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Accountability theory at work

April 12th, 2006

When the Cole Commission began inquiring into AWB, past experience of the operations of this government yielded the following conclusions

* Both Downer and Howard knew that the AWB was paying kickbacks to the Iraqi regime

* This information was transmitted in a way that preserves deniability, so no conclusive proof will emerge

* No government minister will resign

* Endless hair-splitting defences of the government’s actions in this matter will emerge from those who have previously made a loud noise about Oil for Food.

With only Howard, master of the straight bat defence, still left to appear, all of these conclusions have been borne out. The offices of senior ministers were flooded with dozens cables and other communicaitons warning them of AWB activities yet, as far as the official record is concerned, no one ever looked into these any further than to ask for, and receive, a flat denial from AWB. It’s obvious that they knew enough not to ask any official questions that might produce inconvenient answers, but as predicted, no conclusive proof of this has emerged. Resignations appear to be out of the question. The theory of accountability remains in force.

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  1. still working it out
    April 12th, 2006 at 09:23 | #1

    I wish this was looked at from the Intelligence services point of view. Surely intelligence work 101 in looking at Iraq would be to work out the capabilities of the Iraqi regime by finding its sources of funding. The Oil for Food program was the most obvious and biggest source. I just cannot see how people in the intelligence community would not be aware of this. Then comes up the question whether they informed the government, or if not why? Won’t be looked at of course, as its all classified.

  2. wilful
    April 12th, 2006 at 09:35 | #2

    Michelle Grattan has a different interpretation, saying that your point 1 is not fair or correct.

  3. smiths
    April 12th, 2006 at 11:05 | #3

    well i think your point 1 is spot on,
    and i dont agree with michelle,
    you have to know the things that you officially dont want to know,
    you have to be aware of the answers to the questions you make sure you dont ask

  4. derrida derider
    April 12th, 2006 at 11:07 | #4

    Of course they didn’t know; at the first hint of impropriety they took care not to find out. By now it takes only the barest of winks (“gee, I’m glad you guys at AWB are now privatised and no longer our responsibility”) to make sure everybody is kept out of the loop.

    And all it took to provide that hint was the bare fact that AWB was being extraordinarily successful selling to a bunch of known crooks. Maybe a duffer like Vaile wouldn’t get that hint straight away but I bet his senior public servants did, and the PM certainly would have.

  5. April 12th, 2006 at 11:08 | #5

    To say that Michelle Grattan has a different interpretation from JQ (re AWB) is itself unproductive hair-splitting, I fear.

    Grattan writes:

    “This affair *looks much more like* a gross Government failure rather than a case of improper, or indeed illegal, behaviour” (emphasis added).

    So a “gross government failure” (aka a “stain”) that results in NO action (against the said culpable government) is a trivial thing compared to outright corruption (which, under Grattan’s logic would presume SOME government punishment)??

    I’m speechless. Frankly, I don’t give a stuff whether Howard et al are “merely” grossly incompetent, as opposed to provably corrupt. Happily assuming the former, IMO they all (i) have got to go, and (ii) should be held personally liable for their incompetence, and sued into bankruptcy.

  6. Terje
    April 12th, 2006 at 12:44 | #6

    I am inclined to agree with all the points made by JQ.

    However the opinion polls seem to suggest that their is little impact on the Howard governments viability relative to the ALP.

    What they did was probably corrupt and they probably were not as ignorant as they make out. However staying quite was probably in Australias national interest and most people are probably aware of that fact. If you hate Howard it is a reason to hate him more, however if you support Howard it probably has only a moderate impact.

    Given the likely impact on our export sector I doubt that the ALP would have moved to expose this issue if there had not been a regime change in Iraq.

  7. adrian
    April 12th, 2006 at 14:53 | #7

    “However staying quite was probably in Australias national interest”

    WHAT? We were at war with the very people that we were bribing. In what parallel universe is this in the national interest?

    “aiding and abetting” the enemy more like. Those responsible should be keeping David Hicks company in Guantanamo Bay.

  8. wilful
    April 12th, 2006 at 14:55 | #8

    I suppose it’s a matter of philosophy whether our real national interest is in helping prop up and arm nasty dictators or make a few extra bucks (maybe, assuming no other markets) for our farmers.

  9. observa
    April 12th, 2006 at 15:00 | #9

    Personally I think this is your typical bureacratic act of omission rather than commission here. It’s all a bit like Sept 11, where you go gleaning the microscopic clues after the event and the jigsaw seems so patently obvious. Similar to APRA with HIH and OneTel debacles. It happens in the private sector too, with your Ansetts and Enrons, etc. Noone really wants to ever believe that there is a monumental cock up or shonk going down. Did the UN with FFO sanctions until faced with the facts after the Iraq invasion? Same crap different organisation. Let’s face it guys. What did the Howard govt oversight here that the UN, ALP Opposition and our media didn’t as well? 20/20 hindsight is baloney!

  10. observa
    April 12th, 2006 at 15:08 | #10

    You raise the other major point about where the benefits of the comparative advantage of trade will accrue wilful, irrespective of the difficult exercise trying to define what is a ‘legitimate’ tax, levy or charge on imports. Right from the very start, the FFO relaxation of economic sanctions was always going to put those CA benefits in the hands of the Iraqi regime. How could it do otherwise with trade with a totalitarian dictaorship? It’s the same as us trading with the USSR all those years while plotting its downfall.

  11. observa
    April 12th, 2006 at 15:11 | #11

    Mind you 20/20 foresight is a marvellous thing.

  12. Razor
    April 12th, 2006 at 16:01 | #12

    When I see UN employees throwing themselves on their swords over this issue – then I will consider that the Australian Government needs to start doing a bit of housekeeping.

    This is another affair along the same lines of the kids overboard issue – maybe technically correct but not a major issue that the voting public give a fat rat’s clacker about. Only the Loyal Opposition and hanger-ons have their knickers in a knot over it. The voting public is smart enough to work out what are the important issues when it comes down to who should hold the reins of power – and it ain’t the ALP at Federal level.

    How is Carmen Lawrence’s memory coming along by the way??

  13. Ian Gould
    April 12th, 2006 at 16:17 | #13

    “…maybe technically correct …”

    “What is truth?” asked jesting Pilate as he washed his hands.

  14. wilful
    April 12th, 2006 at 16:41 | #14

    I think all of the apologists are forgetting one simple thing. It’s explicitly against the law of Australia to pay bribes.

  15. Spiros
    April 12th, 2006 at 16:50 | #15

    “Endless hair-splitting defences of the government’s actions in this matter will emerge from those who have previously made a loud noise about Oil for Food.”

    “maybe technically correct but not a major issue”

    Hmmm, paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to the very people we were about to go to war with is not a major issuel; sustaining a regime that according to our Prime Minister was guilty of the most appalling human rights abuses is not a majoe issue.

    If that’s the case, what is a major issue?

  16. Razor
    April 12th, 2006 at 17:31 | #16

    I’ve got no problem with going after AWB if they are proven to have broken the law – hang ‘em out to dry – go your hardest.

    As for the paying hundreds of millions – that wasn’t Australian or AWB money – it was money paid by third parties for Iraqi oil.

    We sent shed loads of wool and other commodities to Russia and China and other Eastern Block countries during the cold war. Wool used to make the uniforms to equip the Russian Army that had/has nuclear weapons aimed at Pine Gap and the NW Cape and proabbly Canberra and Sydney and Melbourne. Two regimes responsible for tens of millions of deaths and continuing human rigths abuses. Don’t start getting all effing precious about who we are trading with because of human rights and potential conflicts. If it is illegal to trade with a country then it is illegal, otherwise let the traders sell and buy from whoever they wish to.

    Where was the UN on this??? It was their program. If they require Governments to monitor the programs then shouldn’t they be montioring the monitoring??? The world saw pictures regularly of columns of trucks crossing the Iraqi borders breaking the oil sanctions and nothing was done for Christ sakes. Are we Australians meant to prance around being wincy little prima donnas throwing away Australain wheat sales while the rest of the world profiteered from the sanctions busting that was happenging all over the place. And when you go back and have a look at the priority list of things to do that the Australain Government and DFAT etc were focussing on the Iraqi wheat trade probabaly doesn’t make the top 20.

