What Official France says is that it wants an opportunity to pursue non-military alternatives in Iraq. The U.S. reaction to this demurral is well-known, but as regards France, we make also the point that loyalty is in question. We are saying: You have our reasons for making war; they are reasonable and non-imperialist. Now consider this: We are the leader of the Atlantic alliance and unless, in grave matters, we move collectively, we do damage to the tissue of that alliance. Yet you are proceeding not only to frustrate the United States in the United Nations by your personal veto, you are going so far as to attempt to influence uncommitted states in West Africa to follow your lead in the Security Council.
The French foreign minister does not spend time elaborating the commercial attachments of the French to the government of Iraq, but we know in general what they are. France gets oil from Iraq and sells munitions to Iraq and machinery and some other products. France has, therefore, a stake in continuing such commerce.
We begin, naturally on the matter of oil. It is nowhere prescribed that the debt that Iraq now has to France (no more than the debt it now has to Russia) would automatically be disowned by a regime change resulting from the American military offensive. France desires to continue to consume Iraqi oil and to receive from Iraq sums of money that accumulate from the production of oil.
Here are a few basic data concerning oil that are insufficiently considered. Using round figures, Iraq is producing 2 million barrels of oil every day, which at $30 per barrel brings in $60 million. If all the restraints that survive the 1991 war were eliminated, the rise in production of Iraqi oil is projected to 4 million barrels per day. Assuming the same value per barrel, that would mean an increase to $120 million per day.
Dwell on something so inconceivable as to occur only to French fantasists: The United States (a) confiscates Iraq's oil reserves, (b) proceeds instantaneously to increase production to the maximum, (c) actually pocketing a net of $30 per barrel -- we'd be talking about $40 billion per year.
The estimated cost of the U.S. military offensive is $100 billion. So that even assuming such oil confiscation/production/sale were effected, it would still require more than two years merely to reimburse the cost of the military action. We today purchase about a half-million barrels of oil per day from Iraq, $15 million. To invest $100 billion to protect a $15 million daily investment would require a zaniness difficult to ascribe to such as Messrs. Bush and Rumsfeld, who have been men of affairs.
American leaders are sore at the French and understandably so. A reaction recently noted in the effort to retaliate against the French was the irate Southerner. He informed the local press that he had poured his supply of French wine down the drain. Ouch! Long-term perspectives suggest that to destroy existing stocks of French wine is to increase the demand for it. The French export close to $1 billion worth of wine to the United States, but even there, they come in behind Italy and Australia. The U.S. buys aircraft and engines and, even, 65 million gallons of water. The French trade out 50 percent of their GDP, 60 percent of it to EU nations.
The mind reels. And we grudgingly acknowledge that there is no effective means of talking back to the French by economic retaliation. That piece of uneaten cheese or unbought dram of perfume has the paradoxical effect of causing more pain to the forfeited American than is inflicted on French exporters.
Effective retaliation can only be to French pride, by a great, successful military/diplomatic operation. And French pride is huge, and vulnerable.