with both our allies and our adversaries. 

It is a place where we can develop joint strategies to manage the world’s crises, so that we need not bear the burden alone.  Consider Haiti, where the U.S. has a strategic interest in preventing chaos so close to our shores.  The presence of U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti means that the U.S. objective of stability is furthered without having American troops on the ground.

But the U.N. is at best a flawed institution, and my Oil of Food investigation has revealed just part of its weaknesses. 

Consider the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which had Libya for its leader during 2003, and today has such members as Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.  On the U.N. Security Council, Russia, China, and France wield veto power, while the world’s most populous democracy, India, is not represented. 

Consider the U.N. General Assembly, where a repressive dictator from a country with half a million people has the same voice as the United States of America, and where one third of the votes serve no other purpose than to castigate Israel. 

Consider the nauseating reports of U.N. peacekeepers running prostitution rings, and U.N. officials who have zero accountability for sexual harassment or embezzlement.

It’s in America’s interest to look at ways to partner with countries that share our values.  We need a Democracy Caucus at the U.N.  We need other forums to work with countries that share our values and our vision for the world.  As President Bush has said, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is the almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.”

The U.N. needs reform, and America needs to lead the way in demanding it. 

This is especially true for two reasons.  First, the American taxpayer provides one–fifth of the U.N.’s operating budget. 

And second, the American people have a right to demand integrity from an organization that holds so much power over international law, relief, education and global public opinion.

As the chair of the Senate’s Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, I carry a very weighty responsibility.  On behalf of the Senate, I have extraordinary power to compel testimony and documents from people so the Senate can fulfill its fiduciary and oversight responsibilities to the American people. 

That subcommittee is one of the ways we “keep” this Republic -- by getting to the truth about threats to our people and government.  Needless to say, it is an awesome responsibility for me.

Thru the Subcommittee, I have led an extensive investigation of the United Nations Oil for Food Program. 

The history of the Oil for Food Program reads like a Tom Clancy novel.  If only it were fiction.  You have millions of starving Iraqis.  You have an altruistic international agency.  You have billions of dollars changing hands.  And you have a conniving, brutal dictator clinging to power.

Despite the very best of intentions at the start, Saddam’s evil overcame most of the good that was intended. 

Money set aside to feed the poor of Iraq was used to perpetuate the rule of man who was oppressing them.

Saddam Hussein manipulated the Oil for Food Program and U.N. sanctions to generate twenty-one billion dollars in illegal income.  He demanded massive kickbacks and other under-the-table payments. 

He used the Oil for Food Program to corrupt international leaders, reward his friends, and pay off journalists.

He even provided support to terrorist entities through the Program.  The aid he did provide to his people was advertised as first rate, but in reality was below standard – that meant Saddam profited by giving the Iraqi people expired medicines and questionable food.  The world may never know where all that money went.  But we do know that a substantial amount went to curry favor with the very nations that were supposed to be keeping Saddam in check. 

I have to wonder how much of Saddam’s billions of under-the-table cash is funding the current insurgency in Iraq, which has cost the lives of hundreds of American service men and women, and lives of our coalition partners and countless Iraqis.

We cannot turn back the hands of time and prevent this massive fraud.  But we can hold accountable those who let it happen.  Saddam has been the personification of evil for decades, and we need to hold responsible those who trusted him to be anything different.

I’ve always believed accountability must start at the top.  It’s true in the corporate world - it’s certainly true in the political world.  And it should be true for international organizations.

Today, evidence from Charles Duelfer’s Iraqi study group report; Paul Volcker’s preliminary report and my subcommittee’s hearings have conclusively demonstrated that the sixty-four billion dollar Oil for Food Program was riddled with fraud, corruption and gross mismanagement.  We have produced substantial evidence demonstrations that the U.N. overseer of the program, Benan Sevan, was corrupted and bribed by Saddam Hussein.

The U.N. Secretariat was directly responsible for overseeing the program.  It received over 1.4 billion dollars from Oil for Food dollars for this purpose.  The head of the Secretariat at the time of this massive fraud, mismanagement, and corruption is Kofi Annan.

The beginning of justice is finding out the truth.  While Secretary-General Annan remains in his position, the search for the truth can never succeed.  It is the opinion of this Senator that Kofi Annan should resign.

As I said before, part of the derivation of the word sovereignty is superiority.  It may not be a surprise that illegitimate, corrupt governments around the world are not offended by the scandal of the Oil for Food program.  But what about us?  I believe that America is exceptional and, yes, because of our constitutional framework, superior in its pursuit of public integrity.  If we don’t raise the challenge, who will?

It reminds me of President Reagan’s first inaugural.  “If not us, who?  If not now, when?  After all, we are Americans.”

The Constitution is legal framework resting on a foundation of moral values.  Ignoring ethical values threatens the Constitution as much as ignoring the Constitution threatens our moral values.

What happened at the U.N. with the Oil for Food Program was wrong.  The innocent suffered and the evil prospered.  We need to stand up and demand the truth, demand accountability and demand reform.

In the Pilgrim graveyard near Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, I am told there is small sign that reads, “That which our Fathers at such a great price secured, let us not let idly slip a way.”

Sovereignty is sometimes destroyed in defeat in a war.  More often, it is whittled away, slice by slice, so you hardly notice.

We need to stand up and defend our Constitution and our sovereignty by standing up for the American conviction of what is right.

Thank you very much for your work and for holding me to the oath I and 534 members of Congress are sworn to fulfill. 

May God bless you all and may God continue to bless the USA.

Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) is chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He delivered this speech on February 20, 2005 at CPAC in Washington.

[Posted February 24, 2005]