- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Nobody seems to have told Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle about the "halo effect" that was supposedly preventing Democrats from criticizing a very popular President Bush. On the very day that The Washington Post ran a front-page story suggesting that Mr. Bush's "halo" had silenced Democratic critics, Mr. Daschle just couldn't resist some old-fashioned wartime sniping at the president's State of the Union line that Iran, Iraq and North Korea comprise an "axis of evil."

In an interview broadcast Monday on PBS' "The Newshour With Jim Lehrer," Mr. Daschle asserted that Mr. Bush had failed to make his case that the three radical regimes were really all that bad. "I think we've got to be very careful with the rhetoric of that kind," Mr. Daschle said. He went on to suggest that Iranian "moderates" were seeking to distance themselves from the United States because of Mr. Bush's statement, and warned that Washington has "got to be very careful" in the way it talks about these regimes. The problem with this formulation is that Mr. Bush's description was right on target, and Mr. Daschle is the one who is behaving in a reckless, foolish way.

No reasonable person could argue that Iran, Iraq and North Korea are dictatorships that brutalize their own people and have long records of supporting terrorism. All of the regimes are particularly dangerous because of their ongoing efforts to develop ballistic-missile technology and produce weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, chemical and biological arms. One wouldn't know it from Mr. Daschle's ill-considered attack on Mr. Bush, but the reality is that the United States has already tried the majority leader's appeasement approach with each of the states, only to abandon this policy when it became an obvious failure.

With Iraq, Washington spent the 1980s bashing Israel for destroying the Osirik nuclear reactor, which Saddam Hussein was using to develop an atomic bomb, and funnelling agriculture credits, arms and "dual-use" technology to Baghdad in an attempt to forge an alliance against Iran, an initiative that disintegrated when Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. With North Korea, the Clinton administration spent most of the 1990s in a futile effort to use economic aid to persuade the world's last remaining Stalinist dictatorship to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Pyongyang responded by continuing its nuclear program and providing ballistic missile and/or weapons-of-mass-destruction technology to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan. Finally, with Iran, the Clinton administration labored tirelessly to undercut the effect of U.S. economic sanctions despite abundant evidence that Tehran continued working to develop nuclear weapons and supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Fortunately, few Democrats have joined Mr. Daschle's misguided attack on Mr. Bush's efforts to mobilize the country against terrorism. Even Sen. Joseph Biden, who last year suggested that the United States may be viewed as a "high-tech bully" in the fight against Osama bin Laden, is currently talking tough against terror. Other Democrats, like Sen. Joseph Lieberman, are playing a statesmanlike role by joining with the great majority of Republicans in urging the administration to take a tougher stance against Saddam. Mr. Daschle needs to understand that if he continues his sniping at Mr. Bush, he will only marginalize himself.

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