The Axis of Not Quite As Evil

Mark Perry

Bitterlemons, November 2, 2006

We might now take George Bush at his word: in the wake of the September 11 attacks, he named three nations as the "axis of evil": North Korea, Iran and Iraq. The statement had a solid tripartite ring to it, conjuring images of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. The implication was chilling: that Axis, we might remember, damn near overran the world.

North Korea's 'sacred struggle' against the US"North Korea," Bush then said, "is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens." Iran, he explained, "aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom." When it came to Iraq, Bush was oddly careful, saying it "had plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade." Had plotted.

We are now, some five years later, left with the realization that thinking about acquiring weapons of mass destruction will get you attacked (if you're Iraq), while actually having them will lead to negotiations -- as is the case with North Korea. In truth, this is not an incoherent theory of deterrence: the Soviet Union had some 20,000 nuclear warheads aimed at us during the cold war and we spent our time fighting them in Nicaragua, Chile, the Congo, Vietnam -- in other words, in places where our vital interests were not threatened in the slightest. In fact, we fought them on every continent in the world, except Europe, where our vital interests actually were threatened.

But we should not think Bush's words are a kind of historical conceit; we fought the Axis by first knocking off its lightweight contender, Italy. So too, we thought, we would do with Iraq. It was the "axis of evil's" Italy. More simply, as one of my colleagues has described it, the Bush administration went after Iraq because they thought it would be a pushover, "a Grenada with goats".

Such glibness is well-placed, for it shows that among the gibberish being uttered by Bush's most important policymakers, there is a sense that perhaps America is not the all-powerful hegemon its class of neo-conservatives would have us believe. At the beginning of the movie "Patton" -- a classic, played nearly every night on some television somewhere in America -- the great and strutting general faces his troops.

"Men," he says, "this stuff we hear about America wanting to stay out of the war -- not wanting to fight -- is a lot of bullshit. Americans love to fight -- traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle."

No we don't. At the height of World War II, when we and our allies were bumping up against the German army, the American army had the highest desertion rate of any fighting force in the European theater. Dwight Eisenhower was enraged; there were tens of thousands of men wandering around behind the lines, "separated from their units". (British commanders, by the way, often referred to the Americans as ... "our Italians".)

That is to say: we didn't invade Iraq because we thought they had weapons of mass destruction. We invaded Iraq because we knew they didn't. By this through-the-looking-glass logic, the only nations and movements worth attacking are those that are the least capable of hitting back. That sounds glib, but it is supported by the facts. During his recent address before the United Nations Security Council, Bush laid out a new axis of evil -- Hamas and Hezbollah (this is, it seems, the "axis of not quite as evil, but still evil"). Hamas and Hezbollah were each mentioned three times. Al-Qaeda, the movement that attacked the World Trade Center and killed thousands of Americans was mentioned once. Once. North Korea was never mentioned.

America has a great military man, but his name is not George Patton. His name is Fox Conner. He was a brigadier general and war theorist earlier in the last century, and was responsible for tutoring some of our greatest military leaders -- like George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower. His view was that dictators would always fight better, because they ruled by fear. Democracies do not have that, ah, luxury. So, he said, democracies must follow three rules when it comes to fighting a war: never fight unless attacked, never fight alone, and never fight for long. The Bush administration has got it exactly backwards -- we attacked a country that didn't attack us, we did it virtually by ourselves, and we have now fought longer in Iraq than we did against Germany and Japan.

So too, we have abrogated the most fundamental principles of diplomacy. We insist on negotiating with others (when both Iran and North Korea want bilateral talks), we insist on making demands we cannot hope to enforce, and we believe that the negotiations should be short, when everyone knows that constant negotiations mean constant peace.

Don't think that any of this has been lost on either the North Koreans or Iran. The North Korean leadership knows we're not going to hit them -- why, Americans might actually die by the tens of thousands. It's much easier for us to hit Hamas, to ship weapons into the West Bank and Gaza in the hopes of fomenting a civil war. That suits us. So the North Koreans are safe. And the Iranians are moving as fast as they can to make sure they will be too.

This article first appeared in bitterlemons-international.



One Comment

  1. Wil Robinson wrote:

    Too true- nuclear weapons are now an effecient deterrent to keep the US from invading and imposing “regime change.”

    This is rarely mentioned in the “liberal” media, though, and instead we are told that Iran and North Korea are evil and this is proof.

    Fact is, Iran and North Korea were moving towards integration and establishing economic relationships until Bush lumped them in with Iraq post-9/11.

    There were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Tehran demonstrating their support for the victims of 9/11 immediately following the attacks…but that wasn’t good enough for Bush and his cadre of neo-con, hawkish and religiously motivated warmongers.