The White House Should Call on Kofi Annan To Resign

Report Global Politics

The White House Should Call on Kofi Annan To Resign

December 15, 2004 10 min read
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is in Washington this week to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor Condoleezza Rice. Annan's controversial visit comes amid growing calls on Capitol Hill for his resignation over the U.N.'s mismanagement of the Oil-for-Food program. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), chairman of the powerful Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and sixty Members of Congress have called for Annan to stand down.[1] Among them are nine members of the House Appropriations Committee, which provides the U.N. with 22 percent of its operating budget each year, and eight members of the House International Relations Committee.[2]


Several more senators are expected to support Coleman's call for Annan's departure when Congress reconvenes in January. Initial calls in October for Annan to stand down have grown into a chorus that now echoes across the United States. [3]


So far, the Bush Administration has sent mixed signals with regard to Annan's leadership. In a completely unexpected and unhelpful statement, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, former Senator John Danforth, expressed "confidence" in the Secretary-General, stating that he is "doing a good job."[4] There is little doubt that Danforth's somewhat charitable remark has undermined congressional pressure on Annan to fully cooperate with investigations into Oil for Food. International media have seized on Danforth's words to wrongly suggest that the Administration is at loggerheads with Congress over the Oil-for-Food issue.


Danforth's surprise pronouncement stands in sharp contrast to the position of President Bush, who has declined to express his confidence in Annan. In his only statement on recent scandals at the U.N., President Bush demanded a "full and open disclosure of all that took place with the Oil for Food program."[5] A distinction must be drawn between the statements of an outgoing U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and the American head of state. Clearly, the President maintains the option of calling for Annan to step down, especially as more evidence emerges on the magnitude of the U.N.'s corruption and mismanagement of Oil for Food. The notion that President Bush supports the deeply unpopular U.N. leader, after all of Annan's efforts to undermine U.S. foreign policy, is faintly ludicrous.


It is in the interest of the White House to support congressional calls for Annan's resignation. Congressional pressure in both the House and Senate is likely to build significantly in the early part of next year, and with it public disillusionment with Annan's leadership of the United Nations. The Bush Administration needs to send a clear signal that the U.N.'s failure to cooperate with congressional investigations into the Oil-for-Food scandal is unacceptable and that the U.N.'s management must be held accountable.


Annan himself must be held responsible for numerous failures under his watch as a senior U.N. official (including his tenure as head of U.N. peacekeeping), from his refusal to confront genocide in the Sudan, Rwanda, and Bosnia, to his appeasement of Saddam Hussein's regime. Kofi Annan has proved ineffective in addressing the rising threat posed by rogue states such as Iran and the growing scourge of global terrorism. In addition, Annan has recently acknowledged and accepted organizational responsibility for a major scandal involving U.N. personnel and peacekeepers in the Congo.[6] The U.N. stands accused of human rights violations against refugees, the scale of which dwarfs the Abu Ghraib scandal.


Why Annan Should Go

The developing scandal surrounding the U.N.-administered Oil-for-Food program has done immense damage to the world organization. As Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations,Kofi Annan must take responsibility for what is undoubtedly the biggest scandal in the history of the U.N. and the biggest financial fraud of modern times.[7] It is inconceivable that Annan was unaware of the scale of the fraud being carried out by Saddam Hussein. Embarrassingly for Annan, the man he picked to run the program, Benon Sevan, is alleged in the report of U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer to have received a voucher for 13 million barrels of oil from Saddam.


Annan's failure to fully cooperate with five major congressional investigations into Oil for Food, by refusing to release 55 internal U.N. audits, gives the impression of cover-up. As Sen. Coleman has written, "as long as Mr. Annan remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks, and under-the-table payments that took place under the U.N.'s collective nose."[8]


The abysmal management of the Oil-for-Food program took place against a shameful record of appeasement of Saddam Hussein's regime by the U.N. As Iraq's Interim Defense Minister Hazem Sha'alan recently remarked, "Where was Kofi Annan when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering the Iraqis like sheep?"[9]


Since the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, the U.N. Secretary-General has tried to undermine American and British efforts to build international support for the rebuilding of the country and to defeat the Al-Qaeda backed insurgency. Annan was firmly opposed to the removal of Saddam from power and has described the Iraq war as "illegal."[10] He also called on U.S. and British forces to pull back from taking the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, urging "a new chapter of inclusiveness and national reconciliation." Annan, who had barely lifted a finger to help the people of Iraq, was now calling on them to embrace the terrorists who have sowed death and misery across their country.


