December 19, 2004 | 9:46 PM ET

Let's be honest here.  If there were reports like these involving American troops, the entire world would be up in arms.  But since it's the U.N., it's gotten far less traction.  Still, at least some people are paying attention:

The next time Aziza met with the peacekeepers, two of them insisted on having sex with her simultaneously. They beat her when she refused to do the things they showed her on pornographic videos.  Her mother found out what had happened when Aziza had to go to the hospital with an infection and threw her out.  Desperate, she went back to the foreigners several more times.

"I don't know whether they are normal or not," said Aziza, who did not want to use her full name out of shame.  "I wonder whether all white people are like that."
...
Among the cases reported in Bukavu is that of a 13-year-old girl who was raped by an African cook who worked at the peacekeepers' base.  Her family threw her out when she became pregnant and she and her baby are shunned by the community.

In another, an 18-year-old girl said that she and her little brother were walking down the road when three South American peacekeepers dragged her into the shadows of nearby trees and all three raped her.

Yet another woman described how she agreed to go home with an Asian engineer but when they got there, she was gang-raped so brutally by a group of his buddies that a condom lodged inside her and had to be medically extracted.

Soldiers in foreign lands tend to behave badly, of course, if not usually as badly as this.  But while it's foolish to take a zero-defects approach, it's criminal to sweep these things under the rug, which is what the United Nations -- and the world's press -- have been doing until very recently:

Because such abuses aren't new, host nations know that the blue-helmeted soldiers may bring peace, but can also bring trouble.  And they come with near impunity.

In Cambodia in 1993, when confronted with complaints about sexual abuse of underage girls, the mission's chief, Yasushi Akashi, replied, "Boys will be boys." In 2001, U.N. police officers in Serbia's Kosovo province set up brothels and trafficked Eastern European women to work in them.

The abuse of power is not exclusive to peacekeepers: In West Africa two years ago, local U.N. relief workers were caught demanding sexual favors in return for aid.

I hope that the United Nations will get this problem under control, though its record to date does not inspire confidence.  Meanwhile, the peacekeeping mission itself, like so many United Nations endeavors, appears to have been largely fruitless:

The fighting, between newly dispatched government troops and Congolese rebels who are supposed to be on the government's side, has raised fears of a renewal of the warfare that broke out in eastern Congo in August 1998.  As many as 3.8 million people have died in that conflict, according to a new survey by the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit agency that helps refugees.

And even though many peace deals have been signed and the United Nations has dispatched nearly 11,000 peacekeepers to the area, more than 31,000 civilians continue to die monthly here, from disease and malnutrition, as well as from machetes and AK-47's.

Those who complain about the U.S. presence in Iraq, and who suggest that the mission ought to be turned over to the United Nations, need to take a close look at the United Nations' track record elsewhere.

December 15, 2004 | 8:44 PM ET

Yesterday's item on the diminishing credibility of Secretary General Kofi Annan in particular, and of the United Nations in general, produced a few e-mails claiming that the whole thing is just a smear by right-wingers and the Bush Administration.

I wish that were true, since then everything would basically be all right with the world, or at least with the United Nations.  But, sadly, it's not that way, and many people on the left realize it, too.  Just read what Philip Gourevitch -- no Bush stooge -- writes in The New Yorker -- hardly a Bush Administration organ:

The air of corruption that clouds the United Nations these days cannot simply be fanned away by forcing the resignation of Kofi Annan as Secretary-General, as a growing number of prominent Republicans have been urging. Their pretext is the accumulating allegations of complicity of U.N. officials in scams that transformed the oil-for-food program in Saddam Hussein's Iraq into a racketeering enterprise whose single greatest beneficiary—to the tune of twenty billion dollars—was the tyrant himself. Last week, Annan was obliged to admit that his son Kojo had "disappointed" him by taking payments from a Swiss firm that the U.N. had hired to monitor Iraq's imports while under U.N. sanctions. And the Secretary-General has also been called on to answer complaints of widespread sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the field and accusations from the U.N. employees' union of a lackadaisical attitude toward sexual harassment by U.N. officials.

