U.S. lawmakers, angry over France's and Germany's opposition to the administration's Iraq policies, are considering retaliatory gestures such as trade sanctions against the French and pressing for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany.
"France and Germany are losing credibility by the day, and they are losing, I think, status in the world," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said yesterday. "They are walking a fine line that is very dangerous."
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), angered by France's policies on agriculture as well as on Iraq, has told associates he would like to target two of that nation's most sacred drinks: water and wine. At a GOP retreat this past weekend, Hastert talked to House members about slapping restrictions on French exports of bottled water and fine wine.
Hastert has instructed Republican colleagues to determine whether Congress should pass legislation that would impose new health standards on imported bottles of Evian and other popular French waters. France, the top exporter of water to the United States, sold 65 million gallons in 2001, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a U.S. research firm.
The speaker also is exploring whether the United States should require "bright orange warning labels" on French wines that are clarified with bovine blood, a top aide said.
"People should know how the French make their wine," Hastert spokesman John Feehery said. Republicans are trying to determine how much French wine on the market has been clarified, or essentially made clearer, by using bovine blood, a process banned after the scare involving bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- or "mad cow disease" -- in the late 1990s.
Two U.S. wine experts contacted by The Washington Post said a few French wineries used bovine blood as a clarifier before the ban. Such a warning label for any wine would be akin to a "Mr. Yuck" stamp, one expert said.
Feehery said Hastert is frustrated with the French for blocking certain U.S. farm exports and, more recently, for opposing President Bush's strategy for confronting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
France and Germany are pushing a new U.N. resolution that would give inspectors more time and resources to verify the elimination of Iraq's weapons programs.
There is also growing momentum on Capitol Hill to move many of the 71,455 U.S. troops from Germany, lawmakers said. Marine Gen. James Jones, the U.S. commander in Europe, recently briefed lawmakers on an emerging plan to radically change the U.S. military presence in Europe, in great part by moving troops out of Germany. The idea is to make the nation's European-based military lighter and more flexible and less reliant on a permanent station in Germany, according to White House and congressional officials.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said French and German attitudes toward U.S. policy in Iraq will make the modernization plan easier to sell to lawmakers. Hunter said the plan preceded the latest diplomatic dustup, but more House members are taking note of it. "Anything we can do to hurt them without hurting us, I will support," Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said. If the United States moved its troops elsewhere, Hunter said, "you'd see great satisfaction among armed services members and in Congress in general that we are basing our troops on the soil of a strong ally." He said Germany's "tears of gladness of the sacrifice Americans have made for their freedom have dried very quickly."
Hunter yesterday announced plans to hold congressional hearings "looking at moving the United States away from maintaining heavy divisions in Europe, especially Germany."
A bipartisan group of senators, including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), yesterday announced plans to introduce a resolution thanking 18 European allies for standing with the United States -- and against France and Germany.
"France and Germany are in the headlines these days -- and they are important allies of America -- but in this case, the tone and volume of their dissent is in danger of drowning out the voice of a nearly united Europe," Lieberman said.
DeLay is trying a more personal approach. "I was at a celebration of India's Independence Day," he told reporters, "and a Frenchman came walking up to me and started talking to me about Iraq, and it was obvious we were not going to agree. And I said, 'Wait a minute. Do you speak German?' And he looked at me kind of funny and said, 'No, I don't speak German.' And I said, 'You're welcome,' turned around and walked off."