Some of America's allies have reacted negatively to U.S. President George W. Bush's speech two weeks ago in which he made unspecified threats against Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, whom he characterized as an "axis of evil." They complain that Washington is prepared to act without the consent of its friends, and some have even accused Bush of equating all the world's troubles with terrorism. But analysts in the U.S. say Bush may well be prepared to act alone if he believes the threat is real -- and imminent.
Washington, 11 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In the two weeks since his State of the Union address, U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly reasserted America's right to protect itself -- and its allies -- from nations that support terrorists and nations that destabilize the peace by pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
But that message has met with criticism in Europe from some of the U.S.'s closest allies.
The most vocal critics have been the French, who accuse Bush of not seeking consultation with U.S. allies. Last week (8 February) French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin urged the U.S. government not to give in to what he termed the "strong temptation of unilateralism."
Two days earlier, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine spoke contemptuously of Bush's world view, calling it "simplistic" for "reducing the problems in the world to the struggle against terrorism."
In his State of the Union speech on 29 January, Bush singled out Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as constituting what he termed an "axis of evil." He said the U.S. would not wait for another attack on the U.S. before taking action.
Concerning Iraq, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said he would prefer to deal with Baghdad diplomatically -- not militarily. Scharping's deputy, Ludger Volmer, said there is no evidence directly linking Baghdad to recent acts of terror.
As for Iran, Volmer urged Washington not to use terrorism as a pretext for taking any action against Tehran. The European Union says it opposes making Iran an enemy in the campaign against terrorism.
Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the United States' strongest foreign supporter, says Washington must not take military action against Iraq unless it can provide convincing evidence that Baghdad was clearly involved in the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.
Bush's critics among his allies seem especially concerned the U.S. will do as it pleases whether it has their support or not. Last week (6 February) U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed these concerns, but he stressed Washington will act with or without the support of its friends.
"We believe in multilateralism. But when it is a matter of principle -- and when the multilateral community does not agree with us -- we do not shrink from doing that which we think is right, which is in our interest, even if some of our friends disagree with us."
Some analysts say they believe this means Bush has already made up his mind and is prepared to take military action, probably against Iraq.
One is Joseph Cirincione, the director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an independent policy center in Washington. Cirincione tells RFE/RL he expects a U.S. attack on Iraq within six months.
"Is he [Bush] going to go after Iraq? I think absolutely. There is a consensus in Republican circles in Washington that it's a question of when, not whether -- that the debate is over, that we are going after Iraq. And increasingly, many Democrats and independents are acquiescing to that inevitability. I think right now the president's deeply engaged in developing -- in choosing among his options."
Cirincione says he thinks Washington will make one more effort to force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to admit UN weapons inspectors into the country to search for weapons of mass destruction. He says if Iraq refuses to admit the inspectors, the U.S. will then have a better chance of persuading its European allies to support American military action.
Another analyst, Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank, agrees Bush is probably targeting Iraq militarily. He tells RFE/RL he believes Bush's State of the Union remarks about Iran and North Korea were designed to deflect attention away from Iraq and blunt potential criticism coming from Europe and other countries.
"[Bush] knows he has intense opposition from the European allies, [and] from Russia, from China, to any military action against Iraq. If he simply singled out that country in his speech, the alarm bells in Paris, Berlin, and Moscow would be going off immediately. Whereas by doing this, they're not quite sure what to make of it. They're not very happy about it."
Carpenter says he thinks that any national leader should be free to take military action against an enemy without seeking consent from foreign allies. But he says he believes the Bush administration is exercising that right too often, and thereby diluting it. And he adds that Bush tends to make up his mind and only then consult with U.S. allies.
"I think that [acting unilaterally] ought to be an arrow that we keep in our quiver rather than just putting it on the bow constantly. And I think we're perhaps getting a little too tempted to do that more often than we need to."
James Lilley, who served as the U.S. ambassador to China under Bush's father, President George Bush, a decade ago, dismisses all talk of imminent military action against Iraq or any other country. Lilley, now an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, another Washington think tank, tells RFE/RL that the president deliberately left unsaid how he would deal with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea if they continued to pose a threat to the U.S. and its allies.
"He's not saying, 'We're going to go bomb them or invade them or stop their ships.' He's going to use what means are available to do this, and they're different in Iraq, they're different in Iran, they're different in [North] Korea." As a result, Lilley says, military action may not be taken against any of the three.
Lilley says the Bush administration should be mindful of the concern expressed by America's European allies, but he emphasizes that Washington should be free to act unilaterally to defend itself if it does not enjoy their support. He says such criticism from its friends is nothing new to U.S. presidents.
"In Europe you've got all these cross-currents. You've got the commercial relationships with Iraq and the potential in Iran, and this really influences their thinking, I think. Plus the fact that they like to take 'pot shots' at the United States."
And only Bush knows whether he is prepared to expand the war on terrorism -- and if so, whether he must go it alone.