  17. Spiros
    April 12th, 2006 at 17:47 | #17

    “Where was the UN on this??? It was their program. If they require Governments to monitor the programs then shouldn’t they be montioring the monitoring???”

    Razor, they were monitoring the monitoring. They told DFAT it stank to high heaven, DFAT then asked AWB “Are you paying bribes to Saddam?”, AWB said “no”. DFAT said “Oh, OK then”, and that was that, or so we are led to believe.
    Howard, Downer and Vaile say they had no idea any of these conversations were happening.

    As for priorities, we’re not talking about the Eqyptian wheat trade, Iraq was a country we were preparing to go to war against; no trifling matter, as I am sure you would agree. It beggars belief that within the government they could, on the one hand, prepared to declare war against Iraq, to help rid the world of a dangerous regime, but on the othe hand treated huge, and hugely suspicious, wheat sales to that very same regime as a trifling commercial matter that need not be brought to the PM’s and foreign minister’s attention. It just doesn’t wash.

  18. Ian Gould
    April 12th, 2006 at 18:06 | #18

    “The world saw pictures regularly of columns of trucks crossing the Iraqi borders breaking the oil sanctions and nothing was done for Christ sakes.”

    Yes because both the Clinton and Bush (43) administrations threatened to veto any proposal to stop it.

  19. Razor
    April 12th, 2006 at 18:39 | #19

    Spiros – that is crap that they were monitoring the monitoring – the UN only asked questions because direct commercial competitors squealed when they didn’t get the deals. If the UN was montoring anything it was their own personal bank accounts and those of their cling-ons like George Galloway.

    As for trading while preparing to go to war – we did that for half a century with the Eastern Block. We traded with Indonesia and maintained cordial relations while Australian and Indonesian soldiers were killing each other (us lots – them not many) during the confrontation. It is up to the politicians to decide when trading becoems illegal – until then business continues.

    We wouldn’t have had this old for fraud situation if the UN had had the balls to stanf up to Hussein in the first place and as soon as he breached a Security Council resolution finished off Gulf War I like they should have.

  20. Spiros
    April 12th, 2006 at 20:27 | #20

    Razor, your analogies using the Eastern bloc are crap. We were never at war with the Soviet Union, and never came close to it.

    On the other hand, we were effectively at war with the then North Vietnam and North Korea for a while. But we were never bribing Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung to take our wheat, which was just as well.

    Rather than skipping off into irrelevant tangents about George Galloway, I’d like to know whether you think that Howard and Downer really didn’t know what the AWB was doing all this time. That was what John Quiggin’s post was about.

  21. sdfc
    April 12th, 2006 at 21:15 | #21

    Yeah that’s right Razor Carmen Lawrence memory lapse 15 or so years ago is far more important than Ministers turning a blind eye to the funnelling of funds to Saddam’s regime in direct contravention of a UN resolution.

    Didn’t we go to war against the same regime because they were contravening a UN resolution?

    Seems a bit hypocritical to me.

  22. Michael H.
    April 12th, 2006 at 22:22 | #22

    sdfc, maybe the logical response is to invade ourselves for violating UN resolutions.

  23. rog
    April 12th, 2006 at 22:23 | #23

    It was a UN monitored program and the UN cannot expect that the Aust Govt will take responsibility for the actions of a publicly listed company whose liability is limited by guarantee.

    AWB is answerable to its shareholders who, in the main, happen to be the farmers, not the govt.

    Even Cole understands that.

  24. Steve Munn
    April 12th, 2006 at 22:40 | #24

    Rog, don’t be such a dishonest blogfly. The Government *did* overlook the Oil-for-Food contracts as Downer said in his testimony. Obviously they did a very poor job of it.

  25. Simonjm
    April 12th, 2006 at 22:40 | #25

    If we are going to take the ‘national’ interest line at least be consistent and stop the BS about the morality of taking out Saddam.

    We did it to suck up to the US, at least be honest about it.

    BTW anyone notice those two champions of the moral case for invading Iraq Bolt & Ackerman have come out against allowing the Papuan asylum seekers into Australia?

    Funny how freedom from oppression and human rights abuses is worth the death and destruction in Iraq but not so for the Papuans?

  26. Andrew
    April 12th, 2006 at 22:47 | #26

    So the Australian business community does not have take any notice of the Australian government and its laws as it is only responsible to its shareholders?

    Balderdash.

  27. April 12th, 2006 at 23:16 | #27

    I’m speechless. Frankly, I don’t give a stuff whether Howard et al are “merely� grossly incompetent, as opposed to provably corrupt. Happily assuming the former, IMO they all (i) have got to go, and (ii) should be held personally liable for their incompetence, and sued into bankruptcy.

    Leaving anything else aside, who would sue the government (or Howard, Downer et al. as individuals or whatever) over this, and on what grounds?

  28. Ian Gould
    April 13th, 2006 at 01:03 | #28

    “It was a UN monitored program and the UN cannot expect that the Aust Govt will take responsibility for the actions of a publicly listed company whose liability is limited by guarantee.

    AWB is answerable to its shareholders who, in the main, happen to be the farmers, not the govt.”

    Actually when the bribes started AWB was wholly owned by the Australian government.

  29. Ian Gould
    April 13th, 2006 at 01:04 | #29

    >Leaving anything else aside, who would sue the government (or Howard, Downer et al. as individuals or whatever) over this, and on what grounds?

    Seen what’s happened to AWB shares lately?

    I’d suggest every shareholder has a case against the Feds as the vendor of the company and all the experts who signed off on the deal.

  30. avaroo
    April 13th, 2006 at 09:02 | #30

    “If the UN was montoring anything it was their own personal bank accounts and those of their cling-ons like George Galloway.”

    Thanks, I needed a laugh, today.

    “We wouldn’t have had this old for fraud situation if the UN had had the balls to stanf up to Hussein in the first place and as soon as he breached a Security Council resolution finished off Gulf War I like they should have. ”

    You ARE brave. And I agree with you.

  31. April 13th, 2006 at 09:44 | #31

    Alexander McLeay wrote:

    “Leaving anything else aside, who would sue the government (or Howard, Downer et al. as individuals or whatever) over this, and on what grounds?”.

    Such an action (which would be against persons, not the “government”) would be brought of behalf of the citizens (or more narrowly, if you prefer, the taxpayers) of Australia. Its essence would be a breach of fiduciary duty – viz that leaders, who had been elected/appointed to high office in good faith, have manifestly fallen short of the standard of diligence expected of them.

    The damage – and so the monetary *damages* – is the curliest aspect here. What I as a citizen have lost is somewhat fuzzy, but this doesn’t mean that it is nothing. I would analogise it as a loss of goodwill, especially in the international arena; aka “brand Australia” has been trashed – at least in Geneva and on the East River, etc.

    Otherwise, I stress that unlike Ian Gould, I’m not remotely concerned with AWB shareholders (although I acknowledge their economic loss, as well as a chain of causation for this loss that can be traced to Howard et al). The crucial difference here is that AWB shareholders (i) took a commercial risk, and (ii) were, or should have been, on notice about dodgy federal privatisations since the T2 debacle.

    While there is an obvious counter-quip here – that citizens have been on notice of dodgy governments since time immemorial – I’m not buying it. Economic fundamentalism since c. 1980 has made everything else dog-eat-dog, so I don’t see why political leaders beast, should be spared from purely vindictive (coz Howard’s few-mill of private wealth is going to be nothing when spilt twenty-million ways, after legal costs) court actions. Such would be justice in more than one way – political leaders (including many Labor ones) have always steered the beast of economic fundamentalism.

  32. observa
    April 13th, 2006 at 10:29 | #32

    Listening to this debate does raise the broader question as to whether economic sanctions should be used against totalitarian states. There are two parts to that answering that question, namely the moral and practical considerations. Iraq illustrates the point.

