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French raise cheese stink for Obama

Those cheese-eating French are already giving Barack Obama a hard time. No...really.

Apparently one of George W. Bush's last acts as president was to triple tariffs on French roquefort cheese. This was meant as retaliation for the longstanding French ban on U.S. beef imports. But as Charles Bremner notes, many French were quick to see it as Bush's final shot at the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" who had so aggravated him during the run-up to the Iraq war.

French roquefort producers, including anti-globalization icon and dairy farmer Jose Bove, are protesting the move to "hold roquefort hostage" and are demanding that Obama reverse Bush's decision. The French parliament is debating a measure to slap tariffs on Coca-Cola in "symbol against symbol" retaliation. As a not-so-subtle hint, the governor of the roquefort-producing Mid-Pyrenees region even sent Obama a deluxe box of roquefort (shown above) as a welcoming gift. Repealing the beef ban is out of the question for health reasons, say officials.

The last thing Obama wants right now is to get into a trade war with France over a last-minute decision by his predecessor, particularly when he's looking for French cooperation on far more pressing issues. But even the farmers seem to realize that the "cheese wars" are not particularly high on Obama's list right now. "The boy must have a lot of priorities," acknowledged the head of one agricultural union.

Umm...yeah. I would say so. And you probably shouldn't be calling him "boy" either.

Photo: PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images

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Morning Brief: Here come the envoys

Top Story

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday announced the appointment of high-level envoys for two of the world's toughest hotspots. George Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader who was widely praised for facilitating negotiations in Northern Ireland, will be dispatched to Israel. Richard Holbrooke, a former assistant secretary of state (and managing editor of FP) known for his work in Bosnia, will coordinate development and diplomacy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Both envoys will report directly to Clinton. According to Clinton, the high-profile appointments "make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America's future." But some observers, like veteran Mideast negotiator Aaron David Miller, worried that subcontracting these critical issues "could create a management problem."

Middle East

A former Guantanamo inmate is now running the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda, the New York Times reports.

Israel's war in Gaza boosted the popularity of its leaders, though perhaps not enough to defeat surging Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hamas has reportedly stepped up attacks against members of the rival Fatah party.

Asia

U.S. Treasury nominee Timothy Geithner accused China of manipulating its currency.

Kim Jong Il held his first meeting with a foreign envoy, a top Chinese official, since his stroke.

Thailand is coming under fire for its treatment of Burmese migrants.
Africa

Rwanda arrested Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, a former ally.

City workers in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, have gone on strike, demanding to be paid in hard currency.

The U.S. and its allies are working on a legal framework to try Somali pirates outside their homeland.

Europe

The UK is officially in a recession.

Ukraine may not be done negotiating over the recently inked gas deal with Russia.

Spain's already-high unemployment rate hit 13.9 percent.

Americas

Cuba's leader Raul Castro is hoping for a meeting with Barack Obama.

Mexico inaugurated one of the world's largest wind-farm projects.

Voters in Nashville, Tennessee rejected a proposal to make English the city's official language.

Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images