Odious Debts

And they talk of peace

Andrew Coyne
National Post, Canada
February 12, 2003

Having liberated France from the Germans, and having sheltered the Germans for 40-odd years from the Russians, and having poured billions of dollars into rescuing the Russians from themselves, the United States now finds, as it races to protect its own citizens from madmen with doomsday weapons, its most implacable foes are France, Germany and Russia. You know, the peace lobby.

I will leave it to others to speculate on the motives of these three nations, or to discuss their qualifications to lecture others on the evils of interventionism. (A poll shows 57% of Germans agree with the statement that Americans are “a nation of warmongers.” Two, three, four …) What is unarguable is that their hostility to any effort to rein in Saddam Hussein was in evidence long before this crisis; it has nothing to do with questions of peace or war.

When the issue was sanctions, they were against sanctions. When the issue was inspections, they were against inspections. And while they now profess to favour disarmament, they have not only consistently opposed any practical measure to effect it over the years, they have themselves been Saddam’s chief suppliers of weapons of mass destruction — and may be even to this day. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that they are not so much interested in opposing war as in supporting Saddam.

The French, needless to say, are the most deeply implicated. France has been romancing Iraq since at least 1972, when Saddam, already the number two man in the Ba’athist regime, nationalized the Iraqi oil industry, more or less at the point of a gun. Had the West held firm in its opposition, the putsch might not have succeeded, and Saddam would never have acquired the revenues to pursue his ambitions. But France broke ranks — in exchange for a cut of the action.

The pattern was to be repeated three years later, when Saddam began shopping for a fast-breeder nuclear reactor, with a view to acquiring nuclear weapons within 10 years. No one was willing to provide him with the advanced technology he was seeking — not even the Russians, who had sold him with a small research reactor some years earlier. It was not until he met with the French prime minister, one Jacques Chirac, that Saddam found what he was looking for. The French agreed, knowing full well what Saddam was up to, in exchange for $3-billion in cash, some oil concessions and a huge contract to purchase France’s Mirage F-1 fighter planes. Oh, and one other thing: The Franco-Iraqi Nuclear Cooperation Treaty stipulated that “all persons of Jewish race” be excluded from participating.

More deals followed: armoured vehicles, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles. By 1982, Iraq accounted for 40% of all French arms exports. Other countries — the Russians, the Italians, the British, less so the Americans — also sold arms to Iraq, especially during the Iran-Iraq war, when revolutionary Iran seemed the greater threat to the region. The Germans, egregiously, provided Saddam with much of his chemical weapons capacity, from mustard gas to nerve gases like Tabun and Sarin, as well as the ballistic missile technology with which to deliver them to places like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But none did so with anything like the audacity of the French.

Even after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, French support for Iraq did not waver. Fran–∑ois Mitterrand went so far as to make a speech to the UN in September of that year in which he lent legitimacy to Iraq’s territorial claims. The French were early and ardent enthusiasts for lifting the sanctions imposed after the war, and did everything in their power to undermine the disarmament regime. In 1997, following a series of confrontations with UN inspectors, the Security Council passed Resolution 1134, which threatened to impose travel restrictions on Iraqi officials (quelle horreur!) if the harassment continued. France abstained (along with Russia and China). Emboldened, Saddam stepped up his defiance. The inspections regime soon collapsed.

In 1999, Resolution 1284 greatly expanded the existing “oil-for-food” exemption to the sanctions (around the Clinton administration, according to Kenneth Pollack, a senior advisor on Iraq, it became known as “oil-for-stuff”), and promised to lift all remaining economic sanctions. The only condition: Saddam had to let the inspectors back in, and show progress towards disarmament. Again the French abstained, this time after promising to vote in favour. The reason: The Russians had abstained, and the French were worried they would lose their share of the booming “oil-for-food” trade, by then worth about US $17-billion a year, if they did not do the same.

And so it continues to this day, even at the cost of wrecking the United Nations (and NATO in the bargain). And yet, in the face of this sordid Franco-Russian record of trading Security Council votes for Iraqi oil revenues, it is the Americans who are accused, on no evident grounds whatever, of being motivated by oil-lust.

You would think the Germans would have some issues about being involved, however indirectly, in gassing Jews. You would think the French would feel a certain d–πja vu about collaborating with dictators. You would think the Russians …

But you would be wrong.

Categories: Odious Debts

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