    From a moral point of view the argument is really that denying the state the usual benefits of the comparative advantages of trade, will punish them for being bad international citizens. Immediately a moral dilemma became apparent as it always does with totalitarian regimes. The oppressed masses suffer further while the regime and its followers doesn’t. To ameliorate this was the FFO relaxation of sanctions, but really this was out of the frying pan and into the fire as we saw. Warehouses stuffed full of food and medicines for the regime, while it was more of the same for the oppressed. The moment you release some comparative advantage, it can be coopted by the regime, unlike laissez faire open economies. There is no doubt that with this sort of analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that some of the benefits of CA with the USSR trade throughout the Cold War, would have subsidised the Gulags, among others. To trade or not to trade, that is the fundamental moral question.

    Secondly there are the practical considerations. How on earth can we define what is a legal tax(all tax is theft arguments?), charge or levy on imports and who will police them internationally if we can? Also how easy is it to break the sanctions with porous borders and recalcitrant or opprtunist neighbours. Are economic sanctions ever practicable and workable?

    In the Iraq FFO relaxation of initial tough economic sanctions, you’ve got the whole box and dice. The real question is- How’d we all do internationally with sanctions folks?

  33. observa
    April 13th, 2006 at 10:33 | #33

    Err and should we realistically expect our govts of whatever political persuasion to have done any better overall?

  34. Michael H.
    April 13th, 2006 at 12:34 | #34

    Howard et al were enthuisatic supporters of sanctions against Iraq and were quick to heap opprobrium on the heads of those who they claimed were ‘giving comfort to Saddam’.

    It it too much to expect similiar enthuisam in investigating the violation of those same sanctions and of those repsonsible for actually ‘giving comfort’ to the Iraq regime?

    It in’t a question of anyone else ‘doing better’ but the Howard Govt living up to it’s rhetoric. Fat chance.

  35. observa
    April 13th, 2006 at 13:49 | #35

    With respect Michael, the Howard govt did more than just live up to the rhetoric (moral and practicable arguments about economic sanctions). It basically said shove all this rhetoric and argument and we’re off to help depose Saddam. Essentially that put a stop to all the bullshit in one respect, but might have got them deeply in the shit in another argument. That’s the rub about the AWB enquiry now. It’s yesterdays news in terms of viable policy options against Saddam, but critics who want to bash the Howard govt over the head with it are really beating up on themselves and their prior policy prescription here. Of course they can turn their attack to the real policy response of the incumbents, namely Iraq, but to do that they need to have a real policy alternative up their own sleeve. That’s the sticky bit as we all watch events in Iraq with some foreboding. Sanctions would clearly never have worked and now the alternative, well um err…

  36. observa
    April 13th, 2006 at 13:51 | #36

    Help, anybodeeeeeeee?????

  37. Michael H.
    April 13th, 2006 at 14:10 | #37

    “the Howard govt did more than just live up to the rhetoric”

    Huh??

    It vilified the anti-war majority as ‘giving comfort to Saddam’.
    Now it turns out that it was doing precisely that to the tune of $300 mil through incompetence or indifference (take your pick).

    If anything, the Howard Govt actions show its’ committment to ‘depose Saddam’ was rhetorical bluster, aimed at the US alliance. Iraq and Saddam were just the stage for this particualr play. It avoided underetaking even minimal efforts to expose AWBs support for Saddam prior to the war.

  38. Bill O’Slatter
    April 13th, 2006 at 14:21 | #38

    Grattan’s point is a non sequitur “For a Government that was moving to be part of the Iraq invasion to be willing to see hundreds of millions of dollars go to the Saddam Hussein regime really does stretch credulity.” This is a fine example of a priori reasoning. I thik in the end the relationship between what happened in Iraq and the knowledge of the Howard government is going to be a complex one. That they were aware of it before war started is beyond doubt.The bribes started in 1999 well before there were any plans to go to war with Iraq. Definitive plasn to go to war with Iraq only occurred from September 2002 going from the ONA inclusion of bias in its reports. The Prime Minister’s weak interrogation at the Cole Inquiry today mean now that the whole inquiry has turned into a farce.

  39. observa
    April 13th, 2006 at 14:41 | #39

    And as if to stress the point, we’re still arguing the toss about an obviously flawed policy toward Saddam, while Iran bobs up on our alligator radar. Time to turn on the 20/20 foresight detector. I’ll keep my fingers crossed we get the settings right and read all the signals properly this time.

  40. Michael H.
    April 13th, 2006 at 14:50 | #40

    Iran has ‘bobbed up’ on the radar in a similiar fashion to Iraq.

    Let’s hope the gullible have learnt their lesson.

  41. Ian Gould
    April 13th, 2006 at 14:51 | #41

    Tell you what.

    Let’s all attempt to predict the likely outcome of a military strike on iran and in the event it comes abou we’ll see who is more accurate.

    L look forward to description of the victorious Us for4ces rolling into Tehran on a red carpet strewn with flowers thrown by the adoring locals as they beg their liberators to do them the ultimate honor of deflowering their daughters.

  42. April 13th, 2006 at 15:39 | #42

    REAL Democracy requires a degress of government accountability. Howard, Berlusconi, Bush and Blair are dragging their democracies into a state of disrepair.

  43. Michael H.
    April 13th, 2006 at 16:44 | #43

    Ian,

    IMHO, Iran is just as much a threat to the world as was Iraq. It’s incipient nuclear weapons program is likely as well developed as Saddams was in 2003.

    The results of a US strike on Iran are likely to be mostly negative. The main victims, will of of course be ordinary Iranians. The leadership, ie the Hardliners, will be bolstered as the attacks will give them the opportunity to posture as loyal nationalists standing up to foreign aggressors. This in turn, mostly impacts on ordinary Iranians who want a more open society.
    Iran may respond with attacks on shipping in the Gulf, maybe a new ‘tanker war’. Iraqi shiites aren’t likely to look to fondly on such a scenario and may more openly support Iran, causing the Kurds to attempt to break more decisively from Iraq. What effect this might have in Turkey is hard to predict.

    Bottom line – bad news for ordinary Iranians. But then, the effect on real flesh and blood people never seems to figure much in the ‘strategic’ views of Bush et al.

    Another question – would the faithful poodles come to heel again?

  44. Razor
    April 13th, 2006 at 18:09 | #44

    Michael H have a read of this – http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_2_iran.html

    Frankly, North Korea doesn’t bother me too much having Nuclear Weapons but the Iranians have plenty of form.

  45. Jill Rush
    April 13th, 2006 at 18:19 | #45

    There is a lot of hair splitting, ducking and weaving but it is interesting to look at what has happened in the light of the 1996 Ministerial Accountability framework.

    It is not ancient history that the Ministers concerned have failed in their basic duty but timely and relevant. They have very clever and astute public servants who have somehow failed to provide important information to their Ministers. In other times these public servants would have been held accountable – now they are likely to get a plum job. It takes a lot of skill to aid the Minister in avoiding seeing the many incriminating documents which were held within DFAT. Rather than staff investigating the claims of graft by going through the papers that DFAT held blind assurances were accepted.

    It is interesting that there are many writers who keep on saying that everybody knows that this is the way that business is done in the Middle East. That it is so well known is exactly why the Ministers concerned should have heard the alarm bells ringing. It is agreed that the people needed the food – but it could have been wheat without kickbacks – if Australia hadn’t been so keen and the Ministers so deliberately blind.

    The Government splits hairs and argues over minute detail whilst having a collective memory failure.

    I remember a political resignation over a TV, imported improperly. On the scale of evils far less than providing millions of dollars to a madman and an evil regime to at best murder his own people.

    There are several layers here – attack those who are shocked at the level of Ministerial culpability which will go unpunished as the terms of reference of the Royal Commission won’t allow otherwise , Feign ignorance and ensure that privatisation provides a layer of protection, drag the matter out over time and have the key Ministerial witnesses appear in the week just prior to a major public holiday, focus on trivia and weaknesses overseas and in the United Nations to shift blame and try to shut it down with as little damage as possible.

