Ahmadinejad writes a letter to the American people.
For this kind of thing, Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe said it best: “Nuts!”
Quite possibly. Although, since we’re talking here about the huge and expensively assembled archive of Paul Volcker’s inquiry into Oil-for-Food, which Volcker appears poised to hand over to the UN Secretariat at the end of December, it’s more likely the UN will decide to store the documents (and any CDs derived therefrom) — by encasing them in concrete and dropping them into the Laurentian Abyss.
That’s just one of many reasons why the archives of Volcker’s Oil-for-Food investigation should not be given to the UN, but released to the public, or at the very least entrusted to authorities more interested in promoting justice than papering over the institution that brought us the biggest scam in the history of relief. More on this, pegged to the release of Australia’s new Oil-for-Food report, in my NRO column, “Plunder Down Under.”
After a year-long investigation, Australia’s Cole commission has just tabled its report on the Lucky Country’s role in an alleged $220 million or so worth of kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime under the UN Oil-for-Food program. The inquiry, led by a former judge, Terence Cole, has cleared the Howard government, but recommends further investigation into possible criminal offenses by 12 individuals, 11 of them connected with the Australian Wheat Board. The report runs to five volumes, totaling more than 2,000 pages, which for full coverage warrants at least a couple of evenings and maybe a stiff drink. But one observation upfront:
Australia was just one of the top ten countries doing business with Saddam under the graft-ridden UN program, which enabled Saddam via various scams to amass not just a measly couple of hundred million, but billions in illicit funds. Apart from France, where authorities are now doing something-or-other deep within the recesses of their Napoleonic system, none of the others in the top 10 — that would be Russia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, China, Turkey and Syria — has shown any sign so far of conducting an Australian-style public inquiry. So apart from Australia and (yes, I know, but let’s be generous) France, how does it work that under a UN system in which member states are left to police themselves, we are now supposed to believe this same crew would honor any UN sanctions imposed on Iran?
About the poisoning of Litvinenko, a British source speculates to me that it’s unlikely the UK authorities would have called an emergency meeting of Cobra, the Downing Street crisis management team, unless they already have a pretty good idea who did it. If that is so, we may be looking at an exercise in containing a lot more than simply the Polonium-210. If it’s true, as Litvinenko reportedly said on his deathbed, that the trail leads all the way back to Russia’s President Putin, then — shades of the 1981 plot to kill the Pope – there looms the old Russian question, shto dyelat? — what to do?
Set in London, it has all the elements of an old Cold War thriller — but it just happened, and it’s no fiction. Former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko is poisoned to death, dying horribly over the course of three weeks, after someone apparently slipped him a lethal dose of a radioactive isotope, Polonium-210. If anyone is well-placed to guess who master-minded his murder, it is the dying Litvinenko himself, who for the previous eight years has been one of the most outspoken critics of his former bosses in the FSB, formerly the KGB. From his hospital bed, we are told, he dictates a statement blaming Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, himself a veteran of the KGB, and telling him: “May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me, but to beloved Russia and its people.” And as the Kremlin denials begin and the conspiracy theories multiply — here you can find the Times of London summarizing the top five – the question of the hour is, whodunnit?
The even bigger question is whether the democratic world, especially the U.S., will heed the warnings that Litvinenko spent eight years trying to send us — in the process spending time in 1999 in Russia’s Lefortovo prison, and then fleeing into exile. With his death, his 2002 book, “Blowing Up Russia: Terror From Within,” co-authored with Yuri Felshtinsky, has jumped to #118 in sales on Amazon — (I’m betting it was no where near that a month ago). The mystery and horror surrounding his death will no doubt linger in the headlines. But will the message stick?
Engrossed as we are in the current mess of a debate over the war against Islamo-fascists, it’s all too tempting to dismiss the signs that despite a number of common enemies, our erstwhile allies now running Russia are not exactly on our side. Russia’s government enjoys a lot of trust and fancy trappings, including membership bestowed during the Clinton era in the G-8 (in which this year it holds the presidency); and the USSR’s old veto-wielding permanent seat on the UN Security Council (which the Soviet Union didn’t deserve either). Less than a week ago, President Bush (in Hanoi, of all places) gave a U.S. green light to Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization.
Meanwhile, Russia has been busy trading in all the wrong ways. On top of years spent selling nuclear technology to Iran, Russia’s defense ministry has just announced it is going ahead with deliveries to Tehran of anti-aircraft missiles. At the UN, Russia continues to block any serious attempt to stop Iran’s nuclear bomb program. In Iraq, during the Saddam Hussein era, Russia was the top trader with Baghdad via the graft-ridden Oil-for-Food program, leaving a trail of damning documentary evidence leading right up to the Kremlin — which Russian authorities have somehow neglected to investigate in any meangful way. With free speech basically dead in Russia, small surprise that on many fronts there is no end to the question marks and conspiracy theories. Who was behind the near-fatal poisoning in 2004 of the leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko? Who was behind the recent murder of outspoken Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya? — whose shooting Litvinenko was investigating when he was poisoned. The murk is considerable, but one bottom-line is obvious. With an ally like Putin, don’t gaze into his eyes. Watch your back. And bring a food-taster.