Annan bristles at the insinuations of corruption in his ranks, but, in truth, his tenure was tainted from the beginning. In the mid-nineties, when he was head of peacekeeping, he presided over catastrophically failed missions in Bosnia and in Rwanda, where he ignored detailed warnings of genocide, then watched them come true, while the world did nothing to stop it. Those world leaders who later hailed him as a moral exemplar at best ignored that history, at worst regarded it as a kind of credential: since Annan was a compromised figure, they did not have to fear his censure.

I couldn't have said it better myself.  The problem for the U.N is that it lacks legitimacy, and it's going to be hard for it to get it back.

Legitimacy can come in two ways.  An institution can be legitimate because it reflects the will of the people -- you might call this democratic legitimacy -- or it can be legitimate because it is seen as doing good things -- you might call this functional legitimacy.  Democratic governments have the former (and, hopefully, the latter, most of the time), while entities like churches, activist groups, etc., may have the second kind.

The United Nations has neither. 

It isn't democratically constituted.  In fact, it's anti-democratic, since totalitarian regimes and corrupt kleptocracies are treated exactly the same as democratic nations that respect human rights.  (Actually, it sometimes seems as if they're treated better...)  Nor does it do many good things:  Its programs are marked by corruption, incompetence, and worse.  As Gourevitch notes (he wrote a searing book on the subject), the U.N. failed miserably (to put it mildly) where the Rwandan genocide was concerned.  Also the Cambodian genocide, the Yugoslavian genocide, the genocide in Sudan, and, well, you get the picture.

Can the U.N. be saved?  I don't know, but it's nice to see that people on both the left and the right realize that there's a problem.

December 14, 2004 | 9:55 PM ET

Pressure on Kofi Annan continues, as new revelations about the oil-for-food scandal, called "UNScam" by some, continue to emerge.

Interestingly though, those revelations are getting only limited media attention in the United States, and even less abroad.  As Jefferson Morley observes in the Washington Post, the result approaches a press blackout in some places:

There was noticeable reticence to pursue certain leads in the story.

Annan is the most recognizable figure to catch heat for the scandal that occurred on his watch.  But according to the Duelfer report, former French Interior Minister turned businessman, Charles Pascua, received oil vouchers from the Hussein regime that enabled him to sell more than 10 million barrels of oil on the international market.  If you enter Pascua's name in the French language version of Google News, the search engine is unable to find a single mention of Pascua's name in the French press in the last 30 days.

Morley also observes that the involvement of some Americans in the scandal is getting less attention than it might.  One of those Americans is fugitive financier Marc Rich, who is an old hand at illicit oil sales:

Billionaire Marc Rich has emerged as a central figure in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal and is under investigation for brokering deals in which scores of international politicians and businessmen cashed in on sweetheart oil deals with Saddam Hussein, The Post has learned.

Rich, the fugitive Swiss-based commodities trader who received a controversial pardon from President Bill Clinton in January 2001, is a primary target of criminal probes under way in the U.S. attorney's office in New York and by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, sources said.

"We think he was a major player in this — a central figure," a senior law-enforcement official told The Post.

Video: Kofi's crisis continues

The Clinton pardon doesn't seem like a big deal to me, but Mickey Kaus feels otherwise:

"Even if the latest allegations about Marc Rich--that he helped broker Saddam's oil-for-food deals--prove accurate, that won't be the main reason Clinton's pardon of the fugitive financier was scandalous.

Saddam could presumably always get someone to broker his lucrative schemes--if not Rich, then another high-level operater.  The Marc Rich pardon was scandalous mainly because it taught a generation of young Americans that you could buy your way out of punishment. ... But buy with what?..."

The Bush Administration doesn't seem to have joined the chorus calling for Kofi Annan's resignation.  Is this because they really support him?  Or is it because they think that a U.N. headed by Kofi Annan will lack the credibility to mount effective opposition to their plans?  I know which way I'm betting.

UPDATE:  Doh!  Several readers note that the Washington Post's Jefferson Morley might have had better luck finding stories about Charles Pasqua if he had spelled the name correctly, though when I did so his profile still seemed rather small.

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