– February 5, 2002
With the exception of the War Party pundits who are orgasmic over Mr. Bush’s threat to launch preventive wars against the “axis of evil,” Iran, Iraq and North Korea, volunteers for the Great Crusade seem notably absent. Nowhere, not even among the nations supposedly threatened, has there been a rallying to the colors.
The tepid, even negative, reaction to his war talk should tell Bush something: If America launches wars against Iraq, Iran and North Korea, she risks doing so alone, without allies.
The president’s phrase, “axis of evil,” of course, recalls both Ronald Reagan’s depiction of the Soviet Empire of Leonid Brezhnev as an “evil empire” and the Axis powers of World War II: Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan. Was Bush wrong in depicting the Iraqi, Iranian and North Korean regimes as evil?
Not at all. That each is evil in how it treats its people is undeniable. But so, too, is a Beijing evil that murders dissent and forces abortions on married women for the crime of having a second child. But if it would be unwise for Bush to call China an “evil empire whose leaders are the heirs of the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century,” is it wise to so depict these three nations?
Is North Korea really Tojo’s Japan? By 1941, Japan had occupied Korea and Taiwan for decades, seized Manchuria, invaded China, taken Indochina and was hovering over Singapore and the U.S. Philippines. North Korea is a hermit kingdom wedged between China and Russia, and fronting a South Korea with twice its population and 30 times its economic power, backed up by the United States. Can anyone visualize North Korea rampaging across East Asia and the western Pacific?
Iraq and Iran, far from being united in an axis, lately fought a war in which a million men perished. Their detestation is mutual. Thus, rather than lending clarity to the dangerous world in which we live, Bush’s rhetoric leads only to confusion.
Moreover, in 1941, the whole non-Axis world, from the Brits to the Bolsheviks to the occupied peoples of Europe and Asia, wanted America to intervene against the Axis. But Bush’s threat to go to war has received zero support overseas, while perplexing and dividing his coalition at home.
Bush has blundered in a way that will come back to haunt him, if he does not now follow up, as the War Party demands, and launch wars on one or all of the three regimes that constitute his “axis of evil.” His speechwriters and foreign-policy team have pushed him out on a limb, from which he is already visibly trying to crawl back.
Rather than let the U.S. military success in Afghanistan speak for him, he has let the bellicose wordsmiths of the War Party do his talking. Big mistake. Bush now needs to do some serious thinking and to ask himself some hard questions.
How can we risk war against North Korea without the support of the South, or without hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops? If he intends to use air power to destroy Pyongyang’s weapons, is Bush prepared for a response that would almost surely mean a horrendous barrage on the U.S. forces on the DMZ, and perhaps an invasion of the South? And if he is not prepared for such a war, why threaten it?
How does Bush propose to topple the mullahs in Iran? Would not a U.S. attack unify Iran, millions of whose people are pro-American and which lately voted by 70 percent to toss the mullahs out? Iran and Iraq may be moving to acquire “weapons of mass destruction,” but why would U.S. deterrence fail with them, when it succeeded with Stalin and Mao?
And if Seoul will not support a war on the North and none of the threatened Gulf nations supports a war on Iraq, why is this America’s fight? If the threatened countries prefer jaw-jaw to war-war, why is this our quarrel? Why not get U.S. forces out of harm’s way in both regions and let these nations work it all out themselves? Why get Americans killed for nations and regimes that do not even want us fighting their fight?
Perhaps Bush has concluded that if Iran, Iraq and North Korea acquire atomic weapons, they will use them in a suicidal strike on us, and that, therefore, destroying these regimes, even if it means major American casualties, is necessary to our security. But if so, the president has not made this case to his country.
Let him make the case for war to the country and to a Congress that alone has the power to authorize him to go to war. But let us not blunder into war simply because the White House, in the hubris of victory, got carried away on the wings of its own oratory.