- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) — Last year in his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush sought to explain what the three countries he dubbed the "axis of evil" had in common. This year he tried to explain how they were different.

While last year the president said Iran, Iraq and North Korea were all seeking or stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and maintaining ties to terrorists, this year he argued: "Different threats require different strategies."

And different threats are given different priorities as well, apparently. On Tuesday, Bush devoted a scant 67 words to Iran, ending with a vague statement of support for those Iranians seeking democratic reforms.

On North Korea, he doubled the word count, using 138 words and insisting the United States would not be blackmailed by threats but stressing he intended to work with Russia, China, South Korea and Japan to "find a peaceful solution."

And Bush delivered 1,251 words on the gathering threat posed by Iraq. In the speech he touched on how the regime tortures children in front of their parents to extract confessions; how Saddam Hussein had failed to account for mobile biological weapons labs; and said U.S. intelligence had uncovered information that he had harbored al Qaida operatives.

He is even sending his Secretary of State to the United Nations next week to present this intelligence to the public.

At the heart of the President's argument on Iraq, however, is that we should not allow it to become North Korea. "Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean peninsula, and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq," Bush said.

"A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression with ties to terrorism with great potential wealth will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States."

Because, his supporters argue, if Saddam were to acquire nuclear weapons, America's options change dramatically. One need look only as far as North Korea. Under the President's logic, if this regime that starves its own people wants to "find respect in the world, and revival for its people," it should abandon its nuclear ambitions.

In other words, if Kim Jong-Il would like to avoid the wrath of a U.S. effort to depose him, all he need to do is abandon his nuclear weapons program.

The same choice might no longer exist for Saddam. The President didn't even bother to hold out the hope that Iraq might in the coming days decide to volunteer a new swath of information on its weapons programs — even as the administration has insisted over the past four months that Iraq only responds when it's threatened with force.

The threat of U.S. force looked an awful lot like a promise Tuesday. Right after his section on Iraq, President Bush had these words for the U.S. military: "Many of you are assembling in and near the Middle East, and some crucial hours may lie ahead. In those hours, the success of our cause will depend on you."

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