Today, the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council are a different batch from those who milled through the Council during Oil-for-Food (a group that toward the end included such stand-out collaborators with Saddam’s sanctions-busting graft as Syria). But the permanent five — the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China — were, of course, along for the entire ride. And of that Perm Five, the two top business partners of Saddam were Russia and France. China also did quite well out of Saddam’s deals; the Volcker inquiry noted that China would have surpassed France as a purchaser of Saddam’s kickback-laden oil contracts, except that China made a lot of its purchases via a London subsidiary. For that matter, two of the current rotating members, Turkey and Lebanon, did substantial business under Oil-for-Food, and neither has made any visible attempt to pursue the allegations of graft raised by the UN inquiry.
Russia and France, with China tagging along, were also the Security Council members who, along with Kofi Annan, were virulently opposed to evicting Saddam. Had their wishes prevailed, there might have been none of the progress for which the Security Council on Tuesday congratulated the people of Iraq. Instead, both Saddam and an array of French, Russian and Chinese contractors might have carried right on, skimming cash from oil proceeds meant for sick and hungry Iraqis.
It’s not just the people of Iraq, the erstwhile beneficiaries of Oil-for-Food, who are owed an apology for this performance. It’s people everywhere, who are asked to trust in the good offices of the UN, and accept the doings and decisions of the UN Security Council, and its chosen administrator of the Secretariat, the Secretary-General. Apparently, diplomacy at the UN Security Council flies high above such niceties as “We’re sorry.” Or perhaps the Security Council members that during the Iraq-sanctions era raked in the most from Saddam’s Oil-for-Food franchises don’t see anything in that to regret? With the UN now supposed to serve as the nexus for sanctions on Iran and North Korea, that’s not a comforting thought.