Bush Got Carried Away With Axis Of Evil

The reduction of the great events sweeping the world to the argot of the video game would be worth a smile if the implications were not so chilling.

Since U.S. President George W. Bush’s state-of-the-nation address last week, we know we are in a war of the worlds pitting The Great Satan against The Axis of Evil. Even the World Wrestling Federation might think twice about its credibility before putting that one up in neon.

Washington too has realized the presidential speech writers got a tad carried away with the power of imagery when they linked Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the dark troika next in line to be felled after the United States’ crushing victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The administration’s spin doctors have been out in force attempting to couch the president’s message in less comic strip terms. The essence of the message, though, remains the same. Bush said again on Monday he regards it legitimate to attack Iraq, Iran and North Korea if they continue to try to acquire biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

“I put them on notice: The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons,” he said. “It’s now up to them to change their behaviour.”

America’s close allies among the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have already distanced themselves from Bush. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said on the weekend members would require a good deal more evidence than they currently have before joining the U.S. in any attacks on Iran, Iraq or North Korea.

Others have pointed out the word ‘axis’ implies an alliance, which defies belief because Iran and Iraq are old and bitter enemies.

But after its success in Afghanistan Washington’s blood is up, even though it has so far failed to find Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network held responsible for the Sept.11 attacks on the US.

Richard Perle, a key security adviser to Bush made it clear on the weekend the administration does not regard the support of its friends as a priority. The U.S., he said, has “never been more willing if necessary to act alone.”

“One hopes that won’t be necessary,” Perle told an international conference on security being held in Germany. “But I can promise you that if we have to choose between protecting ourselves against terrorism or a long list of friends and allies, we will protect ourselves against terrorism.”

Those are right and proper sentiments for the government of any nation state. The question here, though, is whether the three countries in Bush’s Axis of Evil are being set up unnecessarily.

That question is particularly relevant regarding Iran and North Korea.

Both have been states that looked at the outside world with malignant suspicion. But in recent years there have been significant efforts to bring both into the community of nations.

North Korea has begun to see the benefits of being a team player in response to persistent overtures by South Korea, Japan and other Pacific Rim nations, including Canada.

The politics of Iran are Byzantine. There is an elected government under a reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, whose authority is heavily circumscribed on many issues by the zealot Islamic clerics led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khatami, with the careful support of outsiders including Washington’s NATO allies in Europe, has been pushing slowly but steadily for modernization in a political climate where any misstep means a calamitous fall.

Bush’s Axis of Evil line essentially cut Khatami off at the knees. Ayatollah Khamenei, who relishes calling the U.S. “The Great Satan,” said Bush is “thirsty for human blood.” Bush’s line has played into the hands of the hardline men most likely to espouse terrorism in North Korea too.

One of the people intimately involved in confidence-building negotiations with Pyongyang for nearly a decade said in dispirited and outraged tones yesterday Bush’s line had pushed relations with North Korea back to where they were in 1993 when the process started. The line has also created significant mistrust among Washington’s regional allies, South Korea and Japan, who are most vulnerable if the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, decides that if the brand of terrorist is irremovable he might as well behave like one.

Bush’s insistence that Iran, Iraq and North Korea are irredeemable promoters of terrorism might have been received more sympathetically among Washington’s allies had not some of the things he and administration spokesmen said not been plain daft.

Principal among this is the fierce assertion that Iran has been assisting al-Qaida terrorists to escape Afghanistan.

It must be assumed the experts among the administration’s political and national security advisers gave the top officials the real story and that somehow it was forgotten when they got in front of microphones.

The notion that Iran would assist al-Qaida is rubbish. Iran, which is a Shia Muslim country, has spent the last eight years aiding the Northern Alliance warlords’ battle against the Taliban, which is Sunni Muslim, and its al-Qaida fighters. They hate each other with a deep and passionate loathing.

The performance by Bush and his senior officials last week leaves the unappetizing taste that it is desire rather than reality driving policy.

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