    It seems that the analysis of PR Q is uncannily accurate.

  46. Michael H.
    April 13th, 2006 at 18:31 | #46

    Razor,

    Mark Steyn?? Have you lost the plot?

    Steyn was a rabid pro-Iraq War pundit who in the immediate aftermath was attacking anyone who said Iraq was desending into chaos.

    Steyn writes for the National Review. If you wanted a rational, informed perspective on Iran, this is the last place to look. Steyn, with a record of being completely wrong on Iraq, now says an attack on Iran is of critical importance (for ‘our civilisation’ no less), ergo, it is not.

    His is the best argument against attacking Iran that it I’ve yet heard.

  47. rog
    April 13th, 2006 at 18:33 | #47

    I’m sure that just prior to the fall of Singapore all the pundits were sitting around saying things like; “let’s hope the gullible have learnt their lesson” and “thank god we didnt (lower ourselves) to pay any bribes” and “chin chin old chap”

  48. rog
    April 13th, 2006 at 18:41 | #48

    AWB are answerable only to their shareholders and ASIC.

    AWB became a grower-owned and controlled corporation in 1991 and was floated on the ASX in 2001.

    The govt has no responsibility for the actions of the AWB since 1991.

  49. Razor
    April 13th, 2006 at 19:03 | #49

    Michael H – Steyn encapsulates everyhting I want to say on international affairs and domestic politics in the great western democracies in a way I never could hope to. I don’t agree with his views on abortion and intelligent design, but apart from that – he is totally on the money.

    rog – the punters here probably don’t understand the concept of a Limited Liability Company being a seperate entity that a Government doesn’t actually run, so keep it down to short sentences and small words, otherwise their heads explode.

  50. Jim Birch
    April 13th, 2006 at 19:19 | #50

    I see the hand of Milo Minderbinder in this.

  51. Uncle Milton
    April 13th, 2006 at 19:19 | #51

    “The govt has no responsibility for the actions of the AWB since 1991.”

    Alas, rog and Razor, this is completely wrong. The AWB is not like an ordinary limited liability company. The AWB is regulated by the Wheat Export Authority, a government entity. Mark Vaile is the minister responsible for the WEA.

    From the WEA’s website (wea.gov.au), under “About Us”

    What We Do

    We monitor,examine and report to stakeholders on the export performance of AWB (International) Ltd (AWB(I)) and resulting benefits to growers.

    Control non-AWB(I) exports from Australia where this is complimentary to the national pool and allows for niche and other export opportunities.

    We receive and make independent decisions on applications to export wheat from non-AWB(I) exporters, taking account of available market information ant the criteria in the WEA’s published export Guidelines.

    We monitor compliance with the conditions of export consents issued.

    We manage operations effectively, consistent with corporate governance principles, and seek to inform stakeholders about WEA and its activities.

  52. Ian Gould
    April 13th, 2006 at 19:28 | #52

    >Frankly, North Korea doesn’t bother me too much having Nuclear Weapons but the Iranians have plenty of form.

    So did the Iranians kill almost 10% of the own people in a massive famine caused by economic bungling?

    Carry out foreign hits for money?

    Kidnap hundreds of foreign nationals to train their spies in foreign languages?

    Does Iran regularly forcibly abort mixed-race pregnancies?

  53. Ian Gould
    April 13th, 2006 at 19:33 | #53

    From Steyn’s article:

    >If you divide the world into geographical regions, then, Iran’s neither here nor there. But if you divide it ideologically, the mullahs are ideally positioned at the center of the various provinces of Islam—the Arabs, the Turks, the Stans, and the south Asians. Who better to unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership? If there’s going to be an Islamic superpower, Tehran would seem to be the obvious candidate.

    Now I don’t expect much from the pro-dead-Iranian lobby, especially since they’re mostly retreads from the rpo-dead-Iraqi lobby but this is just remarkably ignorant even by their usual standards.

    Yeah, a shia country is going to unite the “various provinces of islam” – and the Pope is going to be elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

    All them ay-rabs is just the damn same – ignore the centuries of hostility between, for example, Iran and Turkey.

  54. steve munn
    April 13th, 2006 at 19:42 | #54

    A nuclear armed North Korea should worry us a lot. When Dear Leader Kim dies God knows what will happen. The prospect of a civil war in a nuclear armed nation alarms me.

    Also, what Ian Gould said.

  55. observa
    April 13th, 2006 at 19:56 | #55

    “It is interesting that there are many writers who keep on saying that everybody knows that this is the way that business is done in the Middle East. That it is so well known is exactly why the Ministers concerned should have heard the alarm bells ringing.”

    Yes but that’s really the point too Jill. If it was so obvious to us all that you could never cleanly deal with the Saddams of this world, why even think for a moment the UN FFO sanctions could? Ipso facto Howard(and a couple of handy mates) says shove it and Saddam’s going down. No, no, no wait a bit, trust us, sanctions can really work say the critics. Well of course the beauty of lack of incumbency is, we never got to test that theory fully, but with so many UN fingers in the pie like the AWB, most of us have rationally deduced the likely answer. Hence no bite for the confected outrage of the sanctions and ‘troops home by Xmas’ political mob. As I keep iterating, the bite really lies in a critique of the Howard alternative, but the same snooker confronts them over Iraq. It’s called Afghanistan. Basically we can all reasonably deduce that if Iraqis can’t pick up the BOL baton and run with it, what better hope have Afghanis got? As all this dawns upon us, lo and behold, one of the other ‘axis of evil’ is threatening to go nuclear on us. It’s right about this point perhaps, we need to be quite clear that for all its shortcomings, the AWB sold wheat to Muslims and not enriched uranium. We need to be quite clear on that for clarity of thinking over the problem of dealing with militant Islam ahead. In this regard Steyn’s historical look at Iran is a chilling reminder. Militant Islam is on the march.

  56. rog
    April 13th, 2006 at 20:19 | #56

    “We manage operations effectively, consistent with corporate governance principles”

    see Corporations Act

  57. April 13th, 2006 at 20:25 | #57

    I would just like the government to be held up to the same standards it demands of those running businesses. No director of a listed company would be able to get away with saying “sorry, nobody told me that there were warnings”. They would be expected to have asked appropriate questions, and created a culture so that the right information would be filtered through to them. Surely we should expect no less of our government?

    In other words, even if you believe that they didn’t know, they should be sacked for incompetence. It won’t happen, of course, even though they would be demanding the head of a private company which made this many “I wasn’t told” statements in the press.

  58. April 13th, 2006 at 20:30 | #58

    The thing about North Korea is that we can’t really know what will happen when the Dear Leader follows his old man. Just conceivably, enough of the senior echelon of military leaders will have seen the benefits of an open democracy to come to the table – very hopeful, but possible. Or the starving millions might revolt, but they’ll be pretty weak and there will be a bloodbath. In a country so remote from our own understanding – like Burma, of which I have first hand experience – the crystal ball just doesn’t work. If the US decide to hurry things along a bit with some strategic nuking, that would really put the cat among etc etc, with China.

    And it’s not about what AWB did – its job was to sell wheat to any customer – but what our government knew and how they came to whatever decisions they did. By virtue of the TOR, Cole hasn’t really helped here except it confirmed what we knew about Vaile’s abilities and Downer’s appreciation of his own place in the firmament.

  59. Ian Gould
    April 13th, 2006 at 21:16 | #59

    Rog: I’m sure that just prior to the fall of Singapore all the pundits were sitting around saying things like; “let’s hope the gullible have learnt their lesson� and “thank god we didnt (lower ourselves) to pay any bribes� and “chin chin old chap�

    No, they were saying stuff like: “Why the hell did we sell war materiel to the Japanese in the 30′s?”

    I guess Little Johnie was just following in the footsteps of his idol, Pig-Iron Bob.

  60. Ian Gould
    April 13th, 2006 at 21:18 | #60

    Razor: Michael H – Steyn encapsulates everyhting I want to say on international affairs and domestic politics in the great western democracies i

    I find that sadly credible.

