Our Canadian and European "allies" are getting a bad case of the heebie-jeebies over President Bush's use of the phrase "axis of evil." Here at home, former officials of the Clinton administration as well as a predictable contingent of foreign policy "specialists" are also reaching for the smelling salts.
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said, "Today we are threatened by a simplism that reduces all the problems of the world to the struggle against terrorism and is not properly thought through."
We've kicked the French around a good bit (metaphorically, of course) since they surrendered to the Nazis without firing a shot -- so perhaps we should let this one pass? Nah. Notice the use of the word "threatened." We live in a world populated by homicidal zealots capable of the most unspeakable atrocities against innocent civilians, and the French foreign minister feels "threatened" by the president of the United States? And while we're on the subject of atrocities, who, Monsieur Vedrine, sold Iraq the nuclear reactor that would have made it a nuclear power two decades ago if Israel had not destroyed the vile thing from the air? Yes, France.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chimed in, saying it was a "big mistake" to include North Korea in Bush's condemnation. "North Korea is run by a dictator, the people are starving, but I don't think we get from here to there by making it a larger bogeyman than it is ... by injecting hyperbole it makes the situation more dangerous," Albright told The Vancouver Sun. Hyperbole? Mrs. Albright tripped lightly over that little detail about the people of North Korea starving. Is that a trifle? The regime is spending a fortune building and selling ballistic missiles and other highly dangerous weapons. It is selling them to states like Iran. And it is avidly pursuing nuclear capability -- a course abetted by the feckless Clinton policy of buying them off. Meanwhile, defectors report seeing bodies of starvation victims floating in rivers. Two million children are slowly dying of malnutrition, according to U.N. data. If that is not evil, what should one call it? Naughty?
Perhaps Mrs. Albright could suggest different terminology. It was on her watch, after all, that the term "rogue nations" was changed to "states of concern."
Europe's External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, fears that the United States has "gone into unilateralist overdrive" and called the "axis of evil" phrase "deeply unhelpful."
Well, let's be clear about who is threatened here. It was awfully nice that the Europeans offered such heartfelt sympathy to us in the days after Sept. 11 (truly). But the notion that gained currency thereafter -- that we were engaged in some sort of worldwide, multilateral campaign against terror -- was mostly hot air. With the exception of help from some British special forces, we have done all the fighting and will do so again. And it is the unfortunate truth that if the terrorists score another big hit somewhere it is not going to be on French, or Italian, or Canadian soil. (The British have their own problems with Northern Ireland, but that's a separate matter.)
A whole lot of dead Norwegians just would not get the blood of terrorists racing. We are the targets because we are the biggest, strongest and most enviable nation in the world, and because we have the spine and the principles to stick up for Israel. So while it's very nice to have the views of the Europeans, we need not feel bound in the slightest by their opinions. We must do what we must do for our own security.
Finally, President Bush can recall with satisfaction that the Europeans and liberal Americans went into exactly comparable paroxysms of panic and disdain when Ronald Reagan used phrases like "evil empire" and "focus of evil in the modern world" about the old Soviet Union. "Simplistic!" "Infantile!" they cried.
Except, of course, for those who actually were living in the regimes Mr. Reagan accurately described. They responded with gratitude because Reagan's courage in speaking the truth offered them a glimpse of hope.
Reagan's moral clarity about the nature of communism was a key tool in winning the Cold War. Bush's clarity about the terrorists -- and evil nations that sponsor them -- is equally essential. Though diplomats cavil, the president's words are kindling hope in the people of North Korea, Iran and Iraq.