- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Until very recently, the absolutes of good and evil had fallen much out of favor in our relativistic age. These are concepts that a decadent Western culture had stopped grappling with. It took September 11 and the calculated malice of the al Qaeda terrorists to shake us up, to remind us that while we may think our society has evolved to a state of perfect non-judgmental tolerance, the forces of good and evil persist in shaping the world in which we live. It is a battle in which we can chose to take an active part or tacitly accept our roles as pawns or victims. As Edmund Burke put it, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." That's as true today as it was over 200 years ago.

President Bush is determined to do something, which may account for the fact that even Democrats are relieved he is in the White House today, rather than Al Gore, the Bearded One, who is now attempting to retrace his steps back from the political wilderness. Since September 11, Mr. Bush has consistently called the terrorists "evil-doers" which may not be terribly elegant, but has the virtue of being true. Most recently, in his impressive State of the Union address, Mr. Bush identified an "axis of evil." This caused all manner of indignation both here at home and among our "friends" and "allies" abroad, and sent members of the administration's foreign policy team scurrying all over the news networks to promise that no attacks are imminent. Well, "evil" is not a word you bandy about lightly, and Mr. Bush assuredly meant what he said.

By invoking a Manichean struggle between good and evil, Mr. Bush walks in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, the last president to speak in these metaphysical terms. The evil Mr. Reagan took on had the shape of the Soviet Union, "the focus of evil in the modern world," as he put it, "an evil empire." In 1983, the consternation here and abroad was huge, yet Mr. Reagan allowed his words to guide his deeds. A decade later the Soviet Union had ceased to exist in large part because Mr. Reagan challenged its military build-up and demonstrated vastly superior American military and economic strength. For inspiration, who could wish for a better example particularly today, on Mr. Reagan's 91st birthday. (It also happens to be the birthday of my father and therefore, an extremely important date, speaking for myself.)

The Bush administration is clearly getting its ducks in order to act. There is a new seriousness about dealing with Iraq, so Ahmed Chalaby of the Iraqi National Congress said in an interview with the editorial page yesterday. "Since the president's speech, the administration's attitude has changed completely. The wonder is not that it did, but that it has taken so long."

Mr. Bush, of course, identified three nations that pose a threat, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, in terms of their development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. "I will not wait on events while dangers gather," the president promised in his State of the Union speech. "I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

That Mr. Bush means to fight evil with more than words is suggested by the budget he produced this week, which contains the biggest military spending increase in two decades. The terrorist attacks and the rise of radical Islam have put paid to the idyllic notion that the end of the Cold War also meant the end of evil and armed conflict. "Our adversaries are watching what we do," so Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, promoting the president's $379 billion military budget plan for next year. "They're studying how we have been successfully attacked, how we are responding and how we may be vulnerable in the future. And we stand still at our peril."

Only last week, Mr. Rumsfeld issued a wake-up call of frightening proportions, stating in a speech at the National Defense University that "it is likely that we will be surprised again by new adversaries who may strike in unexpected ways. And as they gain access to weapons of increasing power, these attacks could grow vastly more deadly than those we suffered September 11th."

Mr. Rumsfeld also pointed out that the investment is desperately needed after a decade of cashing in the "peace dividend." Over the next five years, the defense budget would grow to $451 billion in spending authority for 2007, making it only second to Mr. Reagan's 1985 budget in inflation-adjusted terms. Clearly Mr. Bush is laying the groundwork for the next step in the war against terrorism and the countries that nurture and support it. Like Ronald Reagan he will at times be met with ridicule, doubt and criticism. Still, it will be a small price to pay.

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