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'Axis of Evil' Continues to Stir Controversy - 2002-02-13


President Bush's use of the phrase "axis of evil" continues to stir controversy around the world. Critics accuse the President of stretching the war against terrorism to include Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Defenders say the President has given timely warning to these rogue states to change their behavior before they suffer the fate of the Taleban. "Death to America!" shouted hundreds of thousands of Iranians at a rally in Tehran marking the 23rd anniversary of their revolution. They were responding to President Bush's speech in which he called Iran, Iraq and North Korea an axis of evil that threatens world peace.

Americans think they are masters of the world, said reform minded President Mohammad Khatami, adding that U.S. policies abroad, especially in the Middle East, have brought on the terrorist attacks. Iranians complain that such U.S. rhetoric strengthens the hard-liners and sets back reform.

South Koreans make the same point about their efforts to engage the North. They say the U.S. threat stiffens North Korean resistance to opening up to the world. The European response was also critical. French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said Washington is reducing all the troubles of the world to a dubious war on terrorism. German deputy foreign minister Ludger Volmer said the United States should not use terrorism as an excuse to settle old scores with Saddam Hussein. And Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against a U.S. attack on Iraq since there is no evidence linking it to present-day terrorism.

Critics say they are mystified by the allusion to the axis powers of World War II that did indeed act together. The critics note there is no cooperation among the current three. Iran and Iraq, in fact, fought a bitter war.

The only mystery is all this criticism, says Constantine Menges, a longtime foreign policy analyst at Washington's Hudson Institute. "Isn't it interesting that we have the Iranian regime for 23 years calling the United States the great Satan and the great evil, and Saddam Hussein constantly using invective against the United States and no one complains about that," he said. "But if the President of the United States calls other countries evil, this is immediately seen as potentially leading to conflict that the Europeans would rather avoid."

Mr. Menges says President Bush has proposed a more forceful policy toward rogue states that is upsetting to risk-averse Europeans. "The whole approach of the Europeans to Iran and Iraq, engaging them, trying to open up commercial opportunities, has simply been accompanied by both of those regimes continuing to support terrorism abroad and to work very diligently to try to get biological, chemical, nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles," said Constantine Menges. "So the European approach has not worked."

But the harsher U.S. policy was the result of intense debate within the White House, says Leon Hadar, foreign policy analyst at Washington's CATO Institute. Apparently, the hard-liners won the debate, he said. "It seems that the President has clearly decided to adopt a position that is close to the more assertive, hawkish group in the administration, people in the Pentagon, some people in the White House around [Vice President Richard) Cheney], called half jokingly the war party. They created a certain momentum, which is moving in the direction of escalation."

That is fine with former British prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who writes in the New York Times that America's unrivaled global power ensures peace and stability in the world. It is no longer a question of whether to remove Saddam Hussein, she says, but how and when.

Israel is also happy with the President's speech. "Music to my ears," says Moshe Arens, a Likud party elder quoted in the Economist magazine. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Iran deserves to be a target of America since it calls for Israel's destruction. The Economist notes the President's hit list could have been drawn up in Tel Aviv, and adds perhaps it was, considering Israeli influence in America.

Leon Hadar warns that if the United States expands the war on terrorism, it may prove more difficult than the war in Afghanistan, "There is a sense that the model of the war in Afghanistan was very successful, the technology that we have now, the air power, U.S. intelligence and logistics without a lot of costs, certainly in terms of American casualties," he said. "We can achieve a rerun of Afghanistan in Iraq. That is what a lot of people are thinking now."

If casualties mount in the war on terrorism, Mr. Hadar thinks American support will fall off. He believes there is a danger in one country, however benevolent, having too much power. Inevitably, it is misused.

Mr. Menges doubts American support will falter in a war that has struck their homeland. "They understand that what is at stake is the survival of hundreds of thousands of American citizens in our country, said Constantine Menges. "I think September 11 demonstrated that these terrorist groups are able to bring deadly force to bear right here in the United States and it is a question of we getting them, or they getting us."

President Bush does not appear to be backing away from his provocative words. Sean McCormick of the National Security Council says Saddam Hussein is a threat to the world, and we will deal with him as we choose. But Secretary of State Colin Powell says there are no plans at present for armed conflict with any of the three states.

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