  61. avaroo
    April 14th, 2006 at 06:30 | #61

    “Time to turn on the 20/20 foresight detector. I’ll keep my fingers crossed we get the settings right and read all the signals properly this time.”

    It is odd that we demand this of ourselves. I wonder if Saddam wishes that HE’D had a better foresight detector, would he have been as willing to play chicken with the US?

  62. Katz
    April 14th, 2006 at 07:59 | #62

    Two gentle reminders for Observa and the ladies and gentlemen of his hysterical, alarmist, purblind ilk.

    1. “Militant Islam is on the march.”

    While this may be an irresistable topic for those folks who are wont to read signs and portents and arrive thereby at “Inner Truth”, Observa’s observation, quoted above, is:

    a. off-topic. There are other threads that give more than ample scope to voicing the fears and fantasies of islamophobe bunker-dwellers.

    b. not relevant to the issue of Saddam Hussein, who could never be described accurately as islamist. Indeed, he was one of the most enthusiastic persecutors of islamists, outshining even George W. Bush.

    2. Back on-topic. Uncle Milton’s contribution above destroys all the excuses made so far in defence of the Howard government’s handling of the Oil for Weapons scandal. As Uncle shows, the Federal Government has a responsibility under Australian law, through the Wheat Export Authority, for the administration of the export of all Australian wheat.

    The fact that none of Howard’s apologists have addressed Uncle Milton’s point suggests that they have added denial to their pre-existing arsenal of intellectual dishonesty.

    The good news it that denial is not a sustainable habit of mind. Perhaps we can hope legitimately for a Road to Damascus experience for some of our RWDB interlocutors.

  63. rog
    April 14th, 2006 at 08:41 | #63

    It may have *a responsibility* Katz to what are the limits of that responsibility?

  64. Katz
    April 14th, 2006 at 09:06 | #64

    rog,

    From that very useful website cited by Uncle Milton:

    The WEA framework focusses on six key areas to analyse assess and report on AWB(I)’s performance:

    * wheat export arrangements#
    * pooling operations
    * pricing performance#
    * supply chain#
    * operating environment#
    * growers services, products & benefits.

    Those marked with a # would apply directly to many of the infractions and frauds that allegedly characterise the Oil for Weapons scandal.

    The pricing issues alone should have set off alarm bells. It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to recognise that the statistics mandated by the WEA legislation would have revealed an enormous distortion of usual price levels when the Iraq trade is compared with all other trade destinations.

    Enough “responsibility” for you rog?

    To clarify with a counter-example:

    I make a distinction between Australia’s wheat trade and (let us say) the trade in oats. It is possible that Australian oats exporters also paid kickbacks to Saddam’s regime. This trade is distinguishable from the wheat trade because:

    1. the oats trade is minuscule in comparison with the wheat trade.

    2. the Australian government has no direct monitoring role over the oats trade.

    There would be fewer grounds for calling the Australian government to account were it discovered that oats exporters were paying kickbacks to Saddam. However, there is a time limit for the government even on that trade. The Bureau of Statistics does collect all these data and eventually they turn up in the Commonwealth Year Book. The Department of Trade peruses these data minutely.

  65. April 14th, 2006 at 12:27 | #65

    Spot on Michael H, Jill Rush and others.

    Terje wrote :

    However the opinion polls seem to suggest that thre is little impact on the Howard government’s viability relative to the ALP.

    Instead of hiding behind ‘public opinion’, misinformed as it has been since at least the 1970′s by the Murdoch and Packer media empires, why not tell us where you stand on this question? Do you intend at the 2007 elections to give your support to a Government capable of (to put it in the most favourable possible light) of such grotesque incompetence?

    Terje wrote :

    However staying quite was probably in Australia’s national interest and most people are probably aware of that fact.

    And how did you you arrive at that conclusion? What about the measure the direct fincancial cost to Australia of the war made the necessity of which, we would have to assume, if we were to believe this Government’s rhetoric of the time, was largely brought about by this Government’s own stupidity and/or deliberate complicity with the Hussein regime (take your pick)? And what about the indirect costs of interantional instability and oil price rises as the global stocks of oil approach a peak in production?

    Even if it were somehow possible to have construed this whole shameful affair as having been in our national interest, how can any Australian who gives his/her support to this Govenment possibly hold his/her head high before the international community?

  66. rog
    April 14th, 2006 at 14:04 | #66

    Katz, the AWB should be free to trade without intense Govt scrutiny – show one country in the world where publicly listed companies freely allow govt access to all their business dealings and structure.

    Cuba?

  67. April 14th, 2006 at 15:08 | #67

    The Quiggin theory of deparmental (non-)accountability and ministerial (ir-)responsibility seems to be valid for the Coalition in matters relating to international affairs. The traditional Westminsterian doctrine does not appear to apply in cases where a Machiavellian case can be made that the politician is using bad means to promote good ends.

    The Machiavellian doctrine defence has always been most pertinent when the politician has been acting in the realm of international anarchy, where no supervising legal authority or universally accepted norms pertain.

    Thus ministerial lies about children overboard (actually the SIEV was scuttled), Iraq’s WMDs and Wheat for Weapons seem to be accepted by the populus as being in the national interest. Stoppping people smuggling, strengthening the US alliance and flogging wheat to the ME are all generally accepted as good ends.

    In all these cases the relevant ministers lied for political reasons to promote the national interest. Rather than professional reasons to promote the party interest or personal reasons to promote the officials interest. Had the latter been the case the pressure on relevant ministers to resign would have been overwhelming.

    The key test of the Quiggin doctrine is if it applies:
    – to a purely domestic issue
    – to a party/member caught with hands in the till

    So far I am unaware of any such circumstnace.

  68. Katz
    April 14th, 2006 at 15:19 | #68

    “Katz, the AWB should be free to trade without intense Govt scrutiny”

    Yet another sermon containing that irritating old word “should”.

    Maybe the Govt “should” have repealed the legislation enabling the AWB export monopoly under WEA scrutiny.

    Shooda but didn’t.

    So the tears of it are, rog, there’s a law in operation and government ministers pledge an oath to uphold the laws.

    If ministers don’t uphold the laws, then they are breaching their oaths of office. That’s called either negligence or malfeasance. In the good old days that was a beheading offence.

    So cut the “should” crap. It’ll send you blind.

  69. rog
    April 14th, 2006 at 15:31 | #69

    Why would the govt repeal single desk if thee majority of farmer/shareholders voted for its continuation?

    (Some) people should stop stressing out over farming business.

  70. Katz
    April 14th, 2006 at 15:46 | #70

    Are you striving for troll status rog?

    Civics 101: if a government has the numbers it can make whatever law it likes and it can partially or completely repeal any existing law it likes.

    Now let’s apply that lesson: the Howard government has had ten years to tinker with the legislation creating the WEA. They could have done what they wanted with it. They could have ended the export monopoly. They could have strenthened it. They could have done many things. They didn’t.

    The WEA was created to monitor the wheat exporting monopoly of AWB. Farmers had no choice but to export their grain through AWB. This privileged position was granted in return for a measure of government scrutiny. The Oil for Weapons scandal indicates that this scrutiny was nigh-on non-existent.

    The persistence of the single desk is troll bait in this discussion.

    We’re talking about what happened to all of that paperwork after the WEA “analyse[d] assess[ed] and report[ed] on AWB(I)’s performance”

    Didn’t the ministers get all this good stuff? Or did the dog eat their homework?

    Stay focussed rog.

  71. April 14th, 2006 at 16:45 | #71

    Last I saw, the moral relativists running the AWB were still citizens, subject to Australian law, which I am sure proscribes a lot of commercial activity with our enemies. It doesn’t work to argue that they should be free to go about their business.

    Observa is right about the question of sanctions. The whole idea is flawed and the AWB is a case study. Isolation never works; engagement is the only possible strategy. As the US should have done over Cuba, and North Vietnam both before and after the war.

