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Tuesday, February 25, 2003
More on Iraq

You know what opinions are like -- everyone has one, and they all stink. So here's mine. I've been trying to figure out what the French are up to in this whole mess. Their fight to keep the US out of Iraq and Saddam away from the hangman has gone on long past the point where they could win, and yet they persist. Chirac has the reputation of a blunderer, but he doesn't seem to be alone in his position. Clearly there is some desire to keep the "hyper-puissance" of the US under some control. (Can we start calling France a hyper-pissant?) No French politician ever got turned out of office for ticking off the Americans. Going up against the US is also a way of emphasizing that Europe is going its own way -- with France leading, of course.

As we have heard so many times in the past, though, this time it's different. The US suffered its first foreign attack on its home soil since the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. For all the media bleating about "nervous" America, I'm hearing more anger. Immediately after hearing about Pearl Harbor, Churchill shook his head at what was clearly a Japanese misreading of our character: "I know the Americans, and it is much easier to infuriate them than to cow them." Bush has made it clear that no matter what hoops he has to jump through, Saddam is a dead man. So why not embrace the inevitable and get a share of the loot? Some have hinted that maybe the French and Germans have been dealing weapons to Iraq on the sly. Certainly they did so in the past. The Osirak nuclear facility that the Israelis destroyed in the 1980's was built by the French, and it can't have been a surprise to them that it would be used for producing atomic weapons materials. There was a "rogue" German company found guilty of selling chemical weapons equipment in the early 1990's, which earned the firm's president a staggering fine -- of some $30,000 US. But are they stupid enough to do the same thing twice? Even if they were, would they be stupid enough to make their dirty deeds traceable? I doubt it on both counts.

Here is my guess: The sanctions regime has not hurt Saddam and his inner circle. Far from it. Iraq never fully participated in the oil-for-food clause in the sanctions. Starving and suffering make great propaganda, as long as someone else is doing it. Saddam has been involved in smuggling Iraqi oil out and consumer goods into Iraq and has reportedly amassed a large fortune since 1991. A continuation of the "containment" idea would have its attractions. Saddam couldn't keep up his profiteering without some help from both inside and outside Iraq. Remember that Total-Fina-Elf is a huge producer of Iraqi oil. If they were producing much more than the sanctions can account for, be sure the Chirac government would know. It could not continue without a wink from Paris. An arrangement like this, being corrupt in origin, might be corrupt in its other manifestations. Who benefits? Well, after the invasion, maybe we'll find out.

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