Faced with documentary evidence that the Australian Ambassador to the UN, John Dauth, told AWB chairman Trevor Flugge of the Iraq invasion a year in advance, correctly observing that even if weapons inspectors were readmitted this would only produce a brief delay, DFAT’s response is to say that it was just a lucky guess. This line has been swallowed with enthusiasm by JF Beck and, in comments here, by Currency Lad.

If this is an example of Dauth’s unaided powers of prediction, it’s a pity no-one asked him what would happen after the invasion.

35 thoughts on “Precognition

  1. That’s a bit harsh JQ.

    Surely a man of Dauth’s clairvoyance made many predictions about a wide range of important topics, from racing tips to the location of the Beaumont children.

    All his RWDB supporters need to do is to collect them and to publish them. Then this little muddle can be put in its proper perspective.

    But on a more prosaic note: is it recorded anywhere that AWB got the promised heads-up before the balloon went up?

    Who else outside government got it?

    If AWB were the only beneficiaries of this government largesse, why?

  2. Disgraceful blogging. This is intellectual dishonesty on a grand scale. No one has ever suggested that it was a ‘lucky guess’. It was, however, the informed view of an Australian ambassador with signifcant experience. If I could find 5 non-DFAT-bureaucrats who shared Dauth’s view as of 1 March 2002, would you acknowledge this emerging conspiracy theory as absolute rubbish?


  3. You cannot deny that DFAT’s statement that their ambassador’s advice was “merely a personal judgement” is a way of downplaying its importance.

    Why do they want to do this? The only conspiracy theory I read out of this is that a) DFAT really want to distance itself from the AWB, and b) may not be keen on the advice of their ambassador being used to indicate just how stupid the AWB was to continue blithely forwards.

    Is this “intellectual dishonesty on a grand scale”?

  4. Everyone was talking about the idea that the Bush White House was no longer impressed with the “weapons inspection” game and would prefer to act against Saddam definitively. Indeed, this was central to much analysis of the “neo-conservative” worldview. It was part of political discourse throughout 2002. Given that Bob Hawke had participated in the failed “realist” school’s Gulf War in 1991, predicting Howard’s support for a Republican President’s war policy on Iraq in 2003 was a no brainer. Ergo: dozens of commentators were all in on Ratty’s conspiracy!

  5. I agree with C.L. and BBBS. This is a conspiracy theory that is based on hunches that are most implausible. The notion that Dauth would preannounce the Australian and US Government’s intention to invade Iraq based on insider information about a secret US-Australian understanding sounds implausible compared to the notion that Dauth made a reasoned assessment of what might happen at that time.

  6. So BBB, CL and HC await factual confirmation of conspiracy.

    Nothing wrong with that.

    In the reality based community, hypotheses are generated on the bases of hunches and indications. They are then proven or disproven on the basis of evidence.

    And this is precisely what the House and Senate Agricultural Committee Chairmen have promised to do in regard to AWB. These gentlemen now know what AWB knew in February 2002 — that war with Iraq was being planned actively. And they know how they knew it — John Dauth told them.

    Now it is clear that John Dauth in his briefing of AWB in February 2002 was talking primarily about the intentions of the US government. He may well have guessed accurately about Ratty’s reflex compliance. As even RWDBs admit, Ratty’s compliance was a no-brainer.

    But Dauth’s story is potentially much bigger than Ratty’s role. It’s about the flow of information from sources inside the US Government to an Australian ambassador.

    Armed with their subpoena powers, these diligent Agriculture Committees can quiz every potential source of a leak from the US government to the representative of the Australian government (John Dauth, or whoever it may have been higher up in the Australian government who informed John Dauth.)

    Now, even RWDBs would have to admit that if it is proven that this information was leaked from a US official to John Dauth or someone else in the Australian government before the AWB briefing, this vitiates the “good guess defence”.

    And if this is true, then everyone in the Australian government who has suggested that John Dauth simply made a good guess is a liar.

    Now why should these Democrat-controlled Agriculture Committees be so diligent in their subpoena-powered enquiries?

