The last thing irakis need

Mauro Suttora - Newsweek International, April 21, 2002

Unfortunately, I am a lousy tennis player. Otherwise I would have had a great time in Sao Tome, a wonderful equatorial island off the Atlantic coast of Africa. My friend, a UN guy, played everyday early in the morning and at twilight, when the temperature was bearable. The tennis courts belonged to the only 5-star hotel in the capital town. The rest of the hot day, he retreated into the air conditioned hotel, where he sometimes held meetings. I was the only "normal" guest in that palace. All the others belonged to some UN agency. Traveling in Africa, I found this to be true for most of the luxury hotels. Many of them would have to close, if not for the UN personnel. Keeping them open is perhaps the main UN contribution to the local economies they are unsuccessfully advising. I am amazed at the sudden enthusiasm of my fellow europeans for the UN: before the war against Saddam Hussein they should have inspected Iraq endlessly, now they should run the country. Endlessly? Most probable: the UN perpetuates problems instead of solving them. Wherever they go, they tend to stay forever. In Bosnia since eight years now, in Kosovo and Timor since four. In Palestine since 55. In Gaza I discovered that the agency running the refugee camps is the main purveyor of jobs in the strip. I am a refugee's son myself: my father fled the territories that Italy lost to Yugoslavia in 1945. After a few months, all of the 350,000 refugees had found a job, a house, a new life. No UN, that was maybe their luck. Today, there is no sign that Bosnians could live peacefully should the UN leave. No news about the UN departing from Kosovo. No solution for Cyprus after almost thirty years. Nevertheless, "UN" has become a magic word, the last trench for pacifists: it sounds so nice, maybe because of the adjective "united". The States too are United, but my european friends don't seem to like them anymore. It's funny: only six months ago, when I arrived in New York as a correspondent for Oggi, the largest italian weekly, everybody liked America. Now I quarrel everyday with my colleagues in Milan. Even my paper, which is quiet and middle-of-the-road, has turned pacifist: for Christmas it published an article by a catholic bishop against the war, and in counterbalance another article by a former communist against the war. I am a pacifist myself: I spent so much time, twenty years ago, demonstrating against the placement of nuclear US cruise missiles in Sicily. Maybe I wasted that time, because as soon as Michael Gorbacev got to power he phoned Ronald Reagan and the missiles disappeared. But now I don't mind anybody getting rid of Saddam, by any means necessary. We italians should know: Rome invented the word "dictator", the first modern dictator was italian (Adolf Hitler has been a pupil to our Benito Mussolini), and his adversaries contend that even Silvio Berlusconi, our current premier, is setting the example for the postmodern soft media dictator. Nevertheless, europeans don't care anymore about dictators (and freedom). They rave for peace. They crave the UN. Now, pardon my bluntness, but why should we condemn the poor Iraqis to be governed by some Thirld World lazy and incompetent bureaucrat? Don't they deserve better? I love the Thirld World, apart from its climate, but I don't have a taste for its corrupt ruling classes. And it's no mystery that a relevant part of the UN staff is made up by relatives and friends of the despots who oppress their own countries. These very days, Geneva is hosting the UN Human Rights Commission. Who's the president? Libya. Anyone remember what the UN soldiers did to avoid the 1995 slaughter in Srebrenica (Bosnia)? Seven thousands killed. Rwanda?... But it's not only politics: it's inefficiency. This week, in Vienna, thousands of UN people will waste millions of taxpayers money in a conference on drugs. Of course, for each problem the UN has set up a specific agency, so the soviet-named Unodccp (United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, the longer the name the worse the body) is discussing how the war on drugs is doing. It's a disaster, actually: after five years of a 10-years programme meant to eradicate drug cultivations, production has soared instead of diminishing. Is the agency closing down because of this failure? No way. They're asking for new funds instead, otherwise they'd be out of work. In Italy we have the headquarters of Fao (Food and agriculture organization). It's only a piece of the 2.6 billion $ a year and 65,000 employees gogolian monster which is the UN. I am not suggesting the Fao staff are any lazier than the average roman functionary, whose century-old indolence is legendary. But when I give money for the hungry, I prefer to send it directly to the missionaries instead of Unicef, Undp, Wfp or any other people whose first class air travel costs could feed tens of thousands for years. Unesco, in Paris, is surely successful as a job creation program for sociologists and intellectuals otherwise idle, but is also famous for the overhead expenses which eat up even 80% of some programs. Three years ago its employees staged a hunger strike against an attempt to trim squanderings. Human Rights Commission? Trafficking of women and young girls for prostitution in Bosnia. At the Commission for Refugees (yearly budget: 740 million $) they have been smuggling refugees: four arrested in Nairobi. There was a kind of "sex for food" program going on at some refugee camp in West Africa, with sexual violence and exploitation of children: wanna eat? Come to bed. In general, the UN apparatus has grown so much that in 1994 a new Office for Internal Oversight Services had to be established, just to keep track of everything: 180 more people hired, at an extra cost of 18 million a year.