- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

President Bush's declaration of war against the "evil axis" of Iraq, Iran and North Korea has caused quaking among U.S. allies, many Democrats and much of the foreign policy establishment. But it was a vital act of world leadership.
The fact is, weapons of mass destruction in hostile hands pose a growing menace to the civilized world that simply can't be left to polite diplomacy. Mr. Bush deserves credit for sounding a loud alarm and demanding action to deal with the threat.
It's reasonably clear from Bush administration statements since the State of the Union that military attacks on the three "axis" nations aren't imminent, but it's also clear that the United States is firmly set on a campaign to change their regimes if it can't change their policies.
Instead of pondering the prospect of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons being used against innocent civilians and figuring out how to help thwart it most European leaders and media commentators have been wailing that the president was acting irresponsibly by mentioning it.
One analyst for London's Financial Times wrote it was "dangerously simplistic" to "see the world as an axis of evil fighting an alliance for good."
A German radio commentator said that "the U.S. president is pursuing a dangerous mission self-righteous, filled with almost religious zeal and carried by a wave of support at home. A political impossibility: a holy warrior in the White House."
News reports from the World Economic Forum in New York were filled with tales of hand-wringing from foreigners and some U.S. observers about a "return to unilateralism" after Mr. Bush said that, if necessary, this country would deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction on its own.
The New York Times editorialized, irrationally, that even if the axis governments could be changed, "there is no way to assure that the backlash abroad would not be worse than the original threats."
Let's see: For Mr. Bush to be denounced in the European Parliament would be worse than the consequences of Iran's handing off a small nuclear weapon or a canister of botulism toxin to Hezbollah? I don't think so.
More surprising than objections from Europeans and the Times editorial page is the reaction from some defense-minded Democrats and even some Republicans, including former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.
Mr. Scowcroft said that by offending the allies, Mr. Bush might hamper cooperation in the war on terrorism. Mt. Hagel said the president might have done better by following the Teddy Roosevelt dictum, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
Mr. Scowcroft and Mr. Hagel were attendees at last weekend's annual Munich defense policy summit along with several Democrats who also denounced Bush's formulation.
Rep. Jim Moran, Virginia Democrat, called it "reckless rhetoric to lump all three countries together." Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, told me it constituted "overreaching."
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, California Democrat, told me that "lumping those countries together was a failed strategy if it was designed to make people take sides."
She also said that now that the war in Afghanistan is nearly over, Mr. Bush "has to look like he's fighting somewhere. If he doesn't have a war, he can't justify a war economy."
I've heard other Democrats respond even more cynically, implying Mr. Bush wants to keep the country at war in order to keep his poll ratings high.
All the president's critics need to stop now and read the current issue of the Economist, which contains a rundown on what is known about work in Iraq, Iran and North Korea on weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq: After the 1991 Persian Gulf war, dictator Saddam Hussein was discovered to be only months away from producing an atomic bomb and had already done tests on a radiological "dirty bomb." His program was closed, but "his pool of trained scientists remains, and he might have a nuclear device within a few years."
When United Nations weapons inspectors were banished three years ago, the Economist continued, they were convinced Saddam had hidden an arsenal of VX nerve gas and "a whole range of biological agents and toxins."
Iran: According to the Monterey Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Iran has an arsenal of chemical weapons and, according to the U.S. government, has been secretly producing biological weapons. It is getting Russian help on nuclear power and assistance on missiles from Russia and China.
North Korea: Caught in 1992 producing more plutonium than it admitted to making, North Korea agreed in 1994 to stop producing it in exchange for Western nations' help with less-dangerous nuclear technology. But it has blocked implementation of the agreement. North Korea has large stocks of chemical weapons and a well-developed biological weapons program. It is also developing a missile capable of reaching the United States.
It's true, the three countries don't constitute a cooperative "axis" as Germany, Italy and Japan did in World War II, but that's a technicality.
There's no question that they are "evil." Just look at what these nations do to their own people and the menace they represent to humanity. If Mr. Bush could topple just one of the three regimes most likely Iraq's first he would be doing the world a huge favor. And, likely as not, the others would be scared into line.

Morton Kondracke is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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