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Axis of Evil, version 2.0


Who could forget "the Axis of Evil"? That ringing and controversial phrase from President George W. Bush's January 2002 State of the Union Address set the stage for the war in Iraq that commenced in March 2003 and continues still. The "axis" meant Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and their "terrorist allies."

The confrontation with the first Axis hasn't gone as well as planned. So, in the grand tradition of modest proposals, I would like to nominate a new tripartite Axis of Evil to replace the old one. It consists of Pakistan, Germany, Malaysia, and their terrorist allies. The old Axis will be offered early retirement, and perhaps an estate or two on the French Riveria.

Let's return to the scene: a joint session of Congress in the Capitol building on the evening of Jan. 29, 2002, just a few short months after the shock and horror of Sept. 11, 2001. As Bush explained it, it wasn't enough to burst into Afghanistan and destroy al-Qaida's bases there. America also had to keep "terrorists and regimes" from threatening the United States with "chemical, biological or nuclear weapons."

His logic seemed to be that certain hostile states were developing these weapons not to promote their own security or advance their own ambitions, but to menace America with catastrophic attacks by apocalyptically armed terrorist organizations. Other, friendly states -- and he singled out Pakistan for special praise -- were "cracking down on terror."

Here's what the President said:

...we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world. (Applause.)

...My hope is that all nations will heed our call, and eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten their countries and our own. Many nations are acting forcefully. Pakistan is now cracking down on terror, and I admire the strong leadership of President Musharraf. (Applause.)

But some governments will be timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake about it: If they do not act, America will. (Applause.)

Our... goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

Why Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, precisely? The memoir of former White House speechwriter David Frum, entitled The Right Man, explained it, partly. Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker magazine summarized Frum's account:
In the book, [Frum] writes that when drafting duties for last year's State of the Union Message were being doled out, his assignment was "to provide a justification for a war," specifically a war with Iraq. After much cogitation, he hit upon the idea of likening what the United States has been up against since September 11, 2001, to the villains of the Second World War. The phrase he came up with was "axis of hatred." Higher-ups changed this to "axis of evil," to make it sound more "theological." Although Frum initially intended his "strong language" to apply only to Iraq, Iran was quickly added. (You can't have a single-pointed axis.)

North Korea was an afterthought. It got stuck in at the last minute, but Frum doesn't quite explain how or why.

He didn't need to. Throughout the 1990s, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, the so-called "rogue states," were routinely cited as the sources of a future chemical-, biological-, or nuclear-armed ballistic missile threat against the United States. These three, and occasionally others, were offered as a justification for building an elaborate and strategically questionable National Missile Defense. The Soviet Union had failed, so missile defense enthusiasts -- and to a certain extent, the defense community more generally -- were reduced to scrounging up whatever old foes might still be lying around.

The "Axis" and the "Rogues" were the same three states, armed with the same menacing weapons, real or imagined. But their delivery system of choice, Bush announced in not so many words, was no longer ballistic missiles, it was terrorist organizations. (Because he still intended to break out of the ABM Treaty, however, Bush for a time continued to cite the ballistic missile threat alongside the terrorist threat.)

After 9/11, going after any of these weak excuses for an "enemy state" comes across as the worst sort of oldthink, an attempt to relive the glorious old days of the Second World War, when America responded to the dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor with a national mobilization and the decisive use of force, rather than a messy, foggy, open-ended twilight struggle with terrorism.

It seems, in other words, like a plunge into violent solipsism. A few months after the State of the Union Address, James Roche, then the Secretary of the Air Force (a subordinate to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld), took the occasion of a speech at MIT to recount Rumsfeld's reaction to Sept. 11:

On September 12th of last year, I received a memo from my boss, Secretary Don Rumsfeld, with a reference to Roberta Wohlstetter's [1962] book, Pearl Harbor - Warning and Decision....

You can understand how the Secretary, our entire government, and even I were - on that day - trying to understand, or at least put into context the completely unexpected attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and our Pentagon, as well as the crash of the flight filled with heroic passengers in Pennsylvania that immortalized the phrase, "Let's Roll." But the note Secretary Rumsfeld sent me also included a foreword to Roberta's book, by Thomas Schelling... in which he observed that "there is a tendency in our (government's) planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange... what looks strange is thought improbable... what is improbable need not be considered seriously."

Rumsfeld's choice of text was self-condemnatory, not because of anything leading up to the surprise of 9/11, but because he -- and the Administration in general -- failed afterwards to learn anything from it.

Even after awakening to an unfamiliar new world on Sept. 12, Rumsfeld and Bush remained mired in an old one, and insisted on wielding state power in familiar and (to them) comfortable old ways. Indeed, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, in their dense, penetrating volume on Bush administration foreign policy, America Unbound (2003), employ precisely the same passage in stern judgment of the Administration on just these grounds, without mentioning Rumsfeld's own interest in it. (For another example of Rumsfeld's garbling of Schelling, see here.)

[Addendum, Feb. 15, 2004: Bob Woodward, in Bush at War (2002) writes that Rumsfeld "routinely" handed out copies of the preface. Daalder and Lindsay cite Woodward's book in several places in their own, but not in reference to this issue.]

(In a book by journalist Ron Suskind, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has gone so far to accuse the Administration -- particularly Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld -- of taking advantage of the political space opened by 9/11 to consummate an old ambition of conquering Iraq. I'll discuss this allegation on a later occasion.)

