Testing the 'Axis of Evil'

In 1983, President Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Eight years later, the Soviet Union was gone.

In 1987, he went to Berlin and demanded: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Two years later, the wall fell.

On Jan. 29 of this year President Bush referred to three countries – Iraq, Iran, and North Korea – as an "axis of evil" for their sponsorship of terrorism or pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

On the Reagan scale of success, is Mr. Bush making progress in getting rid of this "evil"?

To be fair, it's been less than three months since the Bush speech. And those three nations are still only a distant front in a broad, global war mainly aimed, for now, at the Al Qaeda network.

Mr. Bush also has been forced into managing Israel's own unique war against suicide attackers, with Israel defying his command to pull its troops out of the West Bank and avoid inciting more suicide bombers. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Still, Bush must be held to account on whether his tagging of the governments of these countries as "evil" will eventually bring real results.

The early signs are that Iraq and North Korea, possibly fearing US intervention like the successful war in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, are squirming like wild boars to get out of Mr. Bush's cross hairs.

Iraq and North Korea, both of which have launched missiles in the past and have tried to make bomb-grade nuclear material, launched a diplomatic offensive after Jan. 29 in an attempt to pretend they're ready to meet US concerns or to deflect US ire.

Bush isn't buying it. On Sunday, he and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met in Texas and laid down strict markers for Iraq to quickly open up for weapons inspections. They hinted at military action for a "regime change."

North Korea, meanwhile, has once again warmed up ties with South Korea, and last week hinted at talks with the US. It also claims it will move ahead on a 1994 deal to drop its nuclear program in exchange for foreign-built power plants. Given the North's weak situation, Bush can now press for more from the communist state.

Of the three nations, Iran remains unmoved by Bush's "axis" speech. Its hard-line clerics are even more defiant, and recently scotched suggestions of talks with the US by more reformist leaders. The main test for Bush lies in forcing Russia not to help Iran build a nuclear power plant. So far, Russia's not playing along. Bush needs to test Moscow's claim to be an antiterrorist partner.

All in all, the president's on track to make good against the "axis of evil."

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