NEW YORK – The after-effects of President Bush's "axis of evil" speech have hit. Europeans are pushing back hard — fearful that Bush just might, once again, mean what he said.
He's like that. Unlike many former presidents — including his father and especially Bill Clinton — George W. Bush signals where he's going.
He spoke his mind on the Kyoto accord and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and, sure enough, got out of both. He gave his thoughts about the Taliban and Al Qaeda and, by God, attacked them both.
And last week he leaned forward and grimaced about the evil trio of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. But it was Iraq that got the biggest grimace. So beware, Baghdad.
That grimace set the Europeans into a tizzy. Here in New York City, at the gala Davos World Forum, they started to push back, and hard. The "global" crowd was momentarily relieved by Secretary of State Colin Powell's diplo-speak about our determination to alleviate "the conditions for terrorism." By this, quite strangely, Powell meant poverty.
Well, Usama bin Laden is sure not poor. The 15 of 19 terrorists on Sept. 11 who hailed from one of the world's wealthiest states, Saudi Arabia, weren't poor. Nor were the other four from Egypt. The father of key ringleader Muhammad Atta cruises around Cairo in a Mercedes — not exactly the national norm. Atta attended school in the West and reportedly checked out of an American hotel, shortly before Sept. 11, because it lacked an Internet high-speed portal in his room.
Nonetheless, that's become part of the mantra of peace against the Bush talk of war. Besides that pitch about alleviating poverty, the Europeans stress the need to bind the international coalition.
While at Davos, for instance, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder stressed that when thinking "about attacking Iraq … it is important that we bear in mind the cohesion of the international alliance against terrorism. I have also said that it needs to include leaders of moderate Arab nations." That may sound sensible, but misses some key points.
First, to place the "cohesion of the international alliance" as top priority is a recipe for inaction. The most reluctant coalition member(s) then gets a veto. Had Bush adopted this approach on Afghanistan, the Western and "moderate Arab" diplomats would still be conferring about what might be done. Nothing would have been done.
The main point bears repeating: The international coalition must follow the mission, rather than determine it. Different nations will join us to different degrees on different activities at different times. If lots join us against Al Qaeda and few against Iraq, well that's fine.
Second, Europeans have no good ideas on what to do about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The German defense minister said earlier this week that he favors a "political strategy" on Iraq, rather than a military one. Does he know of any negotiation that has ever worked with Saddam Hussein? Or does he mean "hitting" the dictator with a tough speech at the United Nations? Or a diplomatic demarche? He evidently means anything but action.
Meanwhile, his boss Chancellor Schroeder said that "Iraq would be well-advised to allow unconditional inspections — a reasonable demand that the United States … is making." Yet Saddam refuses to have inspectors. And even when they were allowed in Iraq, they missed every major part of his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program. So that's a real non-starter.
Third, the European track record on threat-assessment inspires scant confidence. During the 1930s, the U.S. government under Franklin Roosevelt was more accurate on the Nazi threat to civilization than any European government. From the 1940s to the 1980s, the U.S. governments — spanning from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan — were more accurate on the Communist threat than any European government. And today, Bush is sounder in his tough stance than they are in their waffling.
Last, it was America that was attacked on Sept. 11 — not the Europeans. When one of them is attacked as viciously, we would yield to that country on how best to react. But that's improbable. America was attacked before — and we're most likely to be attacked again — because we're the world's symbol of freedom, tolerance and progress.
Since we're attacked as the leader of such values, we should act like the leader in defense of these values. Whoever among the Europeans — or "moderate Arabs" — is with us, in taking a strong stance, is welcome. Whoever is not, just stand aside so we can act responsibly on behalf of your, as well as our, values.
Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.