    1. It’s open season on Lame Duck Bush. This is a harsh fact of US political life.

    2. US voters and farmers are inclined to be very irritated that US information is used to aid a foreign, monopolistic competitor to steal the food from their families’ mouths.

    3. The money that AWB swindled from the Oil-for-Food Program was and probably still is used to buy weapons to kill US servicemen.

    In all, these are very potent drivers indeed.

    If I were an Australian official “in the loop” with any understanding of the US political process, I would be making plans about divulging what my political masters told me about US military planning from US sources well before my political masters designate me as the convenient scapegoat for this sorry escapade.

  7. The long lead time of the ambassador prediction intrigues me.

    A few months before the invasion it was quite clear to people with their eyes open that Iraq was going to be invaded no matter what happened. That clarity, however, was based on interpreting events and the American reaction to those events that all took place after the ambassadors prediction.

    That leaves me wondering what sort of information the ambassador based his prediction on, as it clearly was not public at the time. He either had a good understanding of the Bush administration much earlier than most people, in which case he deserves some credit. Or he was given something specific that had alot credibility that said Bush’s mind was made up. I have always assumed that Australia is not considered highly enough by the Americans to be worthy of being given specific information about the decision to invade Iraq, but perhaps I am wrong.

    In any case, its a very speculative question so talking about it is not very informative but its certainly fun.

  8. For what it’s worth, I checked back on the Tradesports “Saddam Securities” markets. They opened in September 2002 with odds implying a 75% chance that Saddam would be removed by 1 June 2003. My recollection from “Bush at War” is that it had Powell still arguing with the Bush in August 2002.

  9. The delicious irony is that Katz believes – as does John and many in the lame-duck Democrat Congress – that sanctions and their attendant pathologies should have continued ad infinitum.

    They’d already killed half a million children – a small price to pay according to the moral heroes and chicken-hawks of the “reality-based community”.

  10. “the lame-duck Democrat Congress”

    Huh? That doesn’t even make good nonsense.

    Can’t you think of a better push-back than that?

    Oh, dear, poor RWDBs. Will their troubles ever end?

  11. I see both CL and Harry have a very naive view of what UN ambassadors behave.
    They do not make predictions. They do tell people of government policy.

  12. Homer signs on to the conspiracy theory. This is how they grow!

    Such a shame the “landslide” Democrat Congress won’t be impeaching anybody for a sanctions policy that anti-war critics wanted to continue for many years.

    Arab Jack Murtha and Greedy Al Hastings must be very disappointed.

  13. Whether it is a conspiracy or not misses another point, one which for all his admirable steadfastedness Currency Lad appears not to accept. That our current government has taken deceit and underhandedness to extraordinarily low levels has taken many in Australia as a natural matter of course into realms of suspicion and distrust towards it. That’s a fact – that there is an extraordinarily high level of cynicism towards it. Howsoever the cause may be debated, that fact remains.

    CL and Harry may well be right about the facts of this particular AWB issue. Perhaps we’ll never know. But if there’s some ground CL may wish to concede, would it be that the government he applauds is facing very considerable levels of distrust? This is not to say these levels are accorded this government only; others have on occasion as well. Perhaps there is some value in obtaining agreement (or disagreement) on those grounds as comments continue on issues such as this.

  14. I knew exactly what the domestic response would be after the invasion of Iraq but presumed that the Coalition leadership had been sufficiently competent to formulate and fully resource a plan for ‘winning the peace’, with emphasis on the inevitable necessity for political and infrastructure reconstruction, drawing on the extensive experience lodged in the Allied archives following the World War 2 defeat and reconstruction of the Axis.

    It was even clearer what was coming when the ‘Coalition’ forces invaded with a minimum of resistance and with no sign whatsoever of the putative 30,000 Republican Guard, presumably heavily armed and with a detailed plan for a Vietcong-inspired guerilla resistance war using hundreds or thousands of weapons caches hidden in tactically advantageous locations around the country. Quite obviously, some of the tortured bodies that have been turning up in Baghdad streets, sometimes dozens at a time, have been members of the (presumably largely Sunni or secular Muslim) Republican Guard captured and executed by Shi’ite militias.

