Imagine that a United States government program, Medicaid for example, had lost more than 20 billion dollars to blatant graft and corruption. Imagine that the executive director of that program had himself benefited personally to the tune of millions of dollars. Imagine that the President’s son was under serious suspicion of being involved in the scandal. Imagine that the “independent” government investigation was being paid for with funds from the program itself. Imagine that some of the money skimmed off was used to fund a terrorist insurgency. Finally, imagine that the scandal permeated the government to such a degree that national security decisions were influenced.
Well it turns out that an active imagination really isn’t necessary—all of these things actually happened under the auspices of the vaunted United Nations (UN) oil for food program in Iraq. What is clearly the single biggest case of humanitarian fraud in history, and what might be the largest financial fraud of any kind in modern times, has gone rather unnoted in the American media.
To be fair, there have been some stories on the scandal, but the media has certainly not “flooded the zone” or applied the sort of consistent pressure that blows stories open. At a time when the UN’s role is under debate as never before, the lack of attention to this issue is troubling. Additionally, it is downright strange, because the American media are usually fascinated by “whistleblower” stories of institutional corruption and deceit. Surely we all remember the media attention lavished upon the Enron scandal, the ceaseless search for more documents and evidence and the sympathy heaped upon the poor souls who were victimized by Ken Lay’s malfeasance.
Where, though, are the sympathy pieces for the Iraqi children who died because of the systematic defrauding of tens of billions of dollars? Where are the hit pieces on the corrupt UN bureaucrats who cut deals with a mass-murderer to line their own pockets? Why has Kofi Annan, the person ultimately responsible for the UN’s conduct, not had his feet held to the fire as any other public figure would? What’s more, why have the people who blew the lid on this scandal not been honored? The women who blew open scandals at the FBI, Worldcom, and Enron were honored with extensive media coverage, interviews and eventually shared Time magazine’s person of the year award.
The reason is that the United Nations, especially among media types, still conjures up vague connotations of unselfishness, unity and peace-seeking; people find it hard to believe that the one significant institution of world wide governance is just as corrupt and dysfunctional as any third world autocracy. How is it possible that a program run to benefit Iraqi citizens could end up giving money to the terrorists who are now so regularly blowing them to pieces? Because the United Nations is, and has been for some time, corrupt. The media should lose their outdated awe for the United Nations and recognize it for what it is: not a utopian world-government but a Byzantine, unaccountable, deeply flawed and all too often selfish bureaucracy.
Mark A. Adomanis ’07, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator living in Eliot House.