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Depends on what your definition of the word evil is

By Jackson Murphy
web posted February 11, 2002

It's official, the sound byte that will go down in history from last month's State of the Union address by President Bush will be the phrase, "axis of evil." Those three words constitute the political fallout from the speech-it has, as they say, legs. With those words Bush enlarged the focus of the war on terror to include some very notorious states.

North Korea, Iran, Iraq, "and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," said Bush. "By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."

Hubert Vedrine

This change in U.S. foreign policy has startled the nations in question and even opened up the United States to criticism from some of her allies. Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, claimed that Bush's speech is, "best understood by the fact that there are midterm Congressional elections coming up in November." The New York Times reported comments by France's foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, in which he called the shift in U.S. policy, "simplistic." He went on to mention the usual European trump card and utility buzz word "unilateral."

Forget that there is much conventional wisdom, and Jonah Goldberg logic; in simply knowing that when France complains you're already doing the right thing. Admittedly France has done an exceptional job rounding up terrorists thus far, but they, and much of the rest of the world, fail to see a golden opportunity to call these nations what they are: evil. Based on the last hundred years the Europeans have a pretty disgraceful record when it comes to standing down evil.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee William Kristol said, "The president sees this war differently from our European allies and differently, I think, from the way his predecessor or even his father might have seen it. The president has chosen to build a new world, not to rebuild the old one that existed before September 11, 2001. And after uprooting al Qaeda from Afghanistan, removing Saddam Hussein from power is the key step to building a freer, safer, more peaceful future."

Domestically many are worried that this speech and that phrase signal a move away from the Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda as the primary focus. But these words, and it's warning, are about the future. Instead of waiting to find out what happens next, the U.S. is going to try to prevent any future attack. The war on terror is about preventing future, more catastrophic attacks not figuring out whom did it last. It is certainly important to get bin Laden but necessary to move on to the next level.

The critics will argue that these unilateral pronouncements and accusations will inflame the Middle East and add to the hatred of the west. This is the same Arab street that was going to rise up when the coalition took action in Afghanistan. Last week's episode of "The West Wing" featured a helpful debate over the language of a foreign policy speech. The president's advisor defended the use of strong language and said simply to answer to the standard why do they hate us rhetoric: "that they'll like us when we win."

The United States called the Soviet Union an evil empire in way or another for over forty years. How much did they hate us? It was a Cold War against the Soviet not the people. Similarly Bush doesn't have a beef with these regime's people only the regimes themselves. We won, they lost, and they don't really hate us either. In Iran for example, while the Mullah's cry out for the Death of America, the people in Iran cry for change. We can only hope they hate us as much as the Russians did. But do they even have to like us? This geopolitical thing is not like Sally Field at the Oscars.

The recognition that these nations are an axis of evil is the equivalent of President Reagan's demand: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" These words and "the axis of evil" speech are about two things: challenging others and providing leadership. The world didn't revert back to the way it was before the Cold War started, and it can't just stay the way it was before 9/11. Nations like France will decry American arrogance but the free world can't simply fill the rest of the world with hope preaching free markets, democracy, and freedom and then turn a blind eye to those who don't.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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