    As foolish as the Bush military approach, as executed by Rumsfeld, has been (for one thing, he didn’t follow the winning Powell Doctrine), there now seems no other option in the middle east but the military one if the mad mullahs (ie, the fundamentalist Muslims, as distinct from moderate ones) are to be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons through their strong influence in Iranian politics. It’s dangerous enough that Pakistan is nuclear. We need to do everything we can to keep moderates in power there.

    And we need to do everything we can to get the future world leaders, China and India on board with these policies. Perhaps the Chinese are hoping the mad Muslims will drain Western resources to the point of collapse, as the Afghanis did to the Soviet Union, thereby hastening China’s rise to dominance. If so then it’s a mistake, since once the West is disposed of, who do the Chinese think the ‘enlightened’ advocates of Shariah law are going to turn their attentions to?

  15. Unfortunately CL doesn’t understand public servants do not make lucky guesses.

    Remember what AWB was up to and how important this information was.
    AWB needed to know what was happening re-Iraq. They asked Dauth and Flugge thought is so important he made a note of it.
    Remember he does nor say Dauth was making a prescient indication of what may happened but what would happen.

    Howard nailed again. He can lie straight in bed which is why this government like the rest of the Governments around Australia need to go.

  16. “half a million children – a small price to pay according to the moral heroes and chicken-hawks of the “reality-based communityâ€?.”

    CL, I’ve seen you put this forward many times, but someone’s going to have to tell you – the sanctions were the US’s idea. The left didn’t want them, and argued against them. The only good thing about them was that it kept Hussein impotent in regards to being a threat to other countries.

    The whole rationale of the sanctions (Saddam is a bad man, therefore we should punish Iraqis in general until they overthrow him) can be summed up by Sheriff Nottingham: “Wait a minute. Robin Hood steals money from my pocket, forcing me to hurt the public, and they love him for it? That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas.”

    Besides, didn’t I see a post of yours ages ago saying that the 500,000 figure was inflated? Correct me if I’m wrong.

  17. Cheers, Currency Lad. May I share something personal? It is that passion walks hand in hand with pain; and one may come to the fore from time to time. Hard to embrace one when the other is at hold already. I believe you know all that and much more besides. Go get ’em mate. Let me not diminish either by invoking mention of your rugby countenance. (I’ve not yet met a beautiful flanker who’s lost a game, nor a point, nor given ground, alone).

    Though for what it’s worth: there may be no occasion to give ground but to enjoy something of it being shared – perhaps there is mention also in karate which speaks of indomitable spirit?

    Again, personally: in the end the most important thing is to express, and that there’s time within which it all plays out.

  18. Fatty, I’m prima facie suspicious of all big rounded death tolls but, unusually, the 500,000 figure was one to which Madeleine Albright herself gave credence in an official capacity. (I am, of course, aware that the sanctions were not the instrument of the US State Department. “Someone” doesn’t have to tell me anything). Halve the number (and halve it again) and the moral argument doesn’t change: namely, Saddam wasn’t being contained and the internationalist solution to the problem of Iraq had already proved utterly disastrous by the end of the last century. Furthermore, it is no exaggeration to say that – broadly speaking – the left’s orientation to the problem of Iraq was to continue with sanctions and “containment”. This dualistic policy was not successful, was extremely expensive in terms of lives lost and was impossible to sustain. My criticism (and denigration) of most of those who assume the moral high ground because they opposed a radical shift in policy on Iraq stands.

    Robert, I’m not particularly a fanatical admirer of John Howard – he’s not really from my side of the cultural street. Very few of his colleagues are. Nor have I have been backward about advocating the resignation of a minister in this Federal government. I wrote more than once about how Amanda Vanstone should have resigned and I have criticised both Howard and Downer on West Papua several times. You talk about mistrust. The figures that I see continue to demonstrate that people trust John Howard with the prime ministership more than his opposite number – a situation he has sustained over ten years against four different Labor leaders.

