Bush 0-for-3 With ‘Axis of Evil’

With the testing of a nuclear device in North Korea, the foreign policy of the Bush administration, whose major aim was to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, has descended into complete failure. In his 2002 "axis of evil" speech, the president identified three countries as "evil": Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Never mind that these countries had nothing in common, except that Bush and his team disliked them. True, Iraq was a dirty dictatorship, but it was a secular country that had made war on Iran, with our encouragement and support, for nearly a decade. Iran was a theocracy with an elected president that had at one time been friendly to the United States. After we overthrew their elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, during the Eisenhower administration, many Iranians came to view America as the Great Satan. Iraq had attacked it in the 1980s, so Iran was hostile to that member of the axis of evil. North Korea was and is a communist dictatorship with no connection to either of the other "evildoers."

The readers of Antiwar.com know well that Bush’s Iraq policy has produced a disaster from which we cannot extricate ourselves except at huge cost to the Iraqis, to Iraq’s neighbors, and, at a minimum, to the reputation of the United States. Increasingly even Republicans are recognizing that "staying the course," as Bush puts it, is not a viable option and that a new policy is desperately needed. It seems likely that, before the next presidential election in 2008, political pressure will be so great that most if not all of our troops will be out of that country.

Our Iran policy has had the effect of pushing that country toward building nuclear weapons. The people of Iran resist being lectured to by anyone, especially the "Great Satan." Our unwillingness to sit down and talk directly with the representatives of that country can only be characterized as stupid and shortsighted. Jim Baker, chief of staff and later secretary of the treasury under President Reagan, then secretary of state under Bush I, recently said, "It’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies." The current Bush administration has refused to participate in talks with Iran until they agree to suspend nuclear enrichment. From the Iranian point of view, agreeing to suspend enrichment means giving away its only bargaining chip.

Actually, the Iranians have international law on their side. According to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), countries have the right to build nuclear facilities and enrich uranium for nuclear power plants. Thus the Iranian public, even those who dislike the current leaders, supports the effort to develop the technology and the facilities for nuclear power. Threats to sanction their country only build support for the government and its projected course of action. Moreover, many Iranians believe that the Bush administration would like to engineer a regime change and might invade as they did in Iraq. Thus a nuclear bomb would be a deterrent against attack by either the United States or Israel. They note that the U.S. is not threatening to attack North Korea, which claims to have nuclear bombs, while the U.S. administration has made it clear that they are not taking military power off the table as far as Iran is concerned. As a consequence, our foreign policy has created an impasse. The Iranians continue their efforts to build nuclear weapons while we sputter empty threats.

The administration’s North Korean policy has led to a third grave crisis. The North Koreans have tested a nuclear weapon, albeit a small one, thus demonstrating to the world that they have joined the nuclear club. When the administration took office in 2001, they inherited an ongoing relationship with Pyongyang; but their general policy was to disown and ignore everything that the Clinton White House had done. One of their first steps was to undermine the Agreed Framework that the Clinton administration negotiated with North Korea. Bush not only included that country in the axis of evil but was quoted as saying "I loathe Kim Jong-il. … I’ve got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he’s starving his people."

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea agreed to freeze and dismantle its plutonium weapons program and to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear facilities. In return, it was to receive international aid: two light-water nuclear reactors and fuel oil to supply its power plants until the reactors were built. The U.S. promised to move toward full recognition and normal political and economic relations; it would also give formal assurances that it would not use nuclear weapons against North Korea. The U.S. never lived up to its bargain to establish normal relations, nor did it promise not to use such bombs. Moreover, the Japanese and South Koreans were slow in building the light-water reactors.

The White House has been claiming that the Agreed Framework was a failure. Actually, it worked well. The IAEA inspected North Korea’s nuclear facilities regularly, and the plutonium was kept under lock and key. Near the end of the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the "Dear Leader" in Pyongyang, and there was talk of a visit by President Clinton.

Despite these promising steps, in October 2002 the administration claimed that the North Koreans were cheating and had a covert program to enrich uranium. Although the administration claimed the Koreans had admitted to it, the charge that they were enriching uranium has never been proved. Even if North Korea were attempting to enrich uranium, such a step would not have violated the Agreed Framework or the Nuclear NPT. As a consequence of the U.S. claim, the president halted oil shipments, which had been part of the 1994 agreement. Shortly thereafter, Pyongyang reactivated its nuclear facility and announced that it was withdrawing from the NPT.

Since then, Kim Jong-Il’s government has been pushing for one-on-one talks with the United States. Bush has refused, insisting on six-party talks (U.S., Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, and North Korea). In June of 2003, North Korea announced its intention to acquire nuclear weapons to offset the "hostile policy" of the United States. After the U.S. imposed strict and effective financial sanctions on North Korea, ostensibly because it was alleged to be counterfeiting dollars, Pyongyang refused to attend the six-party talks. However, the North Korean government has offered to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for international aid and a non-aggression pledge from the U.S.

The Bush administration’s foreign policy is to punish those states whose policies it finds objectionable. The White House resists anything that looks as if it might reward "bad behavior." This approach results in raising the ire of those countries subject to our punishments. In the case of North Korea, it has pushed that country into defying the world. Further sanctions are likely to result not in better behavior but in more obstreperousness. The only way to move toward a non-nuclear Korean peninsula is to talk to Pyongyang, one-on-one. Hiding behind the six-party talks will not result in peace.

Consider the results of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. In six years, they have inducted one member of the "axis of evil" into the nuclear arms club, pushed a second into following the same path, and created chaos, civil war, and a quagmire in the third – the one non-nuclear-oriented state in the bunch, Condi Rice’s visions of mushroom clouds notwithstanding.