Sen. Norm Coleman bit his lip and kept silent when the State Department expressed confidence in United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Bush administration seemed to be repudiating the freshman Republican senator from Minnesota, who had called for Annan's resignation. But Coleman was well aware that his investigation of UN corruption is trumped for now by a transcendent issue.
When Annan made a hurried trip to Washington Dec. 16, his non-cooperation with the Jan. 30 election in Iraq was manifest. His attitude changed markedly after Secretary of State Colin Powell declared: "We have confidence in the secretary-general." With that, Annan began to provide the UN's desperately needed help on the elections.
That looks like a big-time deal in the best interests of the United States. Nothing is more important to President Bush than the Iraqi election, dwarfing even full exposure of the UN's oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, including the secretary-general's complicity. But Annan has not bought permanent immunity by belatedly helping in Iraq. The U.S. government includes an independent legislative branch, and Norm Coleman is biding his time.
The question is how rigorous the U.S. government will be toward Annan after the Iraqi election. Powell has a long-standing relationship with Annan, but he is leaving. Powell's successor, Condoleezza Rice, has been characteristically prudent in reacting to the UN scandal. According to Capitol Hill sources, she remained mute after Coleman briefed her on Annan and the scandal.