    The bottom line on AWB is that the government is not and was not responsible for the illegal and immoral conduct of AWB. It was always my impression – having watched the government’s principals from the outset (and I do mean watch them: body language, confidence responding to Parliamentary interrogations etc) – that nobody in the government was ever worried by the prospect of being found to have done anything illegal or knowingly improper regarding AWB. Furthermore, Commissioner Cole made clear that he would ask for the requisite powers to faciliate an extension of his investigations to criminal conduct by ministers. The Royal Commission was not “rorted” and there was no fix. What happened was that a lot of silly people desperately wanted ministerial resignations and the implosion of the Howard government over AWB. It didn’t happen and now they’re disappointed. In any case, the report’s reception and assimilation are yet to be fully played out. John would be better advised to wait a week, give up on these trivial, ill-considered posts and write something more worthy of his intellectual abilities on the subject. A dopey conspiracy theory about an ambassador stating the bleedingly obvious in 2002 is – or should be, for him – infra dig.

  19. Thanks CL. I can’t comment on this AWB call because I don’t know enough about it. There’s a test, though, which I’ve been attempting to apply to a current government and it goes along the lines of this: were I in support of the government how much would I forgive them erring given the difficult nature of governing so it may get on with governing, or, were something more to my liking in government how much would I forgive them same.

    I’ve enjoyed very much your openness here, and the manner of your writing just now. Thanks again. You may be aware I’m not a supporter of this current government, and very often have fallen towards anger for much of what I’ve seen it do. However, the hardest part of all of being a non supporter of current policy is that there is no alternative. That’s a killer, and, yes, causes considerable pain. So much of all our punditry poor debate is born of that. Sadly, it’s not healthy, either, for a government for that to be so. We’re all at a loss because of it.

    For what it’s worth on this AWB issue overall: this one falls into my category of: yep, it weren’t pretty but it weren’t ever going to be, so let the government get on with it.

    Other things this mob (sorry) does are more important. Have a great day mate. Never a dull moment, at least.

  20. “It was always my impression – having watched the government’s principals from the outset (and I do mean watch them: body language, confidence responding to Parliamentary interrogations etc) – that nobody in the government was ever worried by the prospect of being found to have done anything illegal or knowingly improper regarding AWB…. What happened was that a lot of silly people desperately wanted ministerial resignations and the implosion of the Howard government over AWB. It didn’t happen and now they’re disappointed.”

    As I’ve pointed out on several occasions, I shared their confidence and predicted from the start there would be no finding of guilt and no ministerial resignations.

    But the government’s own account of its performance implies a degree of naivete/laziness that would disqualify all the relevant ministers (Downer, Vaile and Howard himself) from holding office at any level. The alternative view, which I prefer, is that the firewalls the government has constructed are such that the public service (including AWB) will do what is required of it in cases of this kind, without any explicit orders, and will ensure that compromising information is never transmitted directly to ministers.

    Since your still carrying on the argument CL do you claim that Downer and Vaile
    (i) acted competently and honestly;
    (ii) ensured that sought appropriate information when they were told of AWBs criminality; and
    (ii) nevertheless believed that AWB was innocent of the charges against it?

    Even the government’s media supporters have balked at (i).

  21. (Let me qualify if I may the it that weren’t pretty: selling wheat to Iraq in the first place).

  22. No Steve, more the nature of it. Hard to imagine it would have been anything but a bit shoddy, at least. Not to be condoned, but what to do?

  23. You rather sum up the national attitude Robert. Very few see the successful selling of wheat (to a longstanding customer) as a crime.

    More serious would have been allowing the USA, who has always coveted our wheat markets, to sell to Iraq.

    I note the report throws plenty of blame onto the U.N. (it was the body which approved every AWB contract, having supposedly ensured all was above board).

    All we have done by having an enquiry, is to give the (bloated & highly subsidised) US farm lobby a free kick at our export markets.

