Downing Street Memos Down Under

by John Quiggin on November 24, 2006

Australia now has its own version of the Downing Street memos, dating back to 28 February 2002. That’s when Trevor Flugge, Chairman of our (massively corrupt) grain trading monopoly AWB was told of the invasion of Iraq, and of Australia’s planned participation by our Ambassador to the UN*, John Dauth who even predicted that readmitting weapons inspectors would only produce a short delay.

This adds yet another layer of deception to what was already an amazing story of duplicity.

  • The official line from our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is that Dauth was just making a lucky guess.

At the core of the story is AWB’s leadership in the subversion of the Oil-for-Food program. AWB connived at the theft of around $100 million dollars from money held in trust for the Iraqi people, handing some back to Saddam Hussein to finance (among other things) the purchase of weapons many of which are now being used by the insurgency and the purchase of political support through payments to the families of suicide bombers. Obviously this required AWB to deceive the United Nations, which it did,

Meanwhile the Australian government was engaged in multiple deceptions, including self-deceptions. It deceived the world, including the UN and the Americans by denying the accusations that were regularly made against AWB. Meanwhile an elaborate system of nods and winks ensured that, while fully aware that AWB was doing “whatever it took” to sell wheat to Saddam, they could swear that they had never been told about the systemic bribery going on under their very noses.

More seriously, while stating publicly that war was a last resort, which could be avoided as long as Saddam readmitted weapons inspectors, the Australian government was concealing inside knowledge that US policy was set on war regardless of the required pretext. The latest news indicates that this was the case well before July 2002, when the Downing Street memos recorded the fact.

Now we learn that AWB was part of the inside team, informed of what was going on. This adds yet more layers. First, the legal fiction that the formal privatisation of AWB, with its government-enforced monopoly powers intact, made it a private organisation rather than a government instrumentality has been exposed as a sham. Clearly, the government is just as responsible for the actions of AWB as if they had been those of a government department (of course, with the death of the doctrine ministerial responsibility, that’s not saying much).

More interestingly, AWB was presumably double-crossing its partners in crime on the Iraqi side, taking their money while well aware they were marked for destruction. Or perhaps favoured individuals were tipped off, and warned to prepare themselves for an accommodation with their new rulers – certainly some of them seem to have survived the downfall of the Baath regime with AWB help.

Finally of course, there’s the massive deceptions being perpetrated by the Australian supporters of the Iraq war, nearly all of whom have backed the government to the hilt over its support for AWB (most others have maintained a discreet silence). In this context, I should exempt those who frankly present our participation in the war as a matter of self-interest in backing the Americans, while looking out for the largest possible cut of the spoils of war. But all those who’ve accused war opponents of being objectively pro-Saddam should recognise that the government they support has directly funded Saddam, and indirectly funded Hamas, and the current insurgency.

{ 4 comments }

1

War Department 11.24.06 at 5:09 am

I think it’s clear from the interview with Jill Courtney that everyone at DFAT had been told to shut up about this, but someone forgot to pass this on to the lower level staff. It is at least a wee bit odd that a staffer involved in passing communications on inside DFAT would remember company names outside of her own area, but the high level staff deeply involved in those areas – the actual recipients – would fail to recall them.

Obviously, given the hundreds of millions of dollars channelled to terrorists and dangerous dictators, it’s time to ditch those funny old quaint geneva conventions and see if anyone remembers a little more after some time on the waterboard.

2

Brendan 11.24.06 at 6:14 am

I know this is an aside but the AWB thing really does back up something I said in the ‘economics is right wing’ thread earlier (for which I was much ridiculed), which is that economists’ attempts to seperate economics from sociology and anthropology (and, for that matter, criminology) and treat their field as though it was completely autonomous really is futile. Economists tend to assume that when a company is ‘privatised’ it has gained its ‘freedom’ and is now free from the ‘dead hand of the state’ etc. etc. etc. Common sense alone would tell you that there was something wrong with this story (why would the state give a firm freedom including, presumably, the freedom to act against the state?) and the AWB story seems to prove it with (at least in this case). To quote again: ‘the legal fiction that the formal privatisation of AWB, with its government-enforced monopoly powers intact, made it a private organisation rather than a government instrumentality has been exposed as a sham. Clearly, the government is just as responsible for the actions of AWB as if they had been those of a government department (of course, with the death of the doctrine ministerial responsibility, that’s not saying much).’

How many other ‘privatisations’ are in fact also shams? (One thinks specifically of the ‘privatisations’ in Russia, but also in the UK, and other countries). Given that this is the case, it is obvious that most of the arguments both ‘for’ and ‘against’ privatisation (almost all of which assume that when a firm is privatised it becomes ‘free’ from the state) are completely irrelevant.

3

Jim Harrison 11.24.06 at 3:11 pm

If the economic units that get privatized are big enough and politically powerful enough, privatization results in a sort of vertical feudalism.

4

Matt Austern 11.24.06 at 7:30 pm

The “just making a lucky guess” claim isn’t very plausible, but, equally, it’s unnecessary to assume that Dauth had any inside knowledge.

By 2002, I think it was obvious to every honest observer that the US government was going to go to war against Iraq and that nothing, not world opinion, not diplomacy, not weapons inspections, was going to stand in the way of Bush’s war. The Australian government saw that there was going to be a US conquest because everyone saw it.

The real shame here is that the US press has to pretend that this is news because five years ago, when the runup to war was in progress, the press pretended to believe the Bush administration’s claim to be trying to avoid war. None of the reporters were fooled; they saw that Bush wanted a war just as clearly as everyone else. But for some reason they decided that they couldn’t print what they knew.

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