Eight European leaders, writing in the European edition of the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Jan. 30, laid down a marker for their colleagues in France and Germany who blindly refuse to acknowledge the imminent danger to world peace posed by Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime.
Led by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, these leaders wrote because the stubborn refusal of France and Germany to face facts threatened to tear Europe apart. So why do the French and the German governments persist in this folly? It's all about the euros &emdash; at least, that's what the leaders in Paris and Berlin who are driving policy believe.
The cynicism of these fair-weather allies becomes apparent when one examines the lists of export license applications to the Office of Iraq Programs at the United Nations. This is the agency that screens so-called "dual-use" equipment Iraq is trying to import using blocked funds from its oil sales.
Although the U.N. usually refers to these sales as "Oil for Food," the Iraqis actually are seeking vital equipment for their weapons plants, their intelligence services, and the repressive apparatus of the Ba'ath Party. And the French and the Germans are willing suppliers.
According to publicly available data, French companies have made the lion's share of applications to the U.N. for such sales over the past five years &emdash; 272 applications in all &emdash; worth billions of dollars. The U.S. put 93 of those contracts, worth $217 million, on hold. Among them was the sale as "medical equipment" of a series of lithotripsy machines for treating kidney stones without surgery by the company Karl Storz Endoscopie France SA.
Perfectly normal? Think again. The lithotripter employs a high-speed krytron switch similar to those used to trigger nuclear warheads. Along with the six medical machines, Iraq wanted 120 spare krytrons.
Other French companies have sold microwave communications gear and fiber-optics repeaters used by the Iraqi military to build out its secure command-and-control network, and large-scale agricultural sprayers the U.S. believes could be used to disperse biological weapons. Now, according to the latest Iraqi requests submitted to the U.N. on Jan. 6, Saddam wants to modernize his state-run torture apparatus with digital imaging hardware that will allow the Ministry of Justice the better to identify and track opponents of the regime. Saddam also wants to purchase an intaglio press for the Iraqi mint.
Similar presses, sold to Iran in the 1970s, have been diverted by the clerical government in Tehran to counterfeit U.S. $100 bills.
Over the next six months, should he remain in power, Saddam has signaled his willingness to purchase close to $3.5 billion of industrial goods and machinery. This is why France and Germany have opposed the U.S.-led coalition of the willing to oust Saddam, liberate Iraq, and destroy Saddam's unconventional weapons. They see all this good business going down the tubes.
The cravenness of the French and Germans has not gone unnoticed by the Iraqi opposition. According to several top-ranking officials within the Iraqi National Congress (INC) I have spoken to in London and Washington over the past three months, a post-Saddam Iraq will return the favor. "Of course we will remember those who helped us in our time of need," said Qobad Talabani, the D.C. representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and son of PUK leader, Jalal Talabani. "We tell the French, you should understand that Saddam is going to go."
Nor has it gone unnoticed at the White House and in Congress, where tempers have reached the boiling point.
Here is what the world is going to look like a few months from now for the French and the Germans after the overwhelming victory of the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein.
Billions of dollars of Saddam's government debts to the governments of France and Germany: canceled.
Billions of dollars of Saddam's government debts to private French and German companies: cancelled.
Oil contracts signed by Saddam and his minions with French and German oil companies and equipment providers: null and void.
Access to tens of billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts that will follow after the war: denied.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already begun to signal he is prepared to change his opposition to the U.S.-led coalition to oust Saddam.
But not Frances's President Jacques Chirac or German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who strut and tut about U.S. "unilateralism" as if they had something better to offer.
Why should a democratic coalition government in liberated Iraq pay even lip service to those who for years have aided and abetted their enslavers? That is a question Mr. Chirac in Paris and Mr. Schroeder in Berlin would do well to ponder before it is too late.
Kenneth Timmerman is author of "The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq" (Houghton Mifflin) and a senior writer for Insight magazine.
Copyright © 2003 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.