    Indeed, engagement was practiced by the US in the 1980′s with Saddam. Unfortunately the Americans did it for dreadful reasons, to support the Iraqis in a proxy war against Iran.

    As I understand the North Korean issue, the place is a client state of China, which is one reason why the West has tended to tiptoe around on the question. Presumably, if the country descends into nuclear armed anarchy, Beijing will smack some heads and fix it.

    Now that I have answered Observa’s pleas above, we can go back to the topic.

  72. April 14th, 2006 at 16:51 | #72

    ps – yes, I know this is the merest, teeniest tendril of a skerrick of a position, and totally unbuttressed by argument or evidence. But Observa did ask.

  73. stoptherubbish
    April 14th, 2006 at 16:55 | #73

    Just one thing here. The money for the oil for food program came from the Iraqi people. The money for the program came from the sale of their oil, held in in escrow, and released to pay for the wheat. The wheat was sent to Iraq to feed a people teetering on the brink of starvation, as a result of the sanctions.
    Now can we be a little honest here and admit that:-
    1. The money belonged to the Iraqi people, and
    2. AWB funnelled some of that money ($290 million) back through intermediaries, to the very dictator that had caused their misery in the first place.

    Meanwhile, back in neo con fantasy land (where we never let the right of people to live get in the way of a crusade), we all just knew Saddam was 45 minutes away from nuking the world, and so we just had to ‘take him out’. But of course we also ‘knew’ that AWB would never do anything dishonest because unlike say building workers for example, a chaps word is as good as his bond. So we went to war, at the same time as we were funnelling money to the evil dictator who threatened ‘our way of life’, civilisation, democracy as we know it, operated terror central etc (any excuse here that I have missed rog et al?)

    However, it was not the fault of those who were responsible for over seeing the operations of the AWB that this happened. This is so because the same people who believed the intelligence reports of Iraq as terror central and possessing nukes capble of blasting us to kingdom come, simply couldn’t bring themselves to believe intelligence reports concerning AWBs activities in funding the ‘most evil dictator in modern times’ (I think I have that description right).

    The AWB scandal is a farce and a disgrace. It matters little that the pundits believe it won’t change one vote. It will do much more than that. It will destroy the reputation of this government in a way that a raft of other scandals won’t. This is my bit of 20/20 foresight.

  74. Terje
    April 14th, 2006 at 17:31 | #74

    Instead of hiding behind ‘public opinion’, misinformed as it has been since at least the 1970’s by the Murdoch and Packer media empires, why not tell us where you stand on this question? Do you intend at the 2007 elections to give your support to a Government capable of (to put it in the most favourable possible light) of such grotesque incompetence?

    I may vote liberal at the next election. I voted for Mark Lathams ALP at the last election. My vote at the next election will depend on a multitude of factors including personalities, policies, principles and reputation.

    The AWB fiasco will be low on the list of factors effecting my decision.

    And how did you you arrive at that conclusion? What about the measure the direct fincancial cost to Australia of the war made the necessity of which, we would have to assume, if we were to believe this Government’s rhetoric of the time, was largely brought about by this Government’s own stupidity and/or deliberate complicity with the Hussein regime (take your pick)? And what about the indirect costs of interantional instability and oil price rises as the global stocks of oil approach a peak in production?

    I doubt Howard etc turned a blind eye to AWB and bribes in order to feather their own nest. There certainly seems to be no evidence of it. In terms of our export sector I think the bribes were a definite win (assuming somebody else would have got the wheat sales otherwise). In terms of proping up the regime of Saddam Hussein I never saw it as our business to tear it down.

    My point about public opinion was not an attempt to hide. It was merely an observation that this issue will not be very significant when the next election comes around.

  75. Katz
    April 14th, 2006 at 18:05 | #75

    The Oil for Weapons scandal will have electoral consequences in Australia:

    1. US congressmen and senators will continue to criticise Howard for allowing an Australian corporation to be the largest single supplier of funds to kill US soldiers in Iraq. As the Bush Clique collapses into a morass of recriminations and denunciations over Iraq, Howard will no longer be able to play the US card for domestic political advantage. Howard himself will be embroiled in these recriminations.

    2. Australia is fast losing Iraq as an important customer, US wheat is replacing Australian wheat. Wheat-belt seats Australia wide are likely to turn vengeful.

  76. observa
    April 14th, 2006 at 18:10 | #76

    ‘Just one thing here. The money for the oil for food program came from the Iraqi people. The money for the program came from the sale of their oil, held in in escrow, and released to pay for the wheat. The wheat was sent to Iraq to feed a people teetering on the brink of starvation, as a result of the sanctions.
    Now can we be a little honest here and admit that:-’

    Without a sanctions inspectorate and the ability to enforce its rulings, there was no guarantee whatsoever that wheat (along with other food, medicines,etc) would find its way to ‘people teetering on the brink of starvation’. Quite the contrary in a totalitarian state. All the goodies would accrue to the regime to be distributed as they saw fit and we all knew what that meant now didn’t we? Was that what you meant to say str?

  77. observa
    April 14th, 2006 at 19:56 | #77

    Putting the heinous crime of the govt and the AWB into perspective here
    http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.24211,filter.all/pub_detail.asp

    “In 1990, the UN Security Council had imposed sanctions upon Iraq. Those sanctions remained in place after the Gulf War left Saddam in power–and over time, they wrought great hardship upon the Iraqi people. In 1996, the Security Council created a humanitarian program, Oil for Food, that allowed Saddam to sell restricted quantities of oil to buy food and other necessities for the Iraqi people. The UN Secretary General accepted responsibility for overseeing and auditing the program to prevent abuse.

    Over the next seven years, the Secretariat oversaw US$64-billion worth of transactions. The opening of the Iraqi archives after 2003 has revealed where this money went.

    Between US$11-billion and US$17-billion was skimmed off by Saddam personally.

    Money ostensibly spent for food was redirected to buy weapons. Thus, Saddam bought “milk” from a major Chinese weapons manufacturer. He purchased all of Iraq’s supplies of “detergent” from the following list of countries: Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. He claimed to have imported Japanese cars from Russia.

    The UN rarely questioned any of these transactions. Although the UN collected some US$1.4-billion over the life of the program in handling fees, the Oil-for-Food program spent less auditing Saddam’s contracts than it did redecorating its own offices.”

    Hmmm, paid $1.4 billion in handling fees to oversee that the likes of AWB transactions were above board eh? Sounds like the Cole enquiry needs an expansion of its charter here.

  78. April 14th, 2006 at 21:21 | #78

    Terje wrote :

    I may vote liberal at the next election. …

    My point about public opinion was not an attempt to hide. It was merely an observation that this issue will not be very significant when the next election comes around.

    An ‘observation’ or a hope?

    I can’t imagine why any informed and compassionate Australian could even consider voting for a Government which either has to be complicit, in one way or another, in having started the bloody and destructive ongoing conflict in Iraq, or monumentally stupid and incompetent.

    No doubt the Murdoch and Packer media duopoly will also do their utmost to ensure that this issue is far from the minds of electors when they cast their ballots in 2007.

  79. rog
    April 14th, 2006 at 21:48 | #79

    I’ll tell you what will have election consequences,

    1. will Julia Gillard work with Kevin Rudd providing that;
    2. Kevin Rudd is still around

  80. observa
    April 14th, 2006 at 22:25 | #80

    Actually if you can all put your entrenched positions to one side for a moment, I’d suggest that the Iraq experience answers a serious question or two for all of us. Big picture, broad brush focus for a moment folks.

