The following editorial appeared in Sunday's Washington Post:
President Bush's labeling as evil the regimes of Iran, Iraq and North Korea has provoked consternation in Europe, indignation among the accused and a fair amount of backing and filling from his own administration. The latter is not very helpful. The president's remarks, in his State of the Union address, were quite clear and, for the most part, pushed U.S. foreign policy in the right direction. Among other virtues, what Mr. Bush said about the three countries has the advantage of being true.
North Korea is "a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens." Historians may well wonder, if they look back 50 years hence, how the civilized world allowed 21 million Koreans to live for so long in such conditions of miserable subjugation. Iran, as Mr. Bush said, is ruled by "an unelected few (who) repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom." Saddam Hussein has indeed used poison gas to murder thousands of his own people in Iraq - and, though Mr. Bush did not mention this, today the Iraqi dictator allows thousands more to die for lack of food and medicine so that he can score propaganda points by blaming U.N.-imposed sanctions. People in all three nations live brutally checked by secret police who employ torture and other means of repression. Who wants to argue that this is not evil?
It also strikes us as beyond serious dispute that all three regimes represent potential threats to the United States and its democratic allies, including South Korea and Israel. They have supported terrorists in the past; they are seeking or have acquired nuclear weapons, poison gas or the means to conduct hideous germ warfare; they are openly hostile to the United States and to the values of democracy and liberty. It is not far-fetched, as Richard Butler, Australian diplomat and former U.N. weapons inspection chief, has posited, that Saddam Hussein could make poison gas available to suicide terrorists who would strike inside the United States without Americans ever knowing for sure the source. The U.S. government, it seems to us, is not obliged to wait for such an attack to take action; in fact, the obligation is to do everything possible to pre-empt such an assault.
That does not mean that the United States should go right to war against all, or indeed any, of the regimes. The administration's first obligation is to defend against the most immediate threat, which is al-Qaida....
Moreover, the nations that Mr. Bush lumped into an "axis of evil" are certainly not allies with each other. In Iran ... majority of the population, as revealed in unfulfilled elections, wants to take the country in a different direction, and U.S. policy must encourage the latter while checking the former. A strong U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula is needed to deter the North from attacking, but the democratically elected government in South Korea believes that diplomacy with the North remains worth trying.
Iraq, busy rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction in the absence of U.N. inspectors, represents the most immediate threat, and the "tools" cited by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice do not seem adequate to the danger.... The tool of forcible regime change - of military action - must also be considered.
The countries most opposed to that idea also tend to be those least willing to enforce any measures designed to keep Iraq's dictator in check. France, Russia and China come to mind. Rather than wasting time disputing Mr. Bush's assessment of the threat, they and other nations ought to come together in seeking ways to defang it.