| 11 September 2001>News Stories>Allies Hear Sour Notes in 'Axis of Evil' Chorus
|Allies Hear Sour Notes in 'Axis of Evil' Chorus
David E. Sanger . NY Times . 17 February 2002
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 As a new and glaring rift emerges between the White House and America's allies over how to pursue the next phase of the war on terrorism, something odd has happened: President Bush and his top aides now seem to welcome, even to egg on, the sharp differences prompted by Mr. Bush's determination to expand his battle against what he calls "evil" regimes.
In private, his friends and closest aides report, Mr. Bush fumes about weak-kneed "European elites" and scared Arab leaders who, in his view, lack the courage to stand up to states that may one day provide terrorists with nuclear or biological weapons.
Today Mr. Bush departed for Asia saying that the goal of his trip was to strengthen his antiterrorism coalition. But it was telling that even before Air Force One departed, the South Korean press was filled with denunciations of his inclusion of North Korea as part of the "axis of evil," protesting that Mr. Bush was undercutting years of diplomacy aimed at luring the Stalinist North out of its frightfully armed shell with economic incentives.
In China, where Mr. Bush is making a delayed state visit, the country's leadership has warned in the past few weeks of "serious consequences" if the president takes military action against Iraq. Beijing has voiced worries about a re-emergence of American unilateralism, which it thought had faded in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But in the last two weeks, Mr. Bush's strident tone has suggested just the opposite. In appearances across the country, he has built on the "axis of evil" phraseology of his State of the Union address, knowing full well that each repetition irritates and divides the countries he once hailed as his great coalition partners.
His national security aides usually more attuned to how Mr. Bush's words play Poland or Peru than Peoria have begun to cite evidence that Americans are behind the broader mission of rooting out rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction, even if the allies are not.
They compare Mr. Bush's mission to Ronald Reagan's single-minded goal of ridding the world of Communism. They describe their boss as a man who emerged from the first phase of the war more convinced than ever that the United States alone has the power to complete its task, with the coalition if possible and without them if necessary.
It is an America-first position that Vice President Dick Cheney voiced with particular clarity on Friday to the Council on Foreign Relations.
"America has friends and allies in this cause, but only we can lead it," he said in a ballroom filled with many of his old friends and former colleagues. "Only we can rally the world in a task of this complexity against an enemy so elusive and so resourceful. The United States and only the United States can see this effort through to victory."
When America's allies have begged to differ in recent days, they have found themselves engaged in open, public bickering with even with the most diplomatic members of Mr. Bush's war council.
It started when France's foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, dismissed Mr. Bush's approach to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as "simplistic," and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell shot back that his French colleague was "getting the vapors."
Then, all this week, there has been a far more telling war of words between Mr. Powell and Christopher Patten, the European Union's foreign affairs minister. Until a few days ago, he was a favorite of Washington conservatives for the tough line he took against China while serving as Britain's last governor general to Hong Kong.
When Mr. Patten started off the tiff by accusing Mr. Bush of taking an "absolutist" approach to the world, Mr. Powell shot back that his old friend deeply misunderstood and said, "I shall have a word with him, as they say in Britain."
Before he had a chance, Mr. Patten published a lengthy rebuke of the administration in The Financial Times, saying that American success in Afghanistan had "reinforced some dangerous instincts," including the belief that "the projection of military power is the only basis of true security," that "the U.S. can rely only on itself," and that allies were "an optional extra."
He is hardly alone in that view. The German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said this week that the Bush administration was treating coalition partners like "satellites," a term clearly meant as a comparison to the old Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc.
And then President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Bush's newest strategic partner, weighed in with the observation that the members of the antiterror coalition signed up to battle the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and "Iraq is not on this list."
Even Canada America's closest allies save for Britain warned that any effort by the United States to act unilaterally in the next phase of the war "will go nowhere."
What makes these exchanges particularly notable, apart from their bluntness, is the shift they reflect in foreign views of Mr. Bush and Mr. Bush's evolving views of his allies.
For the first nine months of his presidency, whenever Mr. Bush was tempted to act on his own dumping the Kyoto Protocol on global warming with barely a warning to Japan or Europe, for example he usually followed up with an intensive round of fence-mending. By this summer, he was moderating his language, paying off America's dues to the United Nations and talking about the future of new partnerships.
Then came Sept. 11 and a new spirit of alliance. European and Asian leaders said they thought they were seeing a George W. Bush emerge. This was a president who invited foreign leaders to the Oval Office for long conversations, who dialed around the globe the way his father once had, whose go-it-alone tendencies were being sanded down by the realities of operating in a complex world that provided many physical and financial havens for terrorists.
Now, they fear, the old Mr. Bush may be re-emerging. The change in view began with his decision to withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, but since Russia seemed to react mildly, so did Europe. It accelerated when he declared that Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were not "prisoners of war." Then came the "axis of evil," a phrase that European and Asian allies alike said dangerously lumped together three countries that pose very different challenges.
What bothers the Europeans the most is not entirely clear: Mr. Bush's goals, his missionary zeal, or the thought that Washington sees its role as wiping out bad governments and the allies' role as one of cleaning up with aid and peacekeepers.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage has little patience for that kind of hand-wringing. "It's very hard to attack something like `axis of evil,' " he said, "because Mr. Bush was not talking about people, but about regimes."
At the core of the debate lies a deeper question about American foreign
policy that now bedevils Mr. Bush and his aides: is America stronger when
it acts in an unfettered manner and defends its national interests directly,
or when it acts with allies whose interests may frustrate Washington's