Jewish World Review March 31, 2003 / 27 Adar II, 5763

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United States must seriously review foreign economic and political relationships | It is time that the United States seriously review its economic and political relationships not only with France and Germany, but also with the United Nations itself.

Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder are emblems of the old Europe and have done incalculable damage not only to their respective relationships with the United States, but also to an institution that can hardly afford further assault, the United Nations.

American public support for President Bush and the war against Saddam Hussein continues to grow - and with it grows public outrage against France for its irresponsible opposition to coalition efforts to liberate Iraq.

Chirac's recklessness could have severe geopolitical and economic repercussions. France's economy is now growing at its slowest rate in six years, and its unemployment rate now approaches 10 percent -, hardly the picture of economic health. The French sell us almost $10 billion more in products than they buy from us, and that $10 billion is now threatened by American consumers who are fed up with France's callow opposition to U.S. policy and its de facto embrace of Saddam Hussein's regime of terror and oppression.

There are already signs that France may be feeling the pressure. French wine sales in the United States have slowed. Distributors on both the East Coast and West Coast report that sales are down roughly 8 percent in the past month. Last week, the French Tourism Ministry said tourist bookings have fallen 15 percent to 25 percent since the start of the war in Iraq. The number of American tourists in France fell 18 percent last year - a trend that French officials said has continued this year. And earlier this month, the state of Montana's pension funds sold off $15 million in French holdings because of concern about French dealings in Iraq and concern about a backlash against French companies.

The business ties between France and Iraq have indeed been considerable and complex. France has exported $3.5 billion in goods to Iraq since sanctions were eased in 1996, according to a September 2002 report commissioned by the French Parliament.

But France hasn't been the only one benefiting from Baghdad. So has the United Nations, through its oil-for-food program, which has effectively put tens of millions of dollars in the hands of Saddam Hussein over the past several years.

The U.N.'s oil-for-food program now supports a massive bureaucracy of 4,000 workers and is sitting on an $8 billion escrow account from the sale of Iraqi oil. Only after President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly chastised the U.N. did it begin the process of freeing up that money so it could be used for the people who deserve it: the people of Iraq.

Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chirac, Schroeder and Russia's Vladimir Putin had worked to use that money intended for the Iraqi people as a lever against U.S. and British policy in Iraq.

The president's call for resumption of the oil-for-food program for humanitarian reasons is entirely appropriate. It's a mistake to continue the program beyond two or three months while permitting the U.N. to fly the blue and white flag over the Iraqi humanitarian relief effort. The red, white and blue of the United States and Britain should fly over that effort to rid the region of the false impression that our flags are only battle standards and that the U.N. flag is the future.

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Lou Dobbs is the anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Comment by clicking here.

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