The Big Sleaze
Raymond Chandler's detective novels presented the reader with a series of questions that had no obvious answers. Philip Marlowe's problem was figuring out how to connect the dots. The Washington Post does a Chandler in its latest story on the Oil for Food crisis. (Hat tip: Tim Blair)
The U.N. Security Council had detailed knowledge of how Saddam Hussein was violating U.N. sanctions, but was so divided that many violations went largely unchecked, according to documents released Tuesday by a congressional panel.
Divided as in everybody voted differently each time there was a meeting? Or divided as in everybody was having their own meeting? The answer was provided a little further down the story.
Saddam "cleverly exploited" sanctions in a variety of ways, granting "oil and humanitarian supply contracts to those willing to bend the rules in Iraq's favor." Iraq's supporters on the Security Council included Russia, China and France until mid-2001 when it backed a U.S.-British sanctions proposal. Other supporters included Iraq's neighbors -- Jordan, Syria and Turkey -- who received smuggled Iraqi oil.
It turned out that Security Council was remarkably consistent in a divided way. Supporters stayed supporters and opponents remained opponents throughout the 90s, except they didn't do anything but object and do nothing. Strange that the Washington Post should describe the Security Council as divided when it was as united as the US Congress on the Fourth of July: one half denouncing the other half for identically patriotic reasons while scratching each other's backs. Except something changed in 2001: the pro-Saddam faction of the Security Council caved to the antis. Here's the Post's account.
Washington and London eventually succeeded in getting the sanctions committee to set the price of Iraqi oil at the end of every month -- rather than the beginning -- to prevent Iraq from taking advantage of fluctuations in the oil market to impose the surcharges. The two countries said the policy cut illegal payoffs to Saddam's government. But U.N. officials and council members, including Russia and France, demanded an end to the retroactive pricing policy because it led to a sharp drop in oil exports, which meant less money for the oil-for-food program.
Marlowe pushed his chair back then walked over to the filing cabinet which contained nothing but a bottle of whiskey and some air. He took a pull and sat down. What changed in 2001 to stir up the pot? He logged on to an Internet news site and ran the headlines backward from May, 2001. The hint of a smile crept over his face. Florida. That was it. Florida. He got up, put on his hat and headed out the door.