November 1, 2004

November 1, 2004 | Commentary on

legislative lowdown

Sometimes, you just have to say enough's enough. Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Tex.), recently reached that point--over the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal.

My Heritage Foundation colleague, Nile Gardiner, has described it as "potentially the biggest scandal in the history of the United Nations" as well as "one of the greatest financial scandals of modern times." The New York Times called it "an open bazaar of payoffs, favoritism and kickbacks." The General Accounting Office estimated Saddam siphoned $10 billion from the U.N.-administered humanitarian program and diverted it to numerous illicit endeavors, including a systematic campaign to undermine UN sanctions on Iraq and allied support for President Bush's efforts to win UN approval of his campaign to depose Saddam.

Numerous French and Russian officials, including the former French interior minister and the former French ambassador to the United Nations, have been implicated. The revelations of the numerous financial links between Moscow, Paris and Baghdad prior to the regime change in Iraq, Gardiner notes, "may well have been an important factor in influencing their governments' decision to oppose the efforts to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

If proven true, the allegations of bribery and illegal weapons sales call into question the integrity and independence of the United Nations and suggest that French, German and Russian opposition to President Bush's efforts stemmed from greed, not high-minded geo-strategic or moral considerations.

The UN appointed former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker to head a lavishly funded $30 million "independent" commission to investigate the scandal. The commission, however, lacks rudimentary investigative tools such as subpoena power and the authority to compel UN member states to cooperate. Until last week, close observers were resigned to seeing the perpetrators of this outrage escape responsibility for their crimes thanks to the intransigence of the French, among others, and the determination of UN bureaucrats, including possibly Secretary General Kofi Annan himself, to hamstring Volcker's commission.

That's when Barton, now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, returned from an eye-opening trip to Iraq and announced he would thoroughly investigate the scandal. Shortly thereafter, he sent two blistering letters to Kofi Annan and French President Jacques Chirac seeking their cooperation in his efforts to get at the truth.

Barton's letter to Chirac minced no words. Relying on the underreported findings of the report by Central Intelligence Agency Special Advisor Charles Duelfer, Barton painted a picture of a France compromised by its financial dealings with pre-liberated Iraq. Saddam's regime engaged in a "concerted effort to undermine sanctions by awarding lucrative oil and goods contracts to companies and politicians of several Security Council members, including France." Barton reminded Chirac that Iraq's former Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, claimed to have awarded substantial oil allotments to several French individuals and that the recipients "understood that resale of the oil was to be reciprocated through efforts to lift UN sanctions, or through opposition to American initiatives within the Security Council."

Barton also pointed Chirac to recovered documents from the Iraqi Intelligence Service describing a May 2002 meeting between a member of Saddam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the French parliament. During this meeting, the French politician "assured the Iraqi that France would use its veto in the [Security Council] against any American decision to attack Iraq."

As if these revelations of bribery weren't enough, Barton also appears determined to examine sales of illegal weapon systems by French firms to Iraq during the sanctions period. Perhaps the most profoundly disturbing allegation raised in the Duelfer Report, also cited by Barton, is that French companies negotiated with Saddam's buyers over the sale of "possible WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction]-related laboratories."

Three other congressional committees have held hearings on the Oil-for-Food scandal and at least one has launched an investigation.

Admittedly, the odds of the French cooperating meaningfully with Barton are next to nil.

At a minimum, though, the congressional Oil-for-Food investigations promise to cast a new light on the sordid motives behind the stubborn international support for Saddam's equally sordid regime. With motives such as these, no Kerry-esque diplomatic charm offensive could have trumped the billions of tainted Oil-for-Food dollars.

Pence to Chair Republican Study Committee: Washington insiders took notice recently when the increasingly influential Republican Study Committee selected Indiana Republican Mike Pence to lead them in the upcoming 100th Congress. The selection of Pence and comments from other RSC members sent clear signals that House conservatives will play a more forceful role next year. Pence relinquished his position in the whip organization to focus more completely on his RSC duties. He also convinced the three senior House members vying to be the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee to agree to unprecedented "job interviews" with RSC members concerned over the dramatic rise in federal spending.

Florida Republican Tom Feeney, an active RSC member, predicted conservatives would be more inclined to stand on principle next year. "We have to … let people know we haven't abandoned the principles of Ronald Reagan," he said. "When push comes to shove, conservatives are becoming more willing to say 'You'll have to get to 218 [votes] without us.'"

Mr. Franc, who has held a number of positions on Capitol Hill, is vice president of Government Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Michael Franc Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

First appeared in Human Events