  24. actually, CL, in one sense of the word the government is responsible for the actions of AWB – or indeed any other Australian nationals – in relation to breaches of sanctions, under the UN Security Council resolutions (where governments were obliged to ensure compliance); but I guess you’re using ‘responsible’ in effect to mean “did not instruct or knowingly allow AWB to make the payments” – which on the information available to us, seems to be the case. However, and a more worrying aspect of the affair, is that government was alerted to the claims that AWB was paying kickbacks (see eg 2001 cables from Bronte Moules, DFAT officer at the UN, tendered in evidence to the Cole Inquiry) but chose to believe AWB’s denials rather than investigate further.

    satp, what international treaty made these “our” markets? Australia has no exclusive rights to sell wheat to Iraq or any other country; wheat is a globally traded commodity, and markets are up for grabs to whoever is the cheapest/most reliable/highest quality seller. the knee-jerk anti-Americanism that says the USA “has always coveted our wheat markets” is just not applicable here anyway; when the AWB kickbacks began the Saddam Hussein regime (which owned the Iraqi grain buying company) for obvious reasons was never going to buy wheat from the US if it could help it: relations between Iraq and the USA you may recall were not at their most cordial ebb in 1999. the competitor for that market in 1999 would more likely have been Canada – which declined to pay kickbacks. And the crime was not the selling of the wheat – the crime was paying kickbacks via a front company (Alia) for non-existent trucking services, money that found its way direct to the Saddam Hussein government in defiance of an international sanctions regime. Leaving aside the question of the desirability or otherwise of the sanctions, the fact is that Australia had signed up to the sanctions originally and to the rules of the oil for food program that followed later, and AWB deliberately sought to subvert them. Nothing wrong with selling wheat to Iraq, particularly at a time when there was real suffering in the country due to the effect of the sanctions regime over the preceding 8 years; but lots wrong with paying kickbacks. If AWB had not paid kickbacks, Iraq would still have had to find wheat from somewhere, and the issue would not have arisen – wheat imports could have been, like most (not all) of the rest of the Oil for Food program, paid for legitimately. A really unfortunate aspect of the whole affair is that kickbacks may have been unnecessary to secure AWB the 1999-2003 Iraq wheat sales anyway: it could well have won oil-for-food contracts just on price and quality, without the illicit payments – but we’ll never know, because AWB chose to make them.

  25. If AWB had not paid kickbacks, Iraq would still have had to find wheat from somewhere, and the issue would not have arisen – wheat imports could have been, like most (not all) of the rest of the Oil for Food program, paid for legitimately.

    Stephen, if this was the case, and by the surety of it includes the inference top dollar would have been obtained, why were the kickbacks paid?

  26. Dear Robert

    two answers: 1) we might not have got absolute top dollar – AWB could have had to take a slightly lower price. But AWB would not have had to go too absurdly low because wheat prices are set largely by world markets, and depend more on volumes than anything else. they are especially sensitive to weather conditions in north america, given US and Canada together supply around half the world’s export wheat. So short term, it could have resulted in a slightly lower return in the wheat pools in those particular years; however, I’d suggest that this is very short term thinking given the much bigger hit graingrowers are now taking in terms of the value of any AWB shares they may hold and the fact that AWB is losing ground in lots of markets including Iraq due to the fact it decided to pay kickbacks
    2) chances are some of the people involved suffered from one or other of laziness (we know Iraq, easier to supply to our existing customer than find a new one); paranoia (if we don’t hang on to this market at all costs, the dastardly US wheat sellers will do us in); and stupidity (what were AWB operatives thinking – that kickbacks to a regime in the international spotlight like Saddam Hussein’s would never come to light? madness!). But we’ll know more when the Cole Inquiry comes out this afternoon.

  27. Thanks for replying, Stephen, and taken on board. I am struck particularly by the salient point that to get busted for paying kickbacks is going to hurt future deals. (Assuming that these were considered fairly certain?). Further, am tempted to wonder if there were not some personal gains obtained somewhere, as well.

