It is difficult to imagine that anybody with more than a few months’ experience as an interested observer was actually surprised by the report from the international Office of High Representation a marvelously vague but impressive-sounding title for the investigative arm of the international aid agencies that a billion dollars or so has disappeared or been stolen from international aid to Bosnia. The most surprising aspect of the story is that the Office issued the embarrassing report at all, and that it got as much attention as it did.
All right, let’s concede that many people in international agencies are well-intentioned and actually concerned about honesty in the way various forms of largess are distributed. And let’s further concede that Chris Hedges of the New York Times has actually done some good reporting on the Balkans.
The story itself is wonderfully revealing. Taxpayers from different countries around the world have had their pockets picked to the tune of about $5.1 billion to provide various forms of aid to Bosnia. And of that amount, $1 billion fully 20 percent has simply disappeared. The most serious (or at least sensitive) case involves the Bosnia and Herzegovina Bank, which accepted more than $20 million in deposits from international aid agencies and 10 different embassies. The money has simply disappearedand the bank has since folded. Investigators think the money was loaned to fictitious businesses or given to buddies of the former owners.
The main thing is that nobody should be surprised. Serious scholars have known, at least since P.T. Bauer did systematic studies of countries receiving large amounts of foreign aid in the 1950s and 1960s, that such countries seldom prosper as a result of aid and often go into economic decline.
One of the reasons is corruption money diverted to Swiss bank accounts or converted into mansions and Mercedeses by the local strongman. But the more important reason is that foreign aid almost always goes into building a central-planning economic regimen indeed, it usually comes with requirements that it be so used and central planning is a formula for economic stagnation and subsidies for firms or moguls more adept at buying politicians than at building businesses that serve consumers.
That being the case, perhaps we should be grateful to the corrupt officials and their cronies who siphoned of 20 percent of the international aid money. Squirreled away in Swiss bank accounts or spent on luxury goods, such money at least won’t do positive harm to the Bosnian economy, such as it is, and might even do a tiny bit of "trickle-down" good for a few workers.
RICHARD BUTLER HALF-RIGHT?
Almost missed in the breathless coverage of Hillary’s interview attributing Bill’s pants-dropping to child abuse was an interview with U.N. Iraqi arms inspector Richard Butler in the premiere issue of TALK magazine. In it Butler decries most of the UN establishment for insufficient commitment to his weapons-inspection mission’s desire to hold Saddam’s feet to the fire. He’s especially tough on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Shades of Scott Ritter, the American team member who quit last summer and accused the U.S. government of not being hard-nosed enough about Iraqi weapons inspections.
Interesting, but even more interesting was an aside in the article slightly amplified that night on "Nightline" in which Butler called into question virtually the entire international establishment as outmoded and ineffective. He acknowledged that trying to have the UN conduct weapons inspections in a hostile country was not something the UN was particularly well suited for and would probably never be suited for.
On "Nightline" he want a little farther, suggesting that with the computer-communications revolution, increased international trade and other developments, the entire system of nation-states joining together in international organizations to accomplish various political purposes was anachronistic and maybe a little ridiculous. I’m not sure I’d like to see what kind of mechanism Richard Butler would propose to replace the creaking, corrupt and out-of-touch machinery of the "international community," but it’s interesting to have its essential dysfunctionality acknowledged by an experienced insider.
Speaking of Iraq, the failure of almost every aspect of US and "international community" policy was highlighted by a Sunday New York Times story on the "other war." American and British pilots have fired more than 1,000 missiles against more than 350 targets in the last eight months two-thirds as many missions as over Yugoslavia and the assault has done nothing to deter Saddam from flirting with challenges to the "no-fly" zone and firing on US and British planes.
Some hawkish administration officials are said to favor more intensive bombing. But sooner or later somebody really ought to question this constant bombardment and wonder whether any war, anywhere, will ever be viewed as over. The saddest thing is that the continuing embargo that seems to be viewed as a necessary component of maintaining Saddam as an all-purpose demonic figure to be trotted out whenever some leader needs a boost in the polls hurts so many innocent Iraqi people who were already suffering.
PRESS LICENSING IN KOSOVO?
The New York Times Monday reports that the US and its NATO allies are trying to establish a system of rigid control over the news media, including a code of conduct for journalists, international monitoring of compliance with that code and punishment mechanisms for those who violate the rules.
This is hardly surprising. Various elements of the "international community" have been drafting media licensing and control systems for decades. They probably didn’t even have to update some previous proposal, simply plug in "Kosovo" where relevant. Some bureaucrats have a modest amount of skill at defending such proposals as a way to upgrade the quality of the media and prevent false reports from gaining wide circulation.
But the real motives are transparent as can be. Bureaucrats, international or local, hate any genuinely independent press. And they’re not content to have 90 percent of the media be book-licking courtiers dancing attendance on the powers that be. They want every outlet under control and all dissent suppressed. Various UN bodies have been trying to institute international journalistic licensing for years. Should we be shocked that the US bureaucrats, which unlike most countries has a First Amendment that provides at least some protection for the few independent media voices that survive, should be participating in such a profoundly un-American scheme. We should not be. Make no mistake, without the First Amendment serious press licensing schemes would have been put forward long ago and might have been put in place.
Fortunately, it’s too late for the controllers. With the development of the Internet and other methods of low-cost, direct dissemination of news and information, the conventional, controllable press is less relevant. They’ll never put this genie back in the bottler. Which is not to say that efforts to try to control the press, as in Kosovo, are not profoundly harmful.
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