Along with the turkey and the pie, one of the loveliest customs I have long favored on Thanksgiving is reading aloud. Turn away, for a moment, from the buzz and the news and the dark tidings of which there are right now too many. Find that passage in an old book (or on the internet) that once moved you to tears, and read it aloud to those you care about. Some thoughts on this, in a column I wrote shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, “In Praise of Reading Aloud,” and I’d say just the same today.
The line quoted above is from W.H. Auden’s “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” — written in 1939. It is from the final quatrain, beautiful to read aloud:
“In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.”
More “stability,” Syrian-Iranian style. While heads of state ritually deplore the assassination of a Lebanese cabinet member, Pierre Gemayel, there is nothing to stop the next murder — as the people who have spoken out for a free and independent Lebanon are picked off. It’s a sinister twist, that while so much of the global debate consists of battering America for acting as the world’s top cop, America on many vital fronts is right now doing no such thing. Following last year’s Cedar Revolution, Lebanon has once again been left, for all practical purposes, in the hands of Syria, Iran and the United Nations — a mix that spells more murders of Lebanese democrats, no chance for Lebanese democracy, and the triumphant consolidation of a fascist-terrorist front bordering on Israel, with tentacles reaching into Europe and the Americas. What we need right now in Washington is a Winston Churchill, not the report of a study group co-chaired by James Baker III.
While Syria was prescribing its special brand of “stability” for Iraq (see post below), the UN’s Kofi Annan took time out this weekend from collecting prizes in Switzerland to phone both Syria’s Bashar Assad and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, urging them both to promote “stability” in Lebanon. The rulers of Iran and Syria are, of course, by their own murderous totalitarian lights doing exactly that — by way of abetting Hezbollah’s bid to hijack the Lebanese state. The UN reports, in phrases so bland they could be bottled and sold as white-out, that Annan “urged them to counsel the parties concerned to exercise patience and resolve their differences through dialogue.” If Annan wants to use his ample stage and taxpayer-funded UN machinery to play peacemaker, why doesn’t he stop dignifying Damascus and Tehran with phone calls that imply they are part of the solution, and instead explain to the world public that these thugs, with their mix of money, weapons, and terrorist-support networks, are actively promoting the havoc?
No, it’s not some dark parody of current politics. It’s right there in the news. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, has just dropped in on Baghdad to say that his government wants to help stabilize Iraq, and would like to see a timetable for American troop withdrawal. And in the U.S., the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, and slated to present its list of options to President Bush in the very near future, appears to be considering these ideas.
Note, we are not talking here about pronouncements in Baghdad from the foreign minister of Australia, or Poland, or even the foreign minister of France. This is the public voice of Syria, representing the same regime, handed off in 2000 from the late Assad Sr. to the current Assad Jr., which starting in the 1970s “stabilized” Lebanon by turning it into a vassal police state. This is the same Syria that helped Hezbollah and other terrorist groups flourish in Lebanon, and is now abetting Hezbollah’s campaign to abort any remnants of last year’s democratic Cedar Revolution by consolidating control in Beirut. This is the same Syria whose ruling inner circle includes the prime suspects in the 2005 bomb murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, plus a string of other bombings targeting some of Lebanon’s most outspoken democrats, such as newspaper publisher Gebran Tueni, assassinated last December.
This is the same Syria that helped Saddam Hussein smuggle billions of dollars worth of oil out of Iraq from 2000-2003, smuggle arms shipments in, and bank illicit billions in Damascus and Beirut. This is the same Syria that by many accounts has been supporting and abetting some of the same terrorism it is now denouncing in Iraq. This is the same Syria that in the rankings of New York-based Freedom House rates among the world’s rock-bottom worst violators of the rights of its own people.
Syria’s version of “stability” is not an answer to violence in the Middle East; it is one of the main incubators. Cutting a deal with Syria may sound like a nifty bit of realpolitik, but it is the road to worse bloodshed ahead — including our own. If President Bush wants to reply to Syria’s overtures, how about trying out the quip that was making the rounds to applause in Lebanon last year: Yes, America has an exit route for the troops in Iraq — it runs right through Damascus.
The sanitizing of the legacy proceeds apace. Just in time for Kofi Annan’s retirement next month, a contributor to the New York Times magazine, James Traub, after more than a year of extraordinary one-on-one access to the UN Secretary-General, has published a book about the UN, and Kofi Annan — “trailing clouds of glory” — as its noble yet suffering incarnation. Having recently reviewed it for the NY Sun, I am by now wondering if there ought to be an entire officially recognized genre of UN cover-ups dressed up as in-depth reports.