  28. Oh well, at least we have had an inquiry
    “The OECD said the file search was not a sufficient investigation, but reserved its greatest criticism for police and other law enforcement bodies for failing to seek more information from the IIC.
    It said the police should have been aware of the allegations involving New Zealand companies as they were widely publicised.
    Police asked for the IIC file on the Vietnamese company last month – after the OECD examiners had visited and raised concerns about the lack of action.� 14th Nov 2006

    “An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report this week criticised some aspects of New Zealand’s implementation of measures combatting bribery.
    It said a Vietnamese company “identified in the Volcker report as having supplied products under contracts that allegedly involved illicit funds transfers to the Iraqi regime” was sold much of that product by a major NZ company.
    The OECD examiners said they were concerned about the lack of any law enforcement investigation in New Zealand of such allegations.
    “The presence of an intervening purchaser is not sufficient. . . to exclude the appropriateness of consideration of an investigation of alleged kickbacks with regard to millions of dollars of possible indirect sales”.
    They recommended the Government take necessary steps to ensure that all credible foreign bribery allegations were investigated.
    The OECD report noted the only investigation so far had been a review of files within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but said evidence of bribery would not be likely to be found in those files.� 16th Nov 2006 Rural Inquiry
    Removed url

  29. I see that The Australian newspaper is trying, once again, to put on a good pretence of being a fierce and independent critic of the Howard Government in its editorial of 28 November “Cole shows depth of AWB deceit”:

    “While Mr Cole has made no adverse findings against senior ministers or their departments, the Government does not escape scott-free. The Government was too willing to accept false assurances despite the wealth of evidence presented to it to the contrary. …

    “… the Government got 35 sets of warnings over a five-year period that AWB was up to no good. The first warning came in 1998 when intelligence documents were distributed to DFAT, the Defence Department and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet indicating that Alia Corporation was part-owned by the Iraqi government and involved in circumventing UN sanctions on its behalf. In January 2000, …

    “While the most senior ministers and government officials, including Mr Howard and Mr Downer, gave evidence to the Cole commission, there are still questions about how deep it was able to probe their involvement, knowledge and competence. …

    “The Government’s failure to properly understand the warnings about AWB or act is a national embarrassment that undermines Australia’s longstanding reputation as an honest broker for the cause of free world trade. …

    “… a large part of the Howard Government’s public justification was the need to remove the Saddam regime to lift 10 years of UN sanctions. In hindsight, it is hard not to conclude the Howard Government was acting with extreme hypocrisy.”

    Whilst many could regard this as rather tame criticism in the circumstances, it will, nevertheless, be interesting to see how much of this The Australian will choose to remind its readers of in the last days before the coming elections in 2007. More likely it will have been swept under the carpet just as much as The Australian’s editorial which called Howard a liar over the Scrafton revelations was in the final days before the 2004 elections.

    The Editorial urged

    “From here, it is important that the Cole recommendations be adopted and that Australia make good on its free trade principles and abolish the single-desk selling arrangements that give AWB a monopoly over Australian wheat(my emphasis).”

    Why it necessarily follows from the inquiry report that the AWB monopoly over Australian wheat must be abolished is not explained. As far as I can tell, that was not one of the recommendations of the inquiry although it has been a barrow that the Murdoch newspaper group has been pushing almost since the AWB scandal first broke. Only in Monday’s Australian there was a story of a South Australian farmer’s plea to maintain the AWB monopoly as it had served to stop farmers from being exploited by unscrupulous traders, but of course this has been completely overlooked by this editorial writer.

    Anyone who may be interested in how farmers are completely screwed when bodies like the AWB don’t exist should read Diet For a Dead Planet by Christopher Cook which discuss the whole agricultural, food manufacturing and food distribution system in the US.

  30. In today’s Australian, no doubt under an edict from Uncle Rupert, in order to correct any false impression that wheat farmers may stand to lose if the AWB monopoly were to be broken, as a story in yesterday’s Australian may suggest, there is a story in today’s Australian on page 11 “More farmers want to see end of wheat monopoly”. Above that is a story “PM pushes for review of single desk.” (Can’t spot these stories on the web.) No doubt if John Howard carries through with his plans to abolish the single desk, or at least makes a decent attempt, the Australian will be telling its readers by the time the 2007 elections come around that John Howard will have sufficiently absolved his Government from the AWB fiasco, sufficiently to warrant giving it a fifth term in office.

  31. Wonder what Currency Lad thought of Downer’s body language and confidence responding to questions last night on The 7.30 Report.

  32. I loved the question Kim Beazley put to John Howard in Parliament as reported on the ABC Radio News just now:

    “Why are you proud of being incompetent and not a criminal?”

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