WASHINGTON – New Jersey Rep. Jim Saxton, who has spent 18 years in Congress focusing on such topics as forecasting economic trends and protecting fisheries, has become an unlikely agitator in the rift between the United States and France over Iraq.
Of the 13 bills and resolutions he has sponsored so far this year, three are designed to rebuke France for its continuing opposition to military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"The French, who have been our allies, who have received so much assistance from us over the years, and who might be expected to cooperate in a united front, failed to do so," the Republican congressman said Thursday. "That, I think, is inexcusable."
He is far from alone in his sentiments. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has called France "a second-rate country" that should be excluded from future defense coalitions. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is weighing legislative action targeting French wine and mineral water.
On Feb. 13, Saxton introduced a nonbinding "sense of Congress" resolution urging American individuals, companies and armed forces to skip this summer's Paris Air Show, a major showplace for U.S. defense contractors, if France does not alter its position. So far 19 colleagues have signed on.
Two weeks later, Saxton introduced a bill to prohibit Defense Department participation in any air show held in France through 2007.
Then this week, Saxton proposed a bill that would block French companies from receiving any U.S. money spent to rebuild Iraq after a war. "It seems to me that if the French don't help us to help disarm Saddam, they should understand they're opting out of the entire process," he said.
Saxton, a longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, was named chairman of a subcommittee on terrorism, unconventional threats and capabilities created this year. He previously was chairman of a House task force on terrorism and has traveled extensively in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
But he has never been to France, other than for airplane layovers.
Saxton said public response to his proposals has been overwhelmingly positive.
But Pat McCartan, director of legislative affairs for the Aerospace Industries Association, said the Paris show offers an important opportunity for American defense contractors to market their products. Members of the association include Boeing Co., Raytheon Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.
McCartan said the industry is following the lead of the Bush administration, "which as of this day is still encouraging industry participation in the 2003 show so we don't miss product-marketing opportunities."
The French ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte, wrote Saxton a three-page letter detailing several occasions in which his country joined the United States and NATO in military action.
"Let us not forget the strength of our friendship, even though we might, as all true friends do, have our differences," the ambassador wrote.