- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002


Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said President Bush was wrong to label Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," the first major criticism from a leading Democrat about the war on terrorism.

In an interview yesterday on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the South Dakota Democrat said the comment has had repercussions around the world.

He also said Mr. Bush had not made the case for any military action against Iraq and its dictator, Saddam Hussein.

"I think that it's important for us to look at each of these countries as threats to this country clearly, as problems that we've got to address clearly," Mr. Daschle said. "But I think we've got to be very careful with the rhetoric of that kind. We've already seen the moderates in Iran scramble to draw distance between us and them, and I think we've got to be very careful with how we approach all three countries."

Mr. Daschle's comments seemed to go back on his earlier position of support of Mr. Bush's State of the Union address. Just after the address to Congress, in which Mr. Bush first used the "axis of evil" description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Mr. Daschle also said he didn't think the United States had justified taking any military action against Iraq.

"We want to avoid at all costs the terror of nine-eleven," the top Democrat in the Senate said. "If they're building weapons of mass destruction, we've got to deal with it. But I don't think the case has yet been made."

Mr. Daschle tempered his criticism with the observation that he believed the three countries posed a threat but said he just didn't like Mr. Bush's word choice.

"He's right in calling attention to the danger they pose to the United States," Mr. Daschle said. "He's right in calling for strategy. I would hope we could do it multilaterally and not unilaterally, because I think that's where we get into trouble."

Some people both here and abroad have been shocked by the phrase, which echoes both President Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and the Rome-Berlin Axis between fascist Italy and Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany in World War II.

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