    Recall the moral arguments I raised above surrounding the question- To trade or not to trade with repugnant, totalitarian regimes? I would strongly suggest the Iraq experience shows that it ultimately boils down strictly to one of 1) business as usual OR 2)regime change. Broad economic sanctions(as distinct from say restricting a specific trade like uranium) are not an option and Iraq explains why not. How so? Well after a brief flirtation with full economic sanctions, it became very obvious that the punishment fell most harshly on average Iraqis. Even less economic scraps at the table after the regime rapes and plunders ever harder to maintain its living standards. Now here’s the crucial part that demonstrates how impossible a task we were setting the UN, our govt and the AWBs of this world. To ameliorate the obvious with relaxation of economic sanctions like FFO required two main things. 1) Scrupulous monitoring of every trade to ensure no above market creaming by the regime and 2) Intervention to ensure the benefits of trade were ‘fairly and equitably’ distributed and not coopted by the regime. Ladies and gentlemen that’s the very business of govt and I’d suggest it means economic interference on such a scale as to be virtual regime change. What sort of regime? Well of course the COW had a particular form in mind.

    It seems to me Iraq has answered a conundrum for us all. With totalitarian regimes it is really only a choice of hold your nose and trade, or regime change. With FFO sanctions we were setting up an awful lot of institutions to fail and fail they naturally did. Whether or not the alternative answer of regime change will produce a better outcome than tutt-tutting at Saddam while carrying on business as usual, remains to be seen. For those of you who believe in regime change like the UN in Afghanistan, you need to bear in mind there are cultural hurdles like Iraq
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/HD13Df01.html

  81. Michael H.
    April 15th, 2006 at 00:29 | #81

    Katz, I have to disagree with you for a change.

    I haven’t seen anything, beyond wishful thinking, that suggests JQs thesis is mistaken.

    I’d like you to be right, but…..

    I had a brief exchange over the AWB thing with someone who is pretty solildy pro-Howard. You know, thinks the Govt is doing a good job keeping the evil ‘boat people’ away etc. On AWB it was – ‘yeah they’re lying (Howard et al), but they (politicians) always do, they’ll get away with it’.

    This is a strange kind of feedback loop – the more they lie the less we trust, the less we trust the lower our expectations and the consequences for their lying, so the more they lie……

    The public is developing an increasing immunity to political deception.

    What’s the cure?

  82. observa
    April 15th, 2006 at 02:10 | #82

    “Endless hair-splitting defences of the government’s actions in this matter will emerge from those who have previously made a loud noise about Oil for Food.”
    You’re quite right John that a lot of hair splitting has been going on over Oil for Food when it should have been obvious to all of us that this was a fools errand. For that I unreservedly apologise to the UN for any criticism of it over the program. Essentially the notion that you can punish a totalitarian elite in a command economy, by economic sanctions is nonsensical. With any loss of comparative advantage of trade, they’ll simply squeeze their populace harder until our humanitarian pips squeak, exactly as it did with Iraq. To try and relax that inhumane impact as we tried to do with food, medicines and necessities means taking over total control of the import/export sector to prevent skimming by the regime and further, the fair distribution of said medicines and food, etc to prevent as we saw the hoarding of the same by the Baathist regime. For crying out loud, you’re talking about taking over whole swathes of an economy, which given the runaround with the weapons inspectors, shows how hopelessly optimistic that is. No totalitarian regime will be in that, or more to the point, the resourcing and teeth you’d have to give those entrusted with the task, virtually amounts to regime change anyway. In this respect we sent the UN out with a lousy mission statement, totally unresourced to achieve any hint of a desirable outcome. Basically we sent a walnut to crack a sledgehammer and was it any wonder it came back in pieces? There is no hair splitting over this anymore. Food for Oil was doomed from the very start and all economic sanctions will ever do is punish the already oppressed and downtrodden. Admit it John. With totalitarian command economy states, it’s a limited choice of business as usual or regime change if you can’t stomach the ongoing outcomes any longer. The very notion of punishing Iraq with economic sanctions, was always Western, laissez faire middle class, delusional. As such we shouldn’t blame any of ‘our’ institutions involved, but take a good hard look in the mirror. That’s the lesson of Iraq sanctions. To regime change or not to regime change, that is the question from now on.

  83. observa
    April 15th, 2006 at 02:23 | #83

    That’s why this issue doesn’t bite with the punters, because deep down they understand this intuitively. They don’t need all this intellectual wankery to get there.

  84. Katz
    April 15th, 2006 at 06:41 | #84

    Michael H,

    I was inclined to the Quiggin thesis myself until a week ago.

    I’ve just returned from one of the remoter regions of Victoria after a spot of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’.

    The folks I mixed with are your classic Howard-supporting pragmatists. But they are beginning to turn.

    All anecdotal, but what I heard surprised me a little.

  85. avaroo
    April 15th, 2006 at 08:17 | #85

    “Essentially the notion that you can punish a totalitarian elite in a command economy, by economic sanctions is nonsensical. With any loss of comparative advantage of trade, they’ll simply squeeze their populace harder until our humanitarian pips squeak, exactly as it did with Iraq. ”

    Thanks for putting this so well and so simply. I’s hard to argue with this point.

    “Food for Oil was doomed from the very start and all economic sanctions will ever do is punish the already oppressed and downtrodden. ”

    Is the solution then never to use sanctions or to use them and ignore the consequences for the people who are punished by them which I agree, isn’t the leadership. You make sense when you propose business as usual or regime change.

  86. observa
    April 15th, 2006 at 09:14 | #86

    Well avaroo you’ll notice it’s taken a bit of distillation of the arguments and soul searching for me to come to the only logical conclusion here. Funnily enough the notion that economic sanctions could work against the Taliban in Afghanistan was never even considered and rightly so. It’s as ludicrous a proposition as thinking they would work against Mugabe or the regime in Sudan. The problem stemmed from the default position we found ourself in, with the Hussein regime after hostilities ceased in GW1. Basically we had the regime surrounded and rather than openly admit that we weren’t going to depose Saddam and Co and simply pack up and go home, saying ‘and let that be a lesson to you’, we engaged in feel good, delusional behaviour, namely economic sanctions. The inevitable outcome of that is now one for the historical record books. That is now the fundamental dishonesty of the current self flagellation over FFO sanctions failure in Iraq. We are barking up the wrong tree and must stop it and not indulge ourselves ever again. It is of course the quintessential lesson we take to the Iranian problem now. Economic sanctions can’t work with that regime. What will?

  87. Katz
    April 15th, 2006 at 09:30 | #87

    “To regime change or not to regime change, that is the question from now on.”

    No urgent need to regime change the Bush Clique now. They’re dead, but they haven’t fallen over yet.

    What the Chimp’s string-pullers got so very, very wrong was not whether to regime change, but how to regime change.

    Bush’s puppeteers told a whole lot of porkie pies, pretending to be Chicken Little, claiming nuclear armageddon in 45 minutes unless Saddam was removed instantly.

    Now pause on that thought. It’s embarrassing enough to be Chicken Little, but to pretend to be Chicken Little? Oh the shame!

    Then, having whipped god-fearing gullibles from Walla Walla to Wagga Wagga into a swivet over impending nuclear incineration, Rumsfeld presides over the most ill-begotten military fiasco since the Children’s Crusade.

    Now Rummy’s generals have had enough. Some want out. Others want to shut down America’s malls to remind Americans what freedom is all about.

    We’re getting regime change. The Bush Clique took a bead on the world but shot itself in the foot.

  88. observa
    April 15th, 2006 at 10:28 | #88

    Well if Iraq had something to teach us about economic sanctions, I accept Katz it also has something to teach us about regime change. Clearly the choice of target for regime change is a valid topic for debate , as is the conduct and methods used, once chosen. IMO you won’t be able to debate these issues without some inevitable comparisons and contrasts with other regime change ventures. Iraq and Afghanistan spring logically to the fore here. Now let’s assume both these choices were valid, or perhaps less controversially, what’s chosen is chosen, then what lessons can they teach us about the practical considerations of regime change here and now. Also where to from here with our findings?

  89. observa
    April 15th, 2006 at 11:16 | #89

    Any suggestions as to how wise Democrat and Labour Party govts should approach the task properly the next time Katz?
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060414/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iran_israel

  90. April 15th, 2006 at 13:14 | #90

    Michael H, observa and Katz: my personal view exactly. Intellectual wankery aside, Howard and co simply thought they could get away with it. If the electorate lets them get away with it, there will truly be no stopping them.

