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Free Trade After Iraq

The administration must decide whether or not to pursue free trade at any cost.

12:00 AM, May 13, 2003 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Besides, with an election coming up, the White House, never a place in which economics has overridden politics in determining trade policy, will not want to take on the formidable farm-state bloc in the Senate in order to push through a deal that congressional opponents, sensitive to public hostility to France and its "axis of weasels," will label as favorable to France.

But Zoellick perseveres in pursuing what his staff calls "commercial enhancement discussions." They say that several German CEOs are quietly discussing with them ways of calming the international waters. French businessmen, they note, have made no such overtures.

Zoellick says he remains "100 percent committed" to a successful conclusion of the current round of talks. But he may have to be content with White House endorsement of his policy of striking bilateral deals with willing partners and forget about the major breakthrough he earnestly believes to be in America's interests. At least for now, the White House thinks that the costs to America's consumers of less-free trade are worth bearing in order to make clear to the world that, in singer Jim Croce's words, it is not a good idea to tug on Superman's cape.

Irwin M. Stelzer is director of regulatory studies at the Hudson Institute, a columnist for the Sunday Times (London), a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.