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Bill Press is a syndicated columnist, the co-host of CNN's Crossfire, which airs Monday-Friday at 7:30 p.m., and author of the newly-published book Spin This!

Bill Press: 'Axis of evil' reveals excess of ignorance

By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON (Tribune Media Services) -- They are the most famous words of his presidency so far.

In his January 29 State of the Union speech, identifying Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the U.S. military's next targets in the war against terrorism, President Bush said: "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

"Axis of evil." You must admit, it's a good line. But it's not original. Bush stole it out of the last book he read: "Foreign Policy for Dummies."

Not for the first time, Bush was trying to wrap himself in the mantle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who linked Germany, Italy and Japan as the enemy Axis during World War II. But Bush's misuse of the "A" word had just the opposite effect. It didn't identify him with FDR. It showed what a rank amateur in foreign policy he still is.

For starters, there was a real connection between Germany, Italy and Japan. They were active partners in the war against the Allies. There is no connection between Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Iran and Iraq are sworn enemies. And North Korea has close ties with nobody. In fact, the only possible reason Bush added North Korea to the list instead of, say, Syria or Yemen or Somalia was to show he isn't just going after Muslim countries.

Bush's comic attempt to link Iran, Iraq and North Korea makes no sense. Their only connection is: Bush doesn't like them. But are they even our enemies?

Over the last couple of years, Iran and North Korea have taken serious steps toward improving relations with the United States. At the prodding of the Clinton administration, North Korea agreed to stop the production of nuclear weapons, suspended nuclear testing and promised to undertake historic talks about unification with South Korea. And what thanks does North Korea get from President Bush? A kick in the groin.

Same with Iran. Mohammad Khatami, Iran's new, moderate president -- who has openly espoused restoration of normal relations with the United States -- was one of the first Muslim leaders to condemn the September 11 attacks and the brand of Islam that inspired them. "Terrorism is doomed," he told the world, "and the international community should stem it and take effective measures in a bid to eradicate it."

And, in the months after September 11, few countries offered as much support. Iran supported the U.S. and the Northern Alliance's efforts to overthrow the Taliban. It joined international talks, led by the U.S., to shape a new government. It agreed to rescue and return American fliers downed on Iranian soil. It even allowed American relief food to be unloaded in an Iranian port on the Persian Gulf. And for this, our message is: "Thank you very much. You're evil."

Iraq, of course, is a different story. No thaw in relations there. But no threat to the U.S., either. And that's the point. As dangerous as Saddam Hussein may be, Iraq poses no security threat to the United States or its neighbors today. True, Iraq refuses to readmit UN weapons inspectors. But Bush never mentioned resumption of inspections until after September 11. Their absence is hardly sufficient reason, now, for declaring war on Iraq.

One other connection missing in Bush's newfangled foreign policy: any connection to what the war on terror is, supposedly, all about. Let's not forget that the war on terror began in response to the attacks of 9/11. It was aimed at capturing Osama bin Laden, destroying his al Qaeda network and punishing those countries that support or harbor them.

If those are still the goals of our war on terror -- and when did they change? -- Iran, Iraq and North Korea don't even qualify. They have given no financial support to bin Laden. They harbor no nests of al Qaeda members. They don't subscribe to bin Laden's extremist form of Islam. They are not model governments, but that doesn't mean we have any justification to invade them.

Following the September 11 attacks, the word among our European allies was: "Americans used to believe the world belonged to them; now, they know they belong to the world."

Unfortunately, George Bush has already unlearned that important lesson. He thinks the world belongs to him -- and he has the right to declare war, anytime, on anybody he wants. All he has to do is call them evil.




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