    I am also putting some hope in the belief that their miserable response on West Papua will also turn public opinion, even if it’s the lowest-common-denominator analysis that West Papuans aren’t Muslim. I imagine a few ex-WW2 folks, who otherwise might be solidly Liberal, wil gag on the West Papua policy. Hope springs, etc….

  91. April 15th, 2006 at 13:35 | #91

    Get your heads out of the dung pile fellers, no mud has stuck to the federal govt. Despite all the attempts to smear it.

    This is JQ’s original point. Big fella dustcloud & at the end of it, nothing was being obscured.

    Despite this we all know what really happened, and almost nobody apart from the latte class has any objection.

  92. observa
    April 15th, 2006 at 13:54 | #92

    Clear all your fuzzy minds and gird your paunchy loins for the challenge ahead decadent infidels and unbelievers. Militant Islam is on the march and threatening to kick in your rotten door
    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,18819508-401,00.html?from=rss

  93. April 15th, 2006 at 14:56 | #93

    Gosh, gets interesting when these crackpots start believing their own publicity!

  94. observa
    April 15th, 2006 at 15:06 | #94

    Oh they believe alright Steve because they are the children of the Revolution

    “During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small plastic keys from Taiwan. … After Iraq invaded in September 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran’s forces were no match for Saddam Hussein’s professional, well-armed military. To compensate … Khomeini sent Iranian children … to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path with their bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child’s neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them.

    At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. … Such scenes would henceforth be avoided … Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves.”

    These children who rolled to their deaths were part of the Basiji, a mass movement created by Khomeini in 1979 … And yet, today, it is a source not of national shame, but of growing pride. Since the end of hostilities against Iraq in 1988, the Basiji have grown both in numbers and influence. They have been deployed, above all, as a vice squad to enforce religious law in Iran, and their elite “special units” have been used as shock troops against anti-government forces. In both 1999 and 2003, for instance, the Basiji were used to suppress student unrest. And, last year, they formed the potent core of the political base that propelled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad– a man who reportedly served as a Basij instructor during the Iran-Iraq War–to the presidency. … He regularly appears in public wearing a black-and-white Basij scarf, and, in his speeches, he routinely praises “Basij culture” and “Basij power” … A younger generation of Iranians, whose worldviews were forged in the atrocities of the Iran-Iraq War, have come to power, wielding a more fervently ideological approach to politics than their predecessors. The children of the Revolution are now its leaders.”

    (from The New Republic Online via the Belmont Club)

  95. April 15th, 2006 at 19:15 | #95

    Hmm, the sooner we nuke these lunatics the better.

  96. Terje
    April 15th, 2006 at 20:13 | #96

    It seems to me Iraq has answered a conundrum for us all. With totalitarian regimes it is really only a choice of hold your nose and trade, or regime change.

    Observa,

    I tend to agree with you. However it is dependent on governments being practical and honest about the outcomes they are seeking to achieve. If they are merely playing at symbolism to appease a domestic audience then sanctions probably achieve their aim.

    The USA and others are now imposing sanctions on Palestine. I don’t necessarily disagree with the moves to cut of aid to the Hamas controlled PA but trade sanctions will not achieve any meaningful outcomes.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  97. Katz
    April 15th, 2006 at 20:53 | #97

    “Now let’s assume both these choices were valid, or perhaps less controversially, what’s chosen is chosen, then what lessons can they teach us about the practical considerations of regime change here and now. Also where to from here with our findings?”

    1. Sometimes things we don’t like are facts to be lived with rather than problems to be solved.

    2. Sometimes arrogance and ignorance make things worse.

    3. Sometimes intelligent intervention can make things better.

    4. Sometimes things get better all by themselves.

    The first task is to decide which of the above category of problems you are facing. If successful intervention seems possible and necessary, the trick is to follow 3 and not 2.

    Therefore any intelligent regime would seek to cure its ignorance and to monitor its behaviour for any signs of arrogance.

    Now, for the Bush Clique, that would require an almost complete overhaul of its operating principles and premises. The Bush Clique wouldn’t look like the Bush Clique.

    The most important limiting factor for US-led regime change is the US political cycle. Americans don’t have the stomach for the messy garrison duty that is required for the Reconstruction Phase. As I recall saying years ago, they even shirked Reconstruction after their own Civil War. This is a long-term cultural issue that appears to be a fact to be lived with.

    The resolve of the US populace, always an uncertain quantity, can only be undermined by suspicions of dishonesty of the Administration. The classic example of this impulse is the interwar isolationist movement which was driven by suspicions that the Wilson administration was the tool of finance capital in its prosecution of war and peace during and after the Great War. This popular resentment was based on very little solid evidence of lying and dishonesty. Contrast that with the barefaced mendacity of the Bush Clique. This suspcion and resentment also is a long-term cultural issue that appears to be a fact to be lived with.

    Thus the US must seek reliable surrogates to do the garrison work for them. Unfortunately, US arrogance makes enemies when sensitivity could be making friends. Is this another fact to be lived with? Don’t know.

    Another limiting factor that I have alluded to before is the extraordinary potency of urban guerrilla warfare theory and practice. Unless the subject populace is actively supportive of US aims and ambitions, the insurgency will always win in a country the size of Iraq, or larger.

    So, Observa, before looking outwards for conditions conducive to regime change, it is important not to assume that the US is a rational, maximising agent of influence in the world. To assume otherwise is to set one’s self up for severe disappointment and serious failure.

  98. Katz
    April 16th, 2006 at 08:00 | #98

    “Any suggestions as to how wise Democrat and Labour Party govts should approach the task properly the next time Katz?”

    Well, Observa, not only the ALP and the (US) Democrats may profit from the following advice.

    My advice would beg with: Don’t tell naked lies

    Look at the dire effects of being caught telling lies. Future democratic regimes might start by telling the truth.

    Presumably the “next time” you refer to may well involve Iran.

    Here is the verdict of an actual expert on Iran’s nuclear program:

    http://www.kyivpost.com/bn/24251/

    Apr 13 2006, 20:05

    MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s nuclear chief said Thursday that Iran is far from being capable of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, the Interfax news agency reported.

    Russian Federal Nuclear Energy Agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko said the enrichment facility in the Iranian city of Natanz, equipped with 164 gas centrifuges, could not produce any significant amount of enriched uranium, which can be used to fuel power plants or produce atomic weapons.

    “These centrifuges allow Iran to conduct laboratory uranium enrichment to a low level in insignificant amounts,” Kiriyenko was quoted as saying. “The acquisition of highly enriched uranium is unfeasible today using this method.”

    Now don’t get me wrong. I believe any extension of nuclear capability to be a Bad Thing, especially in the hands of a fanatical theocracy with messianic tendencies.

    But is Iran’s small achievement any more threatening than developments in (say) their information technology capabilities? Are either developments grounds for preventative war, even if preventative war might permanently deny Iran the capability of developing its nuclear or IT industries?

    And remember Observa, the record of bungling in Iraq suggests that this last if is a very big if indeed.

    Of much more concern is the looming possibility that Pakistan, already well furnished with a nuclear capability, may succumb to Islamist control. If that happens then Bush’s naked bullying of Pakistan must share some of the blame.

    Pakistan is really the important “next time” ignored by Bush apologists. Right now democratic regimes should be making life as happy as possible for the restive proto-Islamist masses of the only Islamic nuclear power. This would cost some money, but probably much than has been squandered in Iraq, and much, much less than may well be squandered over and in Iran.

  99. Ian Gould
    April 16th, 2006 at 10:40 | #99

    >Well avaroo you’ll notice it’s taken a bit of distillation of the arguments and soul searching for me to come to the only logical conclusion here.

    How convenient that all this heartfelt labor ended with the astonishing realisation that your original position in support of invading Iraq was correct.

  100. Ian Gould
    April 16th, 2006 at 10:41 | #100

    “Hmm, the sooner we nuke these lunatics the better.”

    Yes, because the last thing the world needs is extremists who want to use nuclear weapons.

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