- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Demonizing the foreign foe has become something of a tradition in the modern White House.
President George H.W. Bush compared Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler in 1990, after Iraq, having already used chemical weapons against ethnic Kurds, invaded neighboring Kuwait.
President Bill Clinton again evoked Nazi atrocities in reference to the repression of ethnic Croats and Muslims by Serbs in the Balkans.
And President George W. Bush called Osama bin Laden and his followers "the evildoers" in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In each case, the commander in chief was ordering, or preparing to order, Americans into battle. Even when President Ronald Reagan referred to the former Soviet Union as "the evil empire," the United States was waging a Cold War against Moscow.
Last month in his State of the Union message, though, Mr. Bush broke new ground, pinning the tag "axis of evil" on a group of largely unrelated countries Iraq, Iran and North Korea against which, the administration insists, there are no near-term plans to go to war.
He did warn them, though, in threatening terms.
"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," Mr. Bush said Jan. 29 in his address before Congress.
"If you're one of these nations that develops weapons of mass destruction, and you're likely to team up with a terrorist group, or you're now sponsoring terror, or you don't hold the values we hold dear true to your heart, then you, too, are on our watch list," he added in a speech Jan. 31 in Atlanta. "They better not try to terrorize America and our friends and allies, or the justice of this nation will be served on them, as well," a reference to the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.
The United States has long accused Iran, Iraq and North Korea of supporting terrorist activities and trying to build or acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Following the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bush decided that the risk of one of those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists is a threat he won't abide.
Declaring an "axis of evil" drew attention to that threat and sent the message to U.S. friends and foes alike that Mr. Bush takes the matter seriously.
"There's a clarity about what he said that's refreshing," said former diplomat Toby Gati, who served as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research in the Clinton administration.
Some problems quickly emerged, though, with demonization as a strategy unto itself. For one thing, it invites immediate retaliation.
"The president of the United States is talking like a man thirsty for human blood," Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a group of Islamic journalists last week. "The world knows that the United States is the Great Satan."
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan called Mr. Bush's statement "stupid," and North Korea said Mr. Bush's remarks were a symptom of the sort of swaggering unilateralism that made the United States the target of terrorist attacks.
Neither Russia nor China made Mr. Bush's "axis" list, even though both have provided extensive military technology and aid to all three countries he cited.
Then there is the ambiguity inherent in an approach that puts countries on an apparent enemies list with no public mandate for confronting them, no clear strategy for doing so and no real definition of what victory would look like.
It sounded to some like what Mr. Clinton's critics used to call mission creep.
"This isn't mission creep it's mission jump," said Mr. Gati, now an international consultant for the Washington law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. "My real question is, are the American people ready to do that, to declare war, not on a country, but on a cause?"
Administration officials hit the talk show circuit to defend the "axis of evil" reference.
"It's a good, powerful, strong line that makes the case that these three nations are representative of a group of nations that continue to act in ways that just are inconsistent with the expectations of the 21st century and are hindering our campaign against terrorism," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CBS.
"We're not designating those people as evil. We're saying the regimes are evil," said Mr. Powell. Critics, he said, should focus less on Mr. Bush's rhetoric than on the threats posed by countries that might help terrorists get dangerous weapons.
"The president's point, I think, was sound," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said on ABC. "With weapons of mass destruction more readily available to a number of nations, and potentially to terrorist networks, we have to think about this problem in a dramatically different way than we did previously."


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