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The Axis of Evil Is Back, and It's Never Going Away

U.S. presidents like to go looking for dragons to slay.

RICK WILKING/REUTERS/NewscomRICK WILKING/REUTERS/NewscomBack in 2002, in his first full-fledged State of the Union address, President George W. Bush called Iraq, Iran, and North Korea a terror-sponsoring "axis of evil."

A little more than a year later, the U.S. invaded Iraq, a decision whose consequences are still being felt today. A change in presidents in the U.S. and Iran, meanwhile, eventually led to a five-nation deal on Iran's nuclear program, averting military action for the time being. The North Korean regime has continued its nuclear brinkmanship.

In 2018, the axis of evil is making a comeback. President Trump spent a significant portion of his State of the Union last night on North Korea. (Vox.com called it the "scariest part" because it sounded the way Bush used to talk about Iraq.)

Trump invited the parents of Otto Warmbier, the American student thrown into a North Korean jail and returned to the U.S. in a vegetative state. He also invited a North Korean defector who helps other victims of the regime escape to freedom. (Sadly but unsurprisingly, Trump didn't talk about America's role in welcoming such refugees.)

Trump also engaged in a bit of fearmongering, claiming that North Korea's "reckless pursuit" of nuclear missiles "could very soon threaten our homeland" but insisting his administration was "waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening."

"Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation," the president continued. "I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position."

Trump didn't elaborate on those past mistakes. Despite his sometimes bombastic rhetoric toward Kim Jong Un, he and his administration have tried to engage China and South Korea in a multilateral solution. Fearmongering could threaten that progress.

On Iran, on the other hand, Trump has been openly hostile to the nuclear deal that de-escalated tensions. For now, nevertheless, he has kept the agreement in place. If he does withdraw, that wouldn't completely dismantle the deal, since it also involves the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia. That didn't stop Trump from calling on Congress last night to "address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal."

And Iraq? U.S. troops returned there following a three-year break after the official end of the Iraq War, this time to fight ISIS. While claiming "almost 100 percent of the territory" once held by ISIS had been liberated, Trump insisted U.S. troops would remain in Iraq and Syria until "ISIS is defeated."

Trump also boasted of "tough sanctions" imposed on Cuba and Venezuela. Those dictatorships, while brutal, pose even less of a threat to the U.S. than North Korea or Iran. Meanwhile, other dictatorships, like those in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, continue to be coddled by Washington.

Such schizophrenia can make it difficult for other international actors to anticipate what the U.S. will do, and Trump's love of confrontational rhetoric can make it hard to de-escalate tensions. A motivated president can always find countries to fit into an "axis of evil."

Photo Credit: RICK WILKING/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • damikesc||

    Trump also engaged in a bit of fearmongering, claiming that North Korea's "reckless pursuit" of nuclear missiles "could very soon threaten our homeland" but insisting his administration was "waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening."

    Hmm, country develops a nuke program illegally. Fires missiles off indiscriminately. Openly says they wish to attack the US.

    Yup, nothing to see here.

    On Iran, on the other hand, Trump has been openly hostile to the nuclear deal that de-escalated tensions.

    Giving Iran all they want with no requirements in return does tend to "de-escalate tensions". Just as forcing Czechoslovakia to not fight Hitler secured "peace in our time".

    Trump also boasted of "tough sanctions" imposed on Cuba and Venezuela. Those dictatorships, while brutal, pose even less of a threat to the U.S. than North Korea or Iran. Meanwhile, other dictatorships, like those in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, continue to be coddled by Washington.

    So your complaint is that he is sanctioning people closer to us and of more relevance to us than others half-way across the world? I don't get what you're bitching about here. Because this is simply bitching at this point.

  • Magnitogorsk||

    It sounds like he's saying being allies with brutal islamist dictatorships is a bad thing. Do you disagree for any particular reason, or are you just honor bound to defend everything Trump says no matter what?

  • damikesc||

    Libya was run by a brutal dictator. Him dying made things there immensely worse. Mubarak was preferrable to anything that followed him.

    Castro or Maduro being offed is a plus internationally. Plenty of people who can do a far better job than they.

  • ||

    Those dictatorships, while brutal, pose even less of a threat to the U.S. than North Korea or Iran. Meanwhile, other dictatorships, like those in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, continue to be coddled by Washington.

