January 29, 2003

State of the Axis (North

State of the Axis (North Korea, Iran, Related Matters)

The key part of Bush’s speech revolves around discussion of the “axis” countries. There are several key messages and signals here to friend and foe alike. The main message and most important passage in the entire speech is Bush’s reiteration that “(t)oday, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail, terror and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation."

Here Bush, forcefully and with all the force of the Presidential bully pulpit, makes the case that the war against terror and the near-certain conflict with Iraq are one and the same. Put simply, the intersection of rogue regimes with WMD capability and transnational terror groups, Bush understands, represents the greatest threat to the stability of the international system in the 21st Century.

Herr Chancellor

Bush reminds fair-weather allies like Germany of the stakes with reference to the fact that the ambitions of “Hitlerism, militarism and communism were defeated by the will of free peoples, by the strength of great alliances and by the might of the USA.” This line was crafted to resonate strongly in Berlin and, to a lesser extent in Paris. The use of the locution Hitlerism is significant—Bush might have used the more common expression fascism. But he is rightly angry at Chancellor Schroder’s irresponsible electoral gambits. He reminds the Chancellor that “great alliances” helped good triumph over evil in WWII and of the key role of the U.S. in securing European freedom from Hitler’s Third Reich. It is a direct and unsubtle reminder—just the kind Schroder needs.


Then the President relays a direct warning to key (wavering) parties like the French who are (lately) touting a procedural, “international law” approach to international relations and, specifically, regarding Iraq. Referencing anti-proliferation initiatives being pursued through various international fora Bush states: “(i)n all of these efforts, however, America’s purpose is more than to follow a process; it is to achieve a result: the end of terrible threats to the civilized world."

Message to Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin: We will not get bogged down in enarque style word-play and procedural mish-mash. Pragmatism and results-oriented diplomacy will win the day. Should bodies like the United Nations shirk their responsibilities regarding grave issues like containing rogue regimes armed with WMD—the US will lead a coalition of the willing (so far, it appears, the U.K, Australia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Poland) to do so.

Troubled Peninsula

On North Korea, Bush makes clear he is not about to kowtow and eagerly negotiate energy and food deals to temper Kim Jong II’s nuclear appetites. Instead, he barely veils his contempt for Clinton’s policy to attempt to, in essence, buy off the North Korean dictator: “Throughout the 1990’s, the U.S. relied on a negotiated framework to keep North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons. We now know that that regime was deceiving the world, and developing those weapons all along. And today the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions. America and the world will not be blackmailed.”

Yet behind this tough talk there are conciliatory feints. For one, W makes no mention of Kim Jong II by name, thus beginning to de-personalize the stand-off in distinction to W’s earlier (and unfortunate) comments regarding how he “loathes” the North Korean leader. He makes mention of all the key regional players (South Korea, Japan, China and Russia) who are working together to defuse the crisis. He mentions that Pyongyang “will find respect in the world” if it junks its nuclear program. Bush is in the middle, as so often in this administration, between hard-liners who want absolutely no negotiations and more conciliatory voices at the State Department (and Seoul, Beijing and Moscow). But there is enough here to signal to Kim Jong II between the lines the outlines of “bold initiatives” the U.S. would be prepared to entertain if North Korea were to step down from the nuclear precipice.

Iran, Ignored?

Regrettably, regarding Iran, the President provides rather thin gruel. Clearly, not too much in depth thinking has gone into the U.S. approach to Teheran. Bush mentions that in Iran “we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction and supports terror.” O.K., sounds just like myriad speeches on Iraq. So why aren’t we pressuring the regime there like we are in Baghdad, an observer might ask?

He goes on: “We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy.” What’s the point here? That if you have a youthful demographic that is occasionally boisterously demanding greater freedoms than the U.S. will be less willing to intervene in a country’s affairs? That because there are power struggles between reformist and reactionary forces in government the U.S. will stand to the side and let these battles play out? Well, not exactly. Bush mentions that the U.S. “supports their aspirations to live in freedom.” But, if one examines this speech, it would appear that Iran policy is treated in de minimis, paltry, and unconvincing fashion by this Administration. Foggy Bottom and other Beltway policymakers must do better lest critiques regarding inconsistent approaches to different “axis” countries will begin to stick more effectively than they have to date.

State of the Axis (Iraq)

The speech, of course, ends with a lengthy discussion of Iraq and a message to the U.S. military. If the nation (and world) were not already on a war footing, the speech should help focus the international community on the reality that we will likely be at war in the coming weeks rather than months. In sharp distinction to North Korea, Iraq is treated in highly personal fashion with Saddam referred to as “he”, as in “(h)e has given no evidence that he has destroyed it.” “It” is, alternately, 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 30,000 munitions, and mobile biological weapons labs.

Bush picks up a theme (earlier advanced by Paul Wolfowitz at the Council on Foreign Relations last week) contending that: “Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families.

Message: If this isn’t a material breach, let’s all pack up and call U.N. Resolution 1441 a huge farce and allow further (after the inglorious displays of U.N. impotence displayed in the last decade in Bosnia) erosion of the U.N.’s credibility as a supposed guarantor of international stability.

Then Bush makes another key point that provides one of the more memorable lines of the State of the Union. After detailing horrific tortures Saddam’s regime engages in on a routine basis, Bush states: “If this is not evil than evil has no meaning.” What a refreshing tonic after the heady (and empty) Clinton boom years where we were asked to ponder “what the meaning of is is.” What a rebuff to relativist claptrap emanating from academia, Barbara Streisandish-Hollywood precincts, and Joshka Fischer’s Foreign Ministry (and Green Party) that struggles to differentiate Iraq and Kosovo.

This powerful line also represents a defense of the entire “axis of evil” phraseology providing continuity and credence to last year’s State of the Union. Yes, Bush tells us, evil still stalks the planet. And the U.S. will lead willing participants to combat said evil. More boorish rhetoric from the Midland, TX simpleton? To some jaded sophisticates flipping through Le Monde and the Guardian, surely. But, as many fair-minded observers would agree (from breathless neo-cons like Bill Kristol to so-called “liberal hawks” like David Rieff or Salman Rushdie), Bush is basically spot on when he says to the people of Iraq: “Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.” Indeed, and for good measure, such speech-making during a major address ties into Tony Blair’s strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Saddam to enhance the chances (however slim) that he may be toppled internally before a conflict begins.

Finally, it bears noting that Bush makes specific reference to a February 5th convening of the U.N. Security Council. On the agenda, we are tantalizingly informed, Secretary of State Powell will present information that not only details Iraqi violations of Resolution 1441—but also, one suspects, will more fully (than previous Administration statements) broach specific links between Saddam’s regime and terrorist groups. Depending on the strength and efficacy of the U.S. evidence and presentation, Powell might be able to bring the French back on board. In the face of continued recalcitrance from Iraq after a methodical approach to disarmament that will have lasted almost half a year (from Bush’s September 12, 2002 speech at the U.N. to February 5th)—the time for action, Bush appears to have indicated in his State of the Union, has arrived.

Posted by Gregory at January 29, 2003 04:25 PM
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