Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Welcome To The Jungle

Do you or anyone you know believe the following?

- That we had Saddam "in a box" and that if we had only continued with the United Nations weapons inspections programs and sanctions regime we could have contained his ambitions.

- That the United Nations is a place where countries and individuals come together to work for peace.

- That we should rely on the United Nations to competently and objectively implement and execute peace-keeping and humanitarian missions around the globe.

- That the United Nations acts in the best interests of the poor, persecuted, and repressed peoples of the world.

If you or anyone you answered "yes" to any of the following, you should read Michael Soussan's "Backstabbing For Beginners: My Crash Course In International Diplomacy" to get a much needed dose of reality.

Actually anyone interested in the inner workings of the U.N., the run-up to the Iraq War, and particularly in the culture of corruption that permeated the U.N.'s infamous "Oil For Food" program should read the book. It's a fascinating and infuriating account of a bright-eyed believer who enters the U.N. with dreams of "making a difference" and ends up leaving as a burned-out skeptic. His tales from inside the organization's bureaucratic and political meat-grinder are at times amusing and at times appalling. Luckily for him, he did manage to get out with his integrity intact--something that cannot be said for many of his colleagues.

One of his bosses whom he worked closely with went by the name "Pasha," better known to the world as Benon Sevan. During the time that Soussan worked for Sevan he was not aware that Sevan was as knee deep in kickbacks and payoffs as others who profited handsomely from a program ostensibly set up to help the Iraqi people under sanctions. In hindsight, a lot of what he didn't understand at the time suddenly made sense once he learned of Sevan's corruption.

By no means is Soussan a U.N. basher or a neocon schemer. He's more like an international idealist who was mugged by the reality of the United Nations.

There are many aspects of tragedy to this story: from the Iraqi people suffering while their leaders and others around the world grew rich to the way the U.N. wasted resources (both financial and human) that could have been put to much better use to the inept U.N. security in post-war Iraq that resulted in the needless loss of life. One of the sadder and more frustrating aspects is that it's hard to see that the U.N. has done much in the wake of the revelations of this scandalous activity to fundamentally change anything. Despite some happy talk about "reform," the U.N. today isn't really all that different from the U.N. where Soussan worked.

One final thought that Soussan shares near the end of the book is his view that the best blueprint for a healthy international organization was laid out by Immanuel Kant in Perpetual Peace. Kant foresaw a group of republics who would apply the laws and values of responsible and responsive domestic governance to international relations. The U.N. is a far cry from that ideal today and shows no sign of moving toward it in the future. Which is why we should expect to see more stories like Soussan's emerge from the dysfunctional world body.

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