Column: War on principle

By Dan Mollison

With all the important national issues that we Americans struggle with, it’s impossible for us to have had personal experience with every matter we hold an opinion about. When we hear about an issue that we haven’t ever personally encountered, however, we still form a principle based on what we know of it. But sometimes we find that our principles may not pan out when they’re applied to the real world.

I found myself in this bind just last week, when I came across some new information that challenged my beliefs about the war in Iraq. I’ve always been against the war “on principle.” I found it hard to justify America’s forceful invasion of Iraq when diplomacy was still an option – especially when people started dying for it. But when the U.N. Independent Inquiry Committee released a report last Thursday implicating 2,200 corporations and powerful individuals from around the world in a pervasive billion-dollar scandal that is likely the largest in history, I was forced to rethink whether diplomacy can always be an option.

The report exposes the long history of abuse of the U.N.’s “Oil-for-Food” program, in which the UN authorized Iraq to sell oil in exchange for goods necessary for basic survival. But Saddam Hussein was able to choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of the needed supplies, so he corrupted the program by awarding contracts to favored companies, officials and private citizens in exchange for kickbacks. The report alleges that more than 2,200 companies and individuals, including DaimlerChrysler, Siemens, Volvo, and politicians in Russia, France, Britain and Italy, paid Saddam kickbacks over the course of six years that total $1.8 billion.

While the thought of companies and officials around the world being secretly in cahoots with Saddam may be disturbing enough, the implications that this report raises regarding how the UN has approached the war in Iraq are even more shocking. Russia and France, two of the members of the UN Security Council that have opposed to the war in Iraq from the outset, each have a section in the report dedicated to detailing their involvement in the scandal. The report alleges that the Russian government played an “active role in coordinating actions of those companies” involved in the scandal, and that many Russian political organizations benefited from it. And Saddam so highly valued the French for supporting the removal of U.N. sanctions against Iraq that he upheld an “explicit policy of favoring companies and individuals based in France,” which included several high-ranking French officials in the U.N. and the French government.

This sheds a whole new light on the staunch opposition that some members of the UN held regarding an invasion of Iraq. If top Russian and French officials were personally profiting from Saddam being in power, when America confronted Saddam – even though this challenge was based on his violation of several U.N. policies – it’s only natural that these officials would do what they could to keep Saddam in power and keep the money rolling in.

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This is not to say that the personal profits these companies and individuals received completely governed their actions. The reasons behind the U.N.’s approach to Saddam are much too complex to be completely pinned down on this scandal. But at the same time, it’s alarming to learn that two of the countries that opposed regime change in Iraq had high-level officials who might have been benefiting from Saddam’s regime.

If these officials really were bedfellows with Saddam, a diplomatic solution to the Iraq dilemma through the U.N. may have been impossible. Any resolution in the security council that would take action against Saddam could have been vetoed for reasons far less legitimate than differing principles on global security. If officials influencing the U.N. are corrupt, we can’t rely on the U.N. to make the decisions that are best for the international community.

Dan Mollison is a junior in LAS. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].