For the past two weeks, presidents and prime ministers have descended on Manhattan to attend the 78th annual session of the UN General Assembly.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took the stage at Turtle Bay to highlight the dangers facing the world, from war and nuclear weapons to inequality and climate change.
But while he urged world leaders to give more money to the United Nations, he remained silent about the waste, fraud and abuse that plague so many of the organization’s ventures.
There is no better example of this than the constant flow of UN dollars to the regime of Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad.
Every July the UN quietly publishes new data about his spending habits.
You’ll find evidence showing that UN agencies spent $95.5 million accommodating their staff at the Four Seasons Damascus over the past eight years, including $14.2 million last year.
New Yorkers know that good hotel rooms don’t come cheap, but the real problem in Damascus is that the owners of the Four Seasons are the Assad regime itself and one of the war profiteers who manages the regime’s finances.
Without the UN business, the hotel would likely go under; Damascus is not a tourist destination these days.
Spending millions on the hotel is a gift to Assad.
The UN maintains that housing its employees at the Four Seasons is about their safety.
Nevertheless, there has been little fighting in Damascus since 2017.
A former UN diplomat with experience in the Syrian capital told me that the regime had told UN agencies that it could only guarantee the safety of their staff if they stayed at the Four Seasons.
And that’s what they do.
By the way, the hotel does not have the right to call itself “Four Seasons”.
The Toronto-based company that manages the global chain cut all ties with its Damascus subsidiary after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the location in 2019, citing its ties to Assad.
What makes the Four Seasons debacle particularly galling is the fact that it has been public knowledge for seven years and the UN has done nothing about it – or the many other ways the regime siphons off aid for its own benefit.
One of the most lucrative methods is manipulating exchange rates.
In order to be able to carry out extensive aid programs in Syria, the United Nations must convert dollars or euros into the local currency.
Because the regime has a tight grip on the currency exchange business, it determines how many Syrian liras the UN gets for every dollar or euro.
The result: The UN receives a significantly worse tariff than other customers.
One of Washington’s top humanitarian aid experts evaluated the numbers and concluded that the United Nations lost $100 million in 18 months as a result of this type of rate setting.
First, a few British reporters exposed the UN’s seven-figure spending at the Four Seasons and a number of similar embarrassments, such as the funneling of $8.5 million to so-called charities run by Assad’s wife Asma.
There was much hand-wringing at UN headquarters, followed by lengthy deliberations that produced new principles to ensure the independence and impartiality of UN operations in Syria.
But as the latest spending data shows, nothing has changed.
The fiascos are piling up.
The World Health Organization, the U.N. body with a habit of parroting Beijing’s COVID talking points, was forced to suspend its top leader in Damascus last year amid allegations of corruption and abuse of its staff.
The Associated Press reported that she provided Syrian officials with cars and gold coins and secretly met with Russian military officers.
Of course, she stayed at the Four Seasons “in a spacious multi-room suite with two washrooms and panoramic city views.”
At the podium in Turtle Bay, the Secretary-General declared that “the global humanitarian system is on the brink of collapse,” which is why member states must step up and donate more to his organization – a poignant reminder that the United Nations is not wasting its own money in the process Four Seasons Damascus.
It is a waste of American tax dollars, British tax pounds, Japanese tax pounds, and so on.
What the United States and its allies should do is make it clear to the United Nations that they will turn off the tap if the body does not get its act together.
But the UN remains a sacred cow, which is why the Biden administration and other Western governments refuse to speak openly about their habitual submission to Assad’s manipulations.
After all, revealing the full truth would come uncomfortably close to admitting that Washington continues to send billions without asking whether taxpayer money is lining Assad’s pockets.
David Adesnik is a senior fellow and research director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is working on a co-authored book about the conflict between Israel and Iran.