During his State of the Union Address on Jan.
29, 2002, President George W. Bush named Iraq, North Korea, and Iran as members
of an "Axis of Evil," and accused them of sponsoring terrorism and
seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The three Evils Ones "threaten
the peace of the world," Mr. Bush declared. "By seeking weapons of
mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger," he said.
Indeed, Mr. Bush and his foreign policy aides made it clear after the address
that they would consider taking preemptive military action against these three
regimes with Syria added occasionally to the list to prevent them
from acquiring WMD and assisting terrorist groups. Moreover, they seemed to
suggest that the anti-American orientation of these countries reflected the
nature of their "rogue regimes" and that Washington would probably
have no choice but to achieve "regime change" in Baghdad, Pyongyang,
and Tehran (and perhaps Damascus) in order to protect its interests.
And the Bush administration also stressed that if other governments failed
to support this strategy, then Washington would be forced to do the "regime
changes" on its own, together with the occasional "coalition of the
willing." The ouster of Saddam Hussein and the invasion of Iraq were seen
as the first stage in the implementation of this preemptive, unilateral, and
militarized grand strategy.
One Evil One was down, and against the backdrop
of the initial signs of military success (which lasted for a few weeks), the
message from the (then) happy regime-changers in Washington to the remaining
two or three, if one added Syria to the list Evil Ones was: "The
communists in Pyongyang and the ayatollahs in Tehran better watch out. We're
coming to get you guys!"
Well, as we know by now, Saddam had neither WMD nor ties to Osama bin Laden
(never mind), and "liberated" Iraq hasn't been transformed into a
shining model of freedom in the Middle East, but the regime change in Baghdad
did have one clear, unintended (but not unforeseen) effect.
It taught Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il and Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei one
important lesson: If you don't want to end up like Saddam, make sure that you
have a nuclear weapon. It's called deterrence, and it would ensure that even
the most ambitious American neocon would think twice before trying to oust you.
And surprise, surprise! This is exactly what the North Koreans and the Iranians
have been doing since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. On Oct. 9, 2006, North
Korea announced that it had conducted its first nuclear test, and many intelligence
and military analysts have suggested that North Korea has produced, or has the
capability to produce, up to six or seven such nuclear bombs (although there
are doubts that it has the systems necessary to deliver them).
At the same time, in 2004 Iran began resuming the processing of nuclear fuel
as part of its plan to achieve self-sufficiency in nuclear power production,
which most experts believe makes it possible for it to develop nuclear weapons.
A year later it started converting raw uranium gas, a necessary step for enrichment
and the development of nuclear power.
In a way, the recent agreement by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons
program in exchange for fuel oil and international acceptance, including the
hope of eventual recognition by the U.S., only helped to dramatize the failure
of the Bush administration's Axis of Evil strategy.
In fact, Mr. Bush's tough approach toward Mr. Kim was evident before the Iraq
War and 9/11, when the White House had sabotaged what remained of South Korea's
"Sunshine Policy" toward the North and announced, despite opposition
from then Secretary of State Colin Powell, that it would cease to pursue its
predecessor's policy of engaging Pyongyang.
There is little doubt that if President Bush had continued pursuing President
Bill Clinton's policy after coming to office he could probably have gotten the
current deal years ago. Instead, under Mr. Bush, Washington ended up choosing
the worst of all possible worlds.
The Axis of Evil speech and the invasion of Iraq provided Pyongyang with incentives
to continue enriching plutonium and accelerate its drive to develop nuclear
And by refusing to talk directly to North Korea, and demanding that the negotiations
take place in a multilateral diplomatic setting which is an irony, if
one considers the extent to which the neocons have denigrated the words "diplomacy"
and "multilateralism" Washington only created obstacles in
the way of reaching a deal that delivered to Pyongyang what it really wanted:
The expectation of eventual recognition by the United States.
It's not surprising therefore that the more ardent neocons, including former
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, have been bashing the agreement
with North Korea as a form of appeasement.
That brings us to the last remaining member of the Axis of Evil, Iran. What
worries Mr. Bolton and his ideological mates more than anything and what
encourages those who want to avoid a military confrontation between the Americans
and the Iranians is that the North Korean "model" may eventually be applied
President Bush could try to test Tehran's intentions by establishing a regional
diplomatic setting and inviting Iran to negotiate with it as part of that grouping.
It could provide Iran with incentives to give up or slow down its nuclear program
as part of a deal that includes the establishment of diplomatic ties between
Washington and Tehran.
And it could take all these steps and offer such a deal to Iran now
and not later when it could prove to be too late and too little. So let's hope
Mr. Bolton is right.
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