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The war on what?

Caitlin Hall

By Caitlin Hall
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Feb. 6, 2002

This just in: Osama bin Laden has been sighted in Iraq. And Iran. And North Korea. Simultaneously. With a cohort of al-Qaida fighters and a nuclear cache large enough to wipe the United States and Western Europe off the face of the planet. You hear that, Europe? Better hop on board the Bush bandwagon before things get messy.

Is anyone really buying what George Bush is trying to sell? The fact that his administration seems to view the initial success of the War on Terrorism as a mandate to pick fights wherever it sees fit is - at best - a little scary. It's no wonder that many of our so-called allies in Europe have bristled at the bullying "or else" attitude advanced by America toward half the world. And though the tension between this government and others - especially when it comes to treatment of the pseudo-POWs - has been palpable for at least a month, it was sharply underscored last week by the State of the Union address.

A particularly pointed debate has emerged over what exactly Bush was trying to accomplish by referring to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil." After all, the past few years have witnessed markedly improved relations between the United States and two of those countries, Iran and North Korea. Furthermore, they are countries that are on good terms with some very powerful allies - namely, Russia and China.

Bush offers the justification that these countries are actively pursuing or have already obtained weapons of mass destruction. I'll accept that as far as Iraq goes. Given its history with the United States, Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow weapons inspectors to enter his country is sufficient grounds for Bush's nasty rhetoric.

However, the other nations are a different matter. After some hesitation in the early '90s, North Korea opened its gates wide to weapons inspectors, and Iran never engaged in such evasive techniques. Iran probably wouldn't even have been indicted in Bush's speech were it not for the Karine A, the weapons-loaded Iranian ship seized by Israel last week en route to the Palestinian Authority.

In fact, this renewed conflict may have less to do with recent history than the president would like to admit. After all, it needs reminding that all three of the "axis" powers were involved in high-profile actions during the last half-century that ended unfavorably in Republican presidencies - the Korean war, the Iran-contra affair and the Persian Gulf War, which tried and failed to oust Hussein.

That aside, the recent deeds of North Korea and Iran taken alone are not enough to warrant the administration's haughty words or their implied military threat. After all, Iran supported the U.S. efforts to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan, and even offered its services as a base for search-and-rescue operations.

Moreover, a once-tenuous situation in Korea has been largely diffused due to the efforts of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and the "sunshine policy" his administration has advanced toward its northern neighbors. In fact, the labeling of North Korea as an "evil" nation came as such a shock that many analysts have speculated as to whether it was simply a maneuver to reassure the Muslim world that the War on Terrorism is not an ethnic one.

Unfortunately, the concern that North Korea and Iran may not be the best targets for Bush's new war does not even begin to explain why they are unequivocally bad. The reasons are manifold. First, as already mentioned, strong ties exist between these countries and Russia. U.S.-Russia relations have already been strained due to our decision to pull out of the ABM Treaty. The decision to wage war on Russia's allies would only add insult to injury.

Second, even if his attacks remain merely rhetorical, Bush may be shooting himself in the foot if he really purports to spread democracy. Up until the moment he uttered the phrase "axis of evil," internal reform movements in Iran were showing great promise in the struggle to mend relations between the two countries. By classifying all Iranians as propagators of terror, he did much to undermine the will and means of those reformers to resist the negative public opinion of the United States.

Finally, briefly, these countries have nothing to do with the original goals of the War on Terrorism. What Bush is calling state-sponsored terrorism is the effort to create technology that rivals our own. Lord knows the United States has developed highly sophisticated nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and that research in those fields continues to this day. It is one of the great hypocrisies of U.S. foreign relations that as soon as another country follows suit, it is labeled a "rogue nation," an enemy of world peace.

Unless President Bush wants to return to the days of digging trenches and mounting tensions, he'd better step lightly and heed Teddy Roosevelt's words: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."


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