    I won't be distracted by the likes of you Krayewski. I know the Axis of Evil is a made up thing and that people should be free to move in, around, and through places like Venezuela, Yemen, Iran, and N. Korea without being bothered by silliness like borders, papers, and ICE.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Why all the coverage of Trump's SOTU, Reason? What about all of Obama's SOTUs? Why not cover Hillary's SOTU? I guess you don't have time for that stuff carrying all that (((water))) for the Dems. Sad to see a magazine that never criticized a Republican before January 2017 suddenly become a pirogi mouthpiece.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    To be fair Iraq, Iran, and North Korea were threats to US interests. Iran and North Korea still are.

    Does this mean we need to spend trillions to invade them and nation build? No.

    It still does not change the fact that Iraq is a sinkhole of resources that we bought by invading. Iran is determined to be a nuclear power and destabilize the region. North Korea is a nuclear power and insists on causing trouble to include invading South Korea to "unite" the two countries.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You can't create a unified, powerful, great Us without a big, scary, different Them. It is known.

  • GiveMeLibertyOrHandouts||

    And after all...we're only ordinary men.

  • Tony||

    One nitpick: Trump didn't really say any of these things. He read from a teleprompter and was of sound enough mind not to ad lib and call the North Korean guy Mr. Ping-Pong Ching-Chong. A+!

  • Leader Desslok||

    But you must admit, it would have been entertaining as heck if Trump had called the North Korean guy Mr. Ping-Pong Ching-Chong. Heck even just calling him Rocket Man would have given me a chuckle.

  • wootendw||

    Trump's threats to NK and cries to change/destroy Iran treaty are scary but neither may come to much. North Korea is learning not let the USG provoke it. And Trump may find it difficult to get Europeans to back out of the Iran deal.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    One could say the axis of evil is back in the saddle again.

    It's back!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Do you know who else was a painter?

  • Crusty Juggler||

  • Citizen X - #6||

    W?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Cecilia Gimenez?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Chuy Ramirez?

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Ook of Altimira?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Picaso?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You just decided to take the question at face value, huh.

  • Kivlor||

    Bob Ross?

  • sarcasmic||

    Sir Gilbert de Vere was a virtuous knight; He succored the weak and he fought for the right But cherished a goal that he never could sight: He wanted a dragon to fight.

    He prayed all the night and he prayed all the day That God would provide him a dragon to slay; And God heard his prayer and considered a way To furnish Sir Gilbert his prey.

    And so, to comply with Sir Gilbert's demand But having no genuine dragons to hand, God whisked him away to an earlier land, With destrier, armor, and brand.

    And in the Cretaceous, Sir Gilbert de Vere Discovered a fifty-foot carnosaur near.

    He dug in his spurs and he leveled his spear And charged without flicker of fear.

    The point struck a rib, and the lance broke in twain; The knight clapped a hand to his hilt, but in vain: The dinosaur swallowed that valorous thane, And gallant Sir Gilbert was slain.

    The iron apparel he wore for his ride, However, was rough on the reptile's inside. That dinosaur presently lay down and died, And honor was thus satisfied.

    But Gilbert no longer was present to care; So pester not God with your wishes. Beware!

    What happens when Heaven has answered your prayer Is your, and no other's, affair!

    -L Sprague De Camp

  • JoeBlow123||

    "On Iran, on the other hand, Trump has been openly hostile to the nuclear deal that de-escalated tensions.'

    In all fairness, we made a deal with Iran which then helped them reap a windfall of trade deals for oil and gas. Which they have then used to fund proxy wars across the Middle East. Not to mention continuing to pursue ballistic missile technology. Not to mention the deal will sunset within the near term with Iran free to pursue nuclear technology after that (in violation of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which they are a signatory). Not exactly dealing in good faith. Should have kept sanctions on them. Or just said fuck it, not our problem, and pulled all our troops out.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... can't fool me twice.

  • Sigivald||

    Back in 2002, in his first full-fledged State of the Union address, President George W. Bush called Iraq, Iran, and North Korea a terror-sponsoring "axis of evil."

    And ... he was ... right?

  • Bubba Jones||

    This didn't start with W.

    This started with GHWB and his 1/2 assed invasion of Iraq.

    Or it started with our installing the Shah in Iran.

    Or ....

    But it didn't start with W. He was just going through the motions.

  • Robert||

    And I'm Benny.

  • ragnar_rahl||

    "Fearmongering" is the status quo. It's what people expect Trump to do. I'd be more worried if he did something international actors did NOT expect. That's when you start threatening progress on multilateral solutions. These regimes say plenty of bullshit to their own population, they understand how the game works.

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