The French reconnection

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The informal and spontaneous boycott of French goods has had an impact.

Importers of French wine and other products report slumping sales, informally anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent over the past two months, and the leading French business federation said that some of its enterprises are &uot;suffering.&uot;

French exports to the United States are not inconsequential, $28.4 billion last year. In a wonderful triumph of practicality over politics, the federation said a flap between the two governments shouldn’t interfere with more important matters, like commerce:

&uot;It is necessary to say to those who are unhappy with the positions of French diplomacy that they are free to criticize, but they must keep products and services of our enterprises outside their quarrel.&uot;

And if the French feel singled out, they’re right. According to The Washington Post, a survey of German businesses shows U.S.-German trade unaffected by the two nations’ similar differences.

Whether cause and effect, French President Jacques Chirac called George W. Bush earlier this week. The 20-minute conversation, described by the White House as &uot;businesslike,&uot; was the first time the two leaders had talked in more than two months. (By contrast, a Bush call to the Spanish president was described as &uot;a warm call between close friends and allies.&uot; So there, Jacques.)

Chirac told Bush he was pleased the Iraqi regime had fallen and the war was short, a backhanded way, one guesses, of saying it’s OK that we won. Chirac promised to be &uot;pragmatic&uot; on the lucrative task of rebuilding Iraq, &uot;pragmatic&uot; in this case being French for &uot;hat in hand.&uot;

Our decisive victory may have done the French a favor. This week the French interior minister sought to head off a growing radical Islamic movement by threatening to expel foreign Islamic extremists.

Chirac will never again be truly accepted by this White House, but having proved his point, Bush took his call. Likewise, American consumers should feel free to resume buying French wine, cheese, porcelain and pate; they’ve made their point, too.