So much for the original Axis of Evil. (For an earlier comment on Iran, see here. I'll add more about this later. [As promised. Click here.] A comment touching on North Korea is here.) Surely, we can find a more suitable Axis of Evil -- an Axis 2.0.

First, let's consider the case of Pakistan. That is, of course, what the Bush administration has simply refused to do. As David Sanger wrote in last Sunday's New York Times,

PLACE side by side the two intelligence problems that captivated Washington last week - Iraq and Pakistan - and you can see stunning, polar-opposite images of what happens when murky intelligence collides with political agendas.
Or, as Maureen Dowd put it,
The U.S. invaded Iraq, which turned out not to have what our pals in Pakistan did have [i.e., a nuclear weapons program] and were giving out willy-nilly to all the bad guys except Iraq, which wouldn't take it.
Of course, if you didn't feel like waiting around for pampered stars at the Times to figure all of this out, you could have read my own comments on this same score back in December, here. (Long story short, Pakistan, in the person of Dr. A.Q. Khan, shopped its nuclear technology to several countries, some of which we may not have learned about yet. These included all three members of Bush's Axis of Evil, although the Iraqis apparently thought it was a scam and didn't bite.)

Pakistan, moreover, embodies the nexus of terrorism and nuclear weapons that President Bush finds so terrifying. As far as anyone knows, Pakistan has never given nuclear weapons to terrorists, although the visits of a couple of Pakistani nuclear physicists to Afghanistan to go hobnob with Usama bin Ladin suggest that this is closer to the truth than is really tolerable.

No, the real-life link between nukes and terror looks somewhat different. Deterrence with nuclear weapons allows Pakistan a sort of strategic buffer. This holds at bay any serious incursions by the Indian army, thereby allowing Pakistani-backed terrorist organizations to conduct bold and outrageous acts, such as the bloody invasion of India's parliament house in December 2001 (shortly before the above-cited State of the Union Address).

Without Pakistan's Bomb, you can be sure that India would have answered any such attack a with a harsh reprisal. Instead, the Indian army mobilized, marched to the Pakistani frontier, and glowered in frustration. And that is precisely why Pakistan's terrorist allies felt able to conduct such an attack in the first place.

Pakistan is, in effect, the first state to bring to life as strategy the nightmarish vision of Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, who argued in a slightly eccentric 1991 volume (titled in different editions either On Future War or The Transformation of War) that the very presence of nuclear weapons would increasingly squash the ability of states to wage conventional war. Organized violence, he predicted, increasingly would be redirected into buses, shopping malls, and offices -- terrorism, in short.

So much for Pakistan. I'm adding Germany as another member of Axis 2.0, since sloppy security at German (and Dutch) nuclear facilities allowed Pakistan (and Iraq, but this is another story) to steal advanced centrifuge designs for the enrichment of uranium. Also, the 9/11 plot was organized to a large extent in Hamburg, Germany.

Malaysia rounds out the bunch, both for hosting innumerable meetings of the 9/11 plotters and other terrorists over the years -- the country is a regular convention center for Islamic terror groups -- and for being the home of Scomi Group Berhad, a firm that churned out centrifuge parts to Dr. A.Q. Khan's specifications before sending them on to Libya and possibly elsewhere as well. [2/17/04: And lest we forget, former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammed recently became infamous for Hitler-like remarks about the Jews.]

Move over, Saddam. Roll over, Ayatollah. Get a trim, Kim. The new Axis of Evil is in town.


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Replies: 1 Comment

I am amazed at how many people in the media that know what our government's expectations in Iraq were. I keep hearing that "things are not going as expected”, ” There are no WMD", "The Iraqi people hate us". And it goes on and on. How do all you guys get all this privy information? I think you are all full of it! All you think about is making a name for yourself. Any kind of name. We have enough Howard Stearns already! The Iraqi people do not hate us. Go there... I did! No WMD? It's been less that a year! Give us a break, Iraq is as big as California, and they had all the time in the world to hide anything.

Is it possible that the Government has plans that they don't share with the whole world? Should we reveal all to the Media?

Do any of you guys see the benefit of having an American presents in the Middle East? IF we do succeed with a democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, is it probable that it will spread through out the region? They are begging for Democracy over there. Just look at Iran.

Did it ever dawn on you how difficult it is to have a war against people that have no country to go after? Do you think the cowards (terrorists) are killing in this way by chance? This is there plan. That is what cowards do (hit and run). After they got their butts kicked by Israel they had no other way to fight without losing everything. Now they want to kill Americans too. They have shown us that they will attack us the same way as they do Israel. We can not win that kind of a war (tit for tat). We must battle in a place of our choosing, and the Middle East is the most appropriate place to have such a war. We can't have it here in the USA, so we must DRAW them to the best place to fight.

Regarding the Palestinians. They want the land back that Israel took after they attacked by all their neighbors. The hell with them!!! Why should they give it back? Without paying a price anyway.

If you want to help The People of the United States. Quit trying to make our government look like fools for your own twisted edification. Show the terrorist that we are a country UNITED. With a resolve that will not die until we are secure again. That’s how this war will be over sooner rather than later. Personally I feel we will never be secure until we take a stand and help the entire world enjoy the same security. But that’s just the way I think.

May God continue to Bless America

An American

Posted by Ron Fante @ 02/20/2004 02:48 AM CST

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