The year is 1997, Michael Soussan, a fresh-faced young graduate takes up a new job at the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food Program, the largest humanitarian operation in the organization’s history. His mission is to help Iraqi civilians survive the devastating impact of economic sanctions that were imposed following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
As a gaffe-prone novice in a world of sensitive taboos, Soussan struggles to negotiate the increasing paranoia of his incomprehensible boss and the inner workings of one of the world’s notoriously complex bureaucracies. But as he learns more about the vast sums of money flowing through the program, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Soussan becomes aware that Saddam Hussein is extracting illegal kickbacks, a discovery that sets him on a collision course with the organizations leadership. On March 8, 2004, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed editorial, Soussan becomes the first insider to call for an independent investigation” of the U.N.’s dealings with Saddam Hussein. One week later, a humiliated Kofi Annan appointed Paul Volcker to lead a team of sixty international investigators, whose findings resulted in hundreds of prosecutions in multiple countries, many of which are still ongoing.
Backstabbing for Beginners is at once a witty tale of one man’s political coming of age, and a stinging indictment of the hypocrisy that prevailed at the heart of one of the world’s most idealistic institutions.
I found this book very entertaining and enlightening. Prior to reading the book, I had only a very small knowledge of the UN and virtually no knowledge of the Oil-For-Food program which occurred during Suddam Hussein's reign. The author tells it like he heard it, so there is a lot of swearing in the book. I did feel at the end that this was a CYA effort on the part of the author to explain himself out of the corruption he was part of. I have a lot less respect for the UN after reading this book.read more
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Soussan, a former program associate for the United Nations, provides an insider's perspective on the U.N.'s oil-for-food scandal in this absorbing memoir. The author was a 24-year-old idealist when he went to work for the U.N.'s recently launched program to provide aid to Iraqi civilians suffering under the economic sanctions imposed after the Gulf War. He found a "culture of incompetence" where "there is no truth but consensus" and "initiative is highly risky." Amid the turf wars and bureaucratic timidity at the U.N., Saddam Hussein was able to subvert the oil-for-food program with a regimen of bribes and kickbacks. Unable to persuade his superiors to expose the fraud, Soussan resigned in frustration after three years. When the massive fraud surfaced after Saddam's fall, the author published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, which launched an independent investigation that uncovered billions of dollars in bribes and implicated global corporations, sovereign governments and U.N. officials--including Secretary-General Kofi Annan's son. Soussan brings provocative wit, a keen eye for detail and a knack for revealing anecdotes to this important account of the rampant greed, hypocrisy and cynicism festering behind the United Nations' humanitarian credo. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved