U.S. allies question use of Bush's `axis of evil' label

It is called simplistic and domineering

February 11, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush's branding of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" continues to echo around the world, provoking a mixture of fright, confusion and derision from some of America's longtime friends.

Officials and commentators abroad worry that the United States is about to strike out militarily against its perceived enemies in a way that could harm its allies and disrupt their national agendas.

The president's phrase also has drawn perplexed frowns from those who wonder why three disparate regimes were lumped together. Some say Bush's language, with its emphasis on the word "evil," betrays a lack of sophistication about the world.

Publicly and privately, U.S. officials have stressed to their foreign counterparts that no military operations are imminent and that the administration is open to a dialogue with North Korea and Iran.

But the overseas fallout from the State of the Union speech Jan. 29 underscored how much American power is coming to be equated overseas with military dominance and the extent to which other countries feel they are affected by U.S. actions.

"It did get their attention," said Robert Hunter, a U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Clinton administration. But apart from that, "it wasn't helpful," he said.

Anxiety is sharpest on the Korean peninsula, where thousands of American troops face the army of communist North Korea across a narrow demilitarized zone just 30 miles from the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Bush's speech highlighted longtime American fears about North Korea, which in recent months have been overshadowed by the war against al-Qaida terrorists.

For years, the United States has tried to prevent North Korea's self-isolating regime from developing nuclear weapons and exporting long-range missiles or missile technology to other "rogue states," including Iran.

Such transactions raise the nightmarish possibility that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons could be directed by Iran or one of its client terrorist organizations against American allies or forces.

But South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong voiced concern that Bush's remarks undercut leader Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" of rapprochement with the North, which won the South Korean president a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, according to the Korea Times. A South Korean diplomat here said his country's business community was troubled that Bush's threatening tone could heighten tensions and depress investment.

A commentary published Friday by the Korea Times said Bush's speech had "deprived Kim of even his symbolic status as leader of inter-Korean rapprochement, with the U.S. back in control."

A senior Bush administration official acknowledged last week that the South Koreans are "a little bit nervous" and said one of the president's purposes in traveling to South Korea this month is to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Korean alliance.

None of America's allies echoed the angry, defiant tone of the "axis" powers: Iraq branded Bush's remarks "stupid," Iran's supreme leader said Bush's tone "is that of a man thirsty for human blood" and North Korea said the speech fell "little short of declaring a war."

In the Arab and Muslim world, where America's hostility to Iraq's Saddam Hussein is well-known, officials and commentators were left with little idea how Bush would implement his combative rhetoric.

And they were confused about what message he was sending to Iran just weeks after American officials praised Tehran's cooperation in removing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have not taken back their praise but say Iran has since fueled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by shipping tons of arms to the Palestinians and has sought to undermine the authority of the new government in Afghanistan. Iran was reported yesterday to have closed offices of an Afghan warlord who has opposed the new government in Afghanistan.

Bush's use of the word "axis" drew on the U.S. belief that all three countries have pursued or are pursuing nuclear weapons, have or continue to support terrorism, and are dominated by repressive regimes.

In the Arab world, Bush's speech was seen against widespread sympathy for the impact of United Nations sanctions on the Iraqi population and the perception that the United States is tilting ever-closer to Israel and has abandoned its honest-broker role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Iran and Iraq are the two regimes Israel considers the most threatening. Israeli officials warmly praised the speech.

With Israeli-Palestinian violence raging, Egypt and Jordan fear that a U.S.-led war against Iraq could destabilize the region. Jordan's King Abdullah, though avoiding a public disagreement with Bush during a visit to the White House after the State of the Union address, reaffirmed elsewhere his opposition to going to war against Iraq.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.