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Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2003 / 19 Adar I, 5763

John H. Fund

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Consumer Reports

Unmitigated Gaul: Saddam isn't the only dictator with whom Jacques Chirac is cozy | A restaurant in Beaufort, N.C., has stopped serving french fries--or at least calling them that. "We now serve freedom fries," says owner Neal Rowland. His move recalls American anger at Germany during World War I. Back then familiar German foods such as frankfurters and sauerkraut were rechristened hot dogs and liberty cabbage.

Polls show a full one-third of Americans now hold hostile views toward France, largely as a result of its government's refusal to enforce the U.N. resolutions calling on Iraq to disarm and otherwise comply with the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire. Just three months ago, France joined a unanimous Security Council in warning Iraq of "serious consequences" if it failed to take a "final opportunity" to comply "immediately."

But the U.S. isn't the only country peeved at France. On Monday, President Jacques Chirac angered many leaders at a meeting of the European Union when he lashed out at Eastern European countries that have backed the U.S. Their support of America "is not well-brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet," he sniffed.

Noting that the Eastern European nations are candidates for admission into the European Union, Mr. Chirac engaged in a bit of public blackmail. "I felt they acted frivolously because entry into the European Union implies a minimum of understanding for the others," he said. "Romania and Bulgaria were particularly irresponsible . . . when their position is really delicate. If they wanted to diminish their chances of joining Europe, they could not have found a better way."

Mr. Chirac's bullying unilateralism did not go over well among his eastern neighbors. "We are not joining the EU so we can sit and shut up," said Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda. His Polish counterpart, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, added: "In the European family, there are no mummies, no daddies and no kids. It is a family of equals. In particular, there are no kids who are not mature enough to be partners with other members of the family." And Romania's Prime Minister Adrian Nastase answered Mr. Chirac's condescension in kind: "Every time I have a dispute with my wife, I shout at my sons. So the problem of Mr. Chirac apparently is with the Americans and not with Romania and Bulgaria."

This isn't the only case in which Mr. Chirac's is acting with contempt for the views of his fellow Europeans. He has also insisted that Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's dictator, be included in a summit meeting of African heads of state that begins today in Paris, despite EU sanctions, instituted in response to Mr. Mugabe's atrocities, that bar him from visiting any member country. This week, the EU reaffirmed its sanctions, but in order to secure France's approval it had to cave in to Mr. Chirac's demand that the union make an exception for Mr. Mugabe's visit this week.

Mr. Chirac defends the French invitation by saying that Mr. Mugabe's human-rights record is more likely to improve thorough engagement than through isolation. But South Africa's foreign ministry spilled the beans yesterday when it revealed that Zimbabwe's atrocious behavior is not even an item on the summit agenda. "If it arises, it arises," shrugged foreign ministry spokeswoman Nomfanelo Kota. Not exactly a stirring confrontation with the leader of a country that the United Nations' World Food Program reports will soon see half of its citizens threatened by a politically engineered famine.

The looming disaster facing Zimbabwe's 13 million people is not just the product of Mr. Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms or his reckless management of the economy. The New Republic recently noted that Didymus Mutasa, the administrative secretary of Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU party, has admitted that the government has an explicit policy of, to paraphrase Stalin, encouraging fewer but better Zimbabweans: "We would be better off with only six million people . . . who support the liberation struggle. . . . We don't want all these extra people."

While he prepares to savor the fine food and wine of Paris, Mr. Mugabe is flaunting his invitation to the summit as proof that efforts to isolate him have failed. Brian Kagoro of the human rights group Crisis Zimbabwe says the summit is giving him a chance to pose as a statesman. Even worse, Mr. Mugabe will use the Paris summit to trumpet the pending end of sanctions against his regime by the British Commonwealth. That body suspended Zimbabwe from membership for a year, but South Africa and Nigeria have rejected any extension. They claim the human-rights situation in Zimbabwe is improving, citing Harare's promises to end crackdowns on government critics.

Such assurances are worth about as much as Iraqi war bonds. Just this week, Benjamin Paradza became the first serving judge in Zimbabwe's history to be arrested. Mr. Paradza had issued several rulings that displeased the government, including one that released an opposition party mayor from prison. Mr. Mugabe's government responded by charging the judge with corruption and obstruction of justice. He was jailed overnight and then released on $20,000 bail.

A certain amount of hypocrisy is inevitable when a major power conducts foreign policy. Certainly the U.S. backed its share of despots and strongmen during the Cold War. Today, it is still slow to challenge regimes with dubious human rights records that are important to U.S. security interests, such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

Similarly, France has often turned a blind eye to tyrants in its former African colonies where it has extensive cultural and economic interests. But Zimbabwe was a British colony, and Prime Minister Tony Blair begged Mr. Chirac not to invite Mr. Mugabe to his Paris soiree. Mr. Chirac declined to discuss the matter. Perhaps he was too busy threatening the Eastern Europeans who want to enforce the U.N. resolutions on Iraq or preparing his latest speech accusing the U.S. of moral obtuseness.

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01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
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12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
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12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
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©2001, John H. Fund