The U.N. Secretary-General's words were rightly condemned as an unwelcome and inappropriate intervention.[11] Annan's remarks gave aid and comfort to some of the most barbaric terrorists of modern times and demonstrated the total lack of moral clarity projected on the world stage by the United Nations. They highlighted the extent to which the U.N. is completely divorced from political reality on the ground in Iraq.


The idea that the U.N. is playing a vitally important role in bringing democracy to Iraq is a myth that has been blown out of all proportion. Just 25 U.N. staff are on the ground in the country, to assist with the January elections from the safety of the Green Zone. In contrast, over 160,000 U.S. and coalition personnel put their lives on the line daily to secure Iraq's future.


Annan's inability to stand up to Saddam Hussein while he was in power and his subsequent refusal to support the use of force against the terrorist groups now spreading fear across Iraq are symbolic of the U.N. Secretary-General's broader failure to confront terrorism, brutal dictatorships, and acts of genocide.


Annan not only failed the people of Iraq, but also, while head of U.N. peacekeeping in the 1990s, let down millions of the world's weakest and most vulnerable people in Africa and the Balkans. The U.N.'s failure to prevent the slaughter of thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 and the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 are shameful episodes that will haunt the United Nations for generations. There are echoes today of Bosnia and Rwanda in the killing fields of Darfur in the Sudan, a tragedy that the U.N. refuses to categorize as genocide. Once again, Annan's leadership has been found to be lacking at a critical moment in history.


Key Recommendations

  • The White House should call for Kofi Annan to resign, in the interest of both the United States and the United Nations.
  • The Bush Administration should call on the U.N. and the U.N.-appointed Volcker Commission of Inquiry to make available to Congress all internal U.N. documents relating to Oil for Food.
  • U.N. officials should be made available to testify before Congress on Oil for Food.
  • The Bush Administration should press for the U.N. to be made more transparent and accountable.
  • The United States should appoint an Ambassador to the U.N. who will aggressively advance the US national interest and who will fully support Congressional efforts to investigate the Oil-for-Food scandal.


Kofi Annan will go down in history as a monumental failure who presided over a steep decline in the reputation of the United Nations. Annan is increasingly a 'lame duck' secretary-general who has become a severe liability to the effectiveness of the U.N. as a world body. Serious reform of the organization to make it more transparent, effective, and accountable will be impossible as long as he remains in power.


Annan has become a symbol of the U.N.'s culture of arrogance, secrecy, mismanagement, weakness, and impotence, and it is time for a new figure at the helm, a secretary-general who will seek real reform of the U.N. bureaucracy and aggressively stand up for democracy, human rights, and freedom on the world stage. A call by President Bush for Kofi Annan's resignation will make Annan's position untenable and will pave the way for a fresh start for an institution that has largely lost the confidence of the American people.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation.



[1] "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that due to the allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and abuse within the United Nations oil-for-food program, Kofi Annan should resign from the position of Secretary General of the United Nations to help restore confidence that the investigations into those allegations are being fully and independently accomplished," House Resolution 869, December 6, 2004, at The bill is sponsored by Congressman Roger F. Wicker (R-MS.).


[2] The author is grateful to James Dean, Deputy Director for Government Relations at the Heritage Foundation, for these figures.


[3] See Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., " Kofi Annan's Shrinking Credibility," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 589, October 19, 2004.


[4] "US Announces Support for Annan," The Wall Street Journal, December 10, 2004.


[5] " Bush Calls for Full UN Oil for Food Probe," Reuters, December 2, 2004.


[6] "Annan Admits UN DR Congo Abuses," BBC News Online, November 19, 2004.


[7] For further background on the scandal, see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., James Phillips, and James Dean, " The Oil for Food Scandal: Next Steps for Congress," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1772, June 30, 2004.


[8] Norm Coleman, "Kofi Annan Must Go," The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2004.


[9] "Iraqi Minister Berates Annan,", November 8, 2004.


[10]"Excerpts: Annan Interview," BBC News Online, September 16, 2004.





Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow