Handmaid in Babylon

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

"One has to be careful," said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in late August, "not to confuse the UN with the US." If the Secretary General had taken his own advice, then maybe his Brazilian subordinate, Sergio Vieira de Mello, might not have been so summarily blown to pieces in Baghdad two days earlier. As things are, the UN still craves the handmaid role the US desperately needs in Iraq as political cover.

Whichever group sent that truck bomb on its way decided that Vieira and his boss were so brazen in moving the UN to play a fig-leaf role in the US occupation of Iraq that spectacular action was necessary to draw attention to the process the process. So the UN man handpicked by the White House paid with his life.

To get a sense of how swift has been the conversion of the UN into after-sales service provider for the world’s prime power, just go back to 1996, when the United States finally decided that Annan’s predecessor as UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had to go.

In a pleasing foreshadowing of Annan’s plaintive remark cited above, Boutros-Ghali told Clinton’s top foreign policy executives, "Please allow me from time to time to differ publicly from US policy." But unlike Annan he did so, harshly contrasting western concern for Bosnia, whose conflict he described as "a war of the rich" with its indifference to the genocide in Rwanda and to horrifying conditions throughout the third world. Then, in April 1996,he went altogether too far, when he insisted on publication of the findings of the UN inquiry which implicated Israel in the killing of some hundred civilians who had taken refuge in a United Nations camp in Kanaa in south Lebanon.

In a minority of one on the Security Council the US insisted on exercising its veto of a second term for Boutros-Ghali. James Rubin, erstwhile State Department spokesman, wrote his epitaph in the Financial Times: Boutros-Ghali was "unable to understand the importance of cooperation with the world’s first power." It took another foreign policy operative of the Clinton era to identify Annan’s appeal to Washington. Richard Holbrooke later recalled that in 1995 there was a "dual key" arrangement, whereby both Boutros-Ghali and the NATO commander had to jointly approve bombing.Boutros-Ghali had vetoed all but the most limited pinprick bombing of the Serbs, for fear of appearing to take sides. But when Boutros-Ghali was travelling, Annan was left in charge of the U.N. key. "When Kofi turned it," Holbrooke told Philip Gourevich of the New Yorker, "he became Secretary-General in waiting." There was of course a further, very terrible service rendered by Annan, in which, in deference to the American desire to keep Sarajevo in the limelight, he suppressed the warnings of the Canadan General Romeo Dallair that appalling massacres were about to start in Rwanda.

Of course even in the UN’s braver days, there were always the realities of power to be acknowledged, but UN Secretaries General such as Dag Hammarskjold and U Thant, were men of stature. These days UN functionaries such as Annan and the late Vieira, know full well that their careers depend on American patronage. Vieira was a bureaucrat, never an elected politician, instrumental in establishing the UN protectorate system in Kosovo.

Then he was the beneficiary of an elaborate and instructive maneuver, in which the US was eager to rid itself of the inconvenient Jose Mauricio Bustani, another Brazilian, from his post as head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Chemical Weapons Convention’s implementing organization. Bustani was no US catspaw but adamant in maintaining his organization’s independence, and admired round the world for his energy in seeking to rid the world of chemical weapons.

When UNSCOM withdrew from Iraq in 1998, hopelessly compromised and riddled with spies, Bustani’s OPCW was allowed in to continue verification of destruction of WMDs. The US feared Bustani would persuade Saddam Hussein to sign the Chemical Weapons convention and accept inspections from Bustani’s organization, thus allowing the possibility of credible estimates of Iraq’s arsenal that might prove inconvenient to the US. Brazil was informed that if it supported the ouster of Bustani, it would be rewarded with US backing for Vieira’s elevation to the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing another object of US disfavor, Mary Robinson.

Vieira was duly appointed. Then, earlier this year, the imperial finger crooked an urgent summons for him to come to Washington for inspection by Condoleezza Rice. Vieira made all the right. Desperate for UN cover in Iraq, the Bush White House pressured Annan to appoint Vieira as UN Special Envoy to Iraq.

Vieira installed himself in Baghdad where, in cooperation with the US proconsul Paul Bremer, his priority together a puppet Governing Council of Iraqis, serving at the pleasure of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The council was replete with such notorious fraudsters as Ahmad Chalabi. It was formed on July 13. Nine days later Vieira was at the UN in New York, proclaiming with a straight face that "we now have a formal body of senior and distinguished Iraqi counterparts, with credibility and authority, with whom we can chart the way forward.we now enter a new stage that succeeds the disorienting power vacuum that followed the fall of the previous regime."

Though it did not formally recognize the Governing Council, the UN Security Council eagerly commended this achievement. The Financial Times editorialized on August 19: "America’s friends, such as India, Turkey Pakistan and even France, which opposed the war, should stand ready to help. But they need UN cover." In Baghdad, the next day, in the form of the truck bomb, came an answer. Two days later, Kofi Annan counselled on the dangers of confusing the UN with the US.

If he meant what he said Annan should obviously resign forthwith as the man who has done more than any figure alive to equate the two. But who would imagine Africa’s Waldheim being capable of that?



Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal