Around the globe, the U.N. uses “humanitarian aid” as a vehicle to impose politically correct policies, from gender feminism to gun control. But the crisis in Iraq reveals another aspect of the U.N.: a money-hungry institution that hides behind a mask of compassion.

The political purposes to which the U.N. uses food and medical programs has been the subject of much research and comment.

Even the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is guilty. In 1996, the Vatican suspended contributions to UNICEF and warned against the agency’s promotion of feminist policies, especially abortion. More recently, UNICEF’s Executive Director Carol Bellamy proposed a major program for African women and girls that explicitly excluded men Ñ a clear violation of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which prohibits sex discrimination. Bellamy’s program addressed not only “the immediate needs of women,” but also long-term ones, such as “access to productive assets” and the elimination of “destructive social norms.” The humanitarianism is attached to a social agenda. The wielding of food and medicine as a form of political control has become blatant, even in UNICEF.

Any legitimate, non-political agency that wants to provide aid to Iraq should be allowed into the secured areas of the country. But “non-political” is not a word that describes the U.N. And its main purpose is not aid. Consider just one of the U.N.’s unfolding maneuvers. It is an open grab at power and riches.

The U.N. desperately wants back into Iraq in the role of a weapons monitor. Since Bush has said “no,” the U.N. is seeking to enter through the back door with the oil-for-food program.

Oil-for-food was established by the U.N. in 1995. It allowed Iraq to sell oil to finance the purchase of humanitarian goods for its people who were dying from a lack of basic supplies. (This hardship was largely due to the economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. in 1990.) The money from the Iraqi oil went into a U.N. escrow account with the French bank BNP-Paribas, which was then used to buy goods from suppliers. The Security Council had to approve all oil contracts, which gave the U.N. effective control over the second-largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world.

The U.N. richly benefited in several ways. First and foremost was the flood of oil money. One U.N. report reads, “Total [oil] exports for the week [13.2 million barrels] generated estimated revenue of ... $370 million.” The U.N. grew in size: oil-funded employees, such as the weapons inspectors, led some to dub the program “Oil-for-U.N. Jobs.” Moreover, the individual members of the U.N. Security Council richly benefited. France, Russia and Syria received oil contracts on extremely favorable terms.

But it was not merely the producers of oil who fattened themselves. William Safire writes in the April 24 New York Times: “U.N. Under-Secretary Sevan admits that the French bank BNP Paribas was chosen to issue letters of credit to most of the favored suppliers, but brands as ‘inaccuracies’ charges ... of secrecy. He cites a hundred audits in five years. But details of which companies in what countries got how much Ñ that’s not public.” Nevertheless reports should be made available to U.S. members of the U.N. And, as Safire observes, Sen. Arlen Specter of Senate Appropriations wrote to Powell about “reports that these funds are a slush fund,” saying, “I urge the State Department to demand an accounting.”

The U.S. is also calling for an end to both the sanctions and oil-for-food. This would eliminate U.N. control over Iraq’s economy. The U.S. undoubtedly intends to profit handsomely from control of the Iraqi oil. But those who view the U.N. as a non-political or altruistic alternative to the “greedy Americans” are flatly wrong.

The U.N. is scrambling to retain its cash cow. Last Thursday, the Security Council unanimously extended U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s authority over the oil-for-food program through June 3. The extension had nothing to do with humanitarian concerns.

Members of the Security Council do not want to lose their oil contracts. Thus, in the coming dispute between the U.S. and U.N., the Security Council will almost certainly advocate what France’s Jean-Marc de La Sabliere calls “transparency in the sale of oil and awarding of contracts,” which will be a condition for lifting sanctions and oil-for-food. “Transparency” is a vague and odd word to use, allowing for many interpretations. But, whatever meaning emerges, it will almost certainly involve protecting the members.

During the negotiations, the U.N. will yell “humanitarianism” but it will not be true. If it were true, then the U.N. would immediately remove the sanctions it imposed against what is now a non-existent regime. Those sanctions now punish only innocent civilians.

The U.S. should take the true humanitarian stand and encourage the entry of private charities like The Red Cross and the Red Crescent, and of organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders. The Pennsylvania-based Save the Children has been clamoring to help.

Private charities are not perfect but they have no long-term ambition to control the economy and the social policy of nations to which they minister. Unlike the U.N., a private charity does not give children a bowl of food or a vaccination in exchange for control over their futures.