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Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2003 / 3 Adar I, 5763

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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France: Saddam's ally | Critics of President Bush say he has failed to rally our "traditional allies" - like France - to support his aggressive efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein. But since the Gulf War, in which France had token involvement, Paris has never been our ally where Iraq is concerned. Indeed, it has been more allied with Iraq than with us.

Throughout the '90s, France constantly pushed for the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq. Bemoaning the fate of the Iraqi people, the French pushed to allow Saddam to sell oil on the global market (the so-called oil-for-food program). When America and Britain demanded tough controls on the funds from oil sales to be sure they did not go for arms, France objected that such controls would undermine Iraqi sovereignty.

Largely as a result of French pressure, the oil-for-food program was implemented, allowing Saddam to sell 500,000 barrels per day on the open market (about a sixth of his pre-war production).

But Saddam couldn't do much rearming with the oil money, because U.N. inspectors were looking over his shoulder. So in November 1997, he announced that he would bar Americans from the 77-member inspection team. The other inspectors withdrew in protest and solidarity with their American mates. The world was plunged into crisis. Once again, France took Saddam's side.

President Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carriers to the gulf and vowed that Saddam "must comply unconditionally with the will of the international community." French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine criticized Clinton for giving Saddam the impression that "there would never be a way out of the tunnel [of sanctions]," even if he got rid of all his weapons programs."

France demanded an end to all sanctions and called for unlimited oil sales by Iraq. Then suddenly Saddam seemed to back down in the face of Clinton's pressure and admitted the U.S. inspectors back in.

Had there been concessions to Saddam? Oh no, said Deputy National Security Adviser Sandy Berger: "There's no deal. There's no concessions."

But the French knew better. As Vedrine said, "The Americans bent a little." Pushed by France, the United States agreed to let Saddam increase his oil sales, ultimately letting sales grow to 2 million barrels per day. A concession to Iraq? No way, said Clinton's people: It was a concession to France; we were not giving in to Saddam.

Then, the next year, Saddam barred all U.N. inspectors. The final nail in the coffin of controls on Iraq came in 1999 when, again as a result of a French initiative, all limits on Iraqi oil sales were lifted. With no U.N. inspectors to inhibit him and $20 million a day in oil revenues, Saddam could build whatever weapons he wanted. Courtesy of France.

The only consistency in French policy toward Iraq since the Gulf War has been support for Saddam Hussein to weaken U.N. and U.S. measures against him. To hinge U.S. action on Iraq on French acceptance is like asking for the approval of the old Soviet Union before we moved against communism.

Why is France so pro-Saddam? It's the motive (wrongly) ascribed as behind U.S. enmity toward him: oil. French commercial deals with Middle East terrorist states dominate its foreign policy. It was a French company that risked U.S. sanctions by investing in Iranian oil production and it is French interests that benefit from the tie with Saddam.

Some ally!

Eventually, France will cave to the U.S. position: To fail to do so would be to consign the Security Council, France's only forum for the exercise of global power, to irrelevance. Bush's people said as much over the weekend, noting that a new U.N. resolution approving force was OK with them, but it's not high on their agenda.

France needs the United Nations to appear to be in charge, so that the French veto can appear to be important - and France can appear to still be a world power.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Dick Morris