Martin Walker

Gunning for Kofi

Martin Walker says that the UN oil-for-food scandal is as much about the anger of US nationalists as it is about bribes


Two of the world’s most impressive spin machines are locked in deadly combat. On the one side is the mob that Hillary Clinton once called ‘the vast right-wing conspiracy’, a bunch of conservative US senators and congressmen, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and his New York Post, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and the National Review, all calling for the head of United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Kofi must go, they thunder, because Saddam Hussein was allowed to trouser over $20 billion in the UN’s oil-for-food scandal which happened on Annan’s watch. This is a serious matter and there is a great deal of blame to go around a large number of people — and the UN administration that Annan runs. But what really offends the nationalist Right is Annan’s wimpish effrontery in calling Bush’s Iraq war ‘illegal in terms of the UN charter’. (In fact this was the fault of the BBC, whose reporter badgered poor Annan into using the word ‘illegal’ — which he now privately regrets.)

On the other side is the huge amorphous mass of the global great and good, all clucking in unison that Kofi Annan is the best UN secretary-general since Dag Hammarskjold — although a list that includes Kurt Waldheim and Boutros Boutros-Ghali is not much competition. Led by Tony Blair and the outgoing and therefore lame-duck US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and reinforced by the governments of China, Russia, Germany and France, the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post and the news bulletins of National Public Radio and the BBC, the international establishment has rallied to Annan as the first African to run the world body, and as the first secretary-general to bring forward thoughtful and even bold plans for UN reform.

Kofi Annan must stay, they all cry, most of them thrilling to the symbolism of a clash between President George Bush, who proudly sports a small American flag on his lapel, and Nobel peace prize laureate Kofi Annan, whose equally well-tailored lapel sports a discreet dove, tastefully wrought in white enamel.

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