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Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2001 / 16 Adar, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Consumer Reports

Nattering do-nothingists -- NOW, in our time of crisis, helpfully comes former president Jimmy Carter to pronounce that the current president -- this would be the president who actually has the job at the moment as opposed to the president who set a record for incompetence that will stand until the seas run dry when he did have the job and has been tediously nattering away at his infinitely superior successors ever since -- has erred.

In the opinion of the man who presided over 400-plus days of "America Held Hostage," George W. Bush's description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" was "overly simplistic and counterproductive." Added the man who was once attacked by a rabbit, "I think it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement."

It is tempting to accept Carter's verdict as all the proof needed that Bush is solidly on the right track. But the argument needs to be addressed, not because it is not foolish but because it is the fashion among fools. And, as the great political novelist Ross Thomas once pointed out, when you've got all the fools in town on your side, you've practically won.

"The reviews are in, and they are bad," recently declared Mark Lilla, who is a professor of something called social thought (presumably, there are professors of antisocial thought too, but no one knows who they are since they won't answer the phone). "President Bush's characterization of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an 'axis of evil' has been met by our allies' puzzled annoyance and by massive rallies in Iran that only strengthened hard-line elements there."

This is a fair summation of the fools' position, and it is almost entirely wrong. First, the suggestion in the adjective "puzzled" is that "axis of evil" describes nothing valid, as Iran, Iraq and North Korea are not -- in the World War II sense of Germany, Japan and Italy -- an axis. Right. As French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine noted to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, "axis of evil" was intended not as literal description but as evocative shorthand for an abstract but real concept -- something akin to John F. Kennedy's "New Frontier."

The further suggestion is that "the allies" (all of them) are (uniformly) "annoyed" at the United States. There is in fact no uniform opinion on this subject among the various peoples of the various states allied with the United States. To the degree that a coherent public opinion can be found in allied European nations, it remains supportive of America and the Bush administration. In France, Britain and Germany, there does exist a pathological hatred of America. But the illness is largely found only among doddering relics in what is left of the old socialist political elites of these nations. In France, as Vedrine pointed out, anti-American sentiment is limited to about 10 percent of the public.

As for what matters, the actions of governments, especially NATO governments -- well, the governments of Britain and Spain continue to strongly support the Bush policy; and, with criticisms, so do the governments of France and Germany. The overall situation was summed up last week by Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, who criticized the "overstatement of differences" between the United States and its allies.

Finally, there is the notion, voiced by both the former president and the professor of social thought, that Bush's rhetoric somehow served to give succor to "the hard-liners" and to set back the cause of peace. It may be generally noted that this has served as Trope Number One for the appeasement-minded since young Jimmy was studying at Uncle Neville's knee, and it has always been proved wrong, usually after the death of a very large number of people. Specifically, it may be added that anyone who takes "massive rallies" in the ayatollahs' Iran as a face-value manifestation of spontaneous popular sentiment is a hopeless naif. Or possibly a professor of social thought. Or possibly a former president.

Prior to Sept. 11, U.S. policy toward regimes such as those in Iran, Iraq and North Korea -- regimes that were indeed fundamentally evil, that were avowed enemies of the United States, that aggressively sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction and that supported anti-American terrorist groups -- was this: We can live with them.

The Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 policy is: No, we cannot. Not anymore, not with 3,000 dead. The reality is terribly changed and we must deal with that change. We must do what we can to limit the threat of a second Sept. 11. And what we can most effectively do is to strike where we can find something to strike at: to destroy or coerce those regimes that arm and support and hide the transnational terrorists who would wage long-term guerrilla war against the United States.

Do-nothingism -- Carterism -- is no longer an option.

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