Foreign Policy

Axis of Incoherence


It was the most controversial line in the State of the Union address. Barely acknowledging Osama bin Laden, who still seems beyond capture, Bush Minor instead turned his rhetorical guns on Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. "States like these and their terrorist allies," the president declared, "constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." The president's remark (ghosted, apparently, by the right-wing pundit David Frum) has provoked both damning criticism and inspired mockery. (On the other hand, the King of Jordan liked it.)

If axis means alliance, Bush's comments are especially odd. There's been a mild thaw between Iran and Iraq, but the two countries are still basically foes. And while North Korea has some terrorist connections, the only terror force with which it is closely linked is the Japanese Red Army. (The administration's actual fear seems to be that some terrorists might be using North Korean weapons.) It's as though Franklin Roosevelt, in 1944, declared that the world was threatened by an axis of Germany, Russia, and Argentina.

Worse yet: By firing volleys at nations linked to terrorism in general, rather than at specific threats to the United States, Bush is moving still further away from the idea of a limited fight to defend the country. Instead, we step closer to what one empire-booster calls a "pre-emptive and unilateral war": a perpetual crusade against terror itself--except, of course, for the terror committed in the name of that war.

Not, mind you, that it's entirely clear just what axis-fighting policies Bush has in mind. Asked to elaborate on the president's remarks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered this: "If we decide to initiate things, we'll initiate things, in a manner, in a time, and with the choices that fit us. If the world decides to impose choices on us, then we'll make choices." If you can make sense of that, you may have a codebreaking job waiting for you at the National Security Agency.