More than a week after President Bush first used the term "axis of evil" in the State of the Unionmessage, papers around the world continue to disparage the concept. Spain's El Mundo railed, "The Western alliance forged after Sept. 11 has begun to crack. The origin of the breach isn't in Europe, whose solidarity with the United States and willingness to combat terrorism remain strong, but with the foreign policy of the American government, determined to unilaterally pursue its private battle against evil without worrying too much about the cost for international peace." Ha'aretz of Israel said the axis of evil is "only an American-Israeli concept. Russia has condemned the slogan, Europe is continuing its 'constructive dialogue' with Iran, and the Arab states have come out in defense of the Islamic state." The op-ed concluded:
Iran is an important country, particularly in regard to the concrete and potential threat it represents. Its inclusion in the "axis of evil" does not remove the threat; at most, it thickens the ranks between the liberals and the fanatics, and brings the line closer to opportunistic countries such as Russia or some Arab states.
Several papers agreed that threatening Iran will hurt Tehran's reform movement. An Asia Times op-ed declared, "President Bush's myopic strategy is unwittingly aiding Iran's clerical establishment at the expense of pro-democracy forces led by President Mohammad Khatami." The Financial Times echoed, "The hardening US attitude towards Tehran appears to have played into the hands of Iranian conservatives bent on undermining reformist President Mohammad Khatami's attempts to open up to the west." (As the Economist observed this week, since the elections two years ago, "Iran's domestic power struggle … is gradually starting to erode revolutionary principles." The Economist suggested that hard-line "mischief-makers" who oppose President Khatami's reforms may be responsible for rumors that Iran helped al-Qaida escapees and for the Karine A incident, where Israel intercepted an arms-laden vessel, apparently on its way from Iran to Palestinian extremists.) An op-ed in Lebanon's Daily Star sketched out a scenario in which all but Tehran's reformers win by demonizing Iran:
Ironically, the Israelis, the Americans and the Syrians all have a stake in playing up the Iranian threat, even if it is revealed to be a hoax. The Israelis get to isolate a potential nuclear foe. The US does the same, while also pressuring a disturbing rival in Afghanistan. And Syria gets to cash in on being the one party in Lebanon able to reduce the danger Iran poses through its arming of Hizbullah.
Heather Mallick, a columnist in Toronto's Globe and Mail concluded that Bush's "Total Bastards list" was "compiled for spite and convenience," and in that same spirit she drew up her own axis of evil. It included Britain, for not returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece; Saudi Arabia, a "hateful place, land o' lopped-off limbs and a bunch of spoon-fed sheiks playing Romanov while the oil rapidly drains away with a final gurgle"; and Canadian Tire, because the "snow shovel you sold me last year slipped out of my hand as I was clearing the driveway and hit me in the face."
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.