The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Chicago Tribune:
President Bush has stirred up a hornet's nest in Iran by including the Islamic republic in his "axis of evil" trifecta of rogue nations, along with Iraq and North Korea.
Millions of indignant demonstrators, egged on by the government on the 23rd anniversary of the Iranian revolution, took to the streets of Iran this week with chants of "Death to America." They feel Bush unfairly maligned their nation.
So then, just how do they define "evil"?
Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Iran has started jockeying for influence in Afghanistan, possibly destabilizing the interim government.
Iran is believed to be giving safe haven to members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
Iran was recently caught shipping 50 tons of weapons, including the plastic explosives favored by suicide bombers, to the Palestinian Authority.
Iran continues to fund, and likely arm, anti-Israeli groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, both listed by the United States as terrorists.
Iran has shown some promise, embodied in the reformist President Mohammed Khatami, who promotes the idea of detente with the United States and other nations. Iran has held four relatively democratic elections since 1997 and the vast majority of people there are voting for reformers and clamoring for real democracy.
But power in the country remains in the hands of the clerics, who control the security, intelligence and judicial systems. Iran is still led by a harsh regime that remains intent on mischief abroad.
The United States has long supported Khatami. It should continue to encourage his reforms. But it can't do so with its eyes closed. Iran is still dangerous. Bush may well have been firing a shot across the nation's bow telling it that America will not wait indefinitely for it to choose its path.
The United States wants the reformers to win the battle. Bush's comments on the "axis of evil" were clearly directed at the intransigent mullahs. Bush may be signaling the United States will increasingly support the will of the Iranian people for democracy in the long run.
Bush may have complicated longtime U.S. diplomatic efforts to support the rise of reformers in Iran against the aging, hard-line mullahs who insist on continuing their tyrannical theocracy.
But the door is open to improved relations, once the people of Iran succeed in their desire for a more open and tolerant society.
There's no sense in pretending that Iran has entered an age of enlightenment. It may get there some day. But not until the folks in the street focus not on America, but on the repressive mullahs who run their lives.
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