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The Axis and the Bully

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Hoping to rally the country and the world around his “war on terrorism,” President Bush previously identified an “axis of evil” of rogue states that he claimed help to train, fund, support, or provide safe haven to terrorists, states that he hinted could easily find themselves in the sights of the U.S. war machine. These nations, which he identified as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, were effectively being put on notice.

Everyone is aware that Iraq is currently under the president’s gun. However, the other two nations in the “axis” have managed to avoid being the target of tough talk from the president. And it’s not as if they have shaped up and started marching in lockstep to the U.S. government’s cue. Quite the contrary, they are actually thumbing their noses at President Bush and his “war on terrorism.” Far from cowering in the face of American bravado, they’re working together to better arm against a possible U.S. attack.

The December 16 issue of the Washington Times reported that North Korea has just delivered 15 gunboats to the Iranian government, including “several special forces craft called semi-submersibles — vessels that move just below the surface of the water.” This is apparently the second shipment of submarine craft to Iran from North Korea this year. According to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, North Korea is one of the largest exporters of missiles and other military technology to hostile regions, such as the Middle East.

U.S. officials are understandably worried but are choosing their words with uncharacteristic caution when speaking about the rather blatant activities of these other two members of the “axis of evil.” North Korea is “putting into the hands of many countries technologies and capabilities which have the potential for killing tens and hundreds of thousands of people,” Rumsfeld told reporters. “And needless to say, our hope is that that wouldn’t be the case.”

What’s this? A nation dubbed a sponsor of international terrorism is selling war-making tools to a fellow “evil regime,” and the tough talk of the U.S. government amounts to “hope” that they wouldn’t do that? Where is the blustering about unilateral military strikes to effect a “regime change”? The administration didn’t say they “hoped” Saddam Hussein would start behaving himself — they’re calling out the strike bombers.

Actually, it’s not at all surprising that President Bush and his administration are taking a much softer approach to these two countries. All bullies prefer victims who cannot fight back. After the devastation of the first Persian Gulf War and 12 years of UN sanctions, the No. 1 member of the “axis of evil” is a house of cards waiting for the smallest breath to knock it down. This is just what a president who has yet to produce anything remotely approaching victory in this “war” really needs: an easy military victory.

But North Korea and Iran aren’t pimply-faced weaklings who can be pushed around in President Bush’s playground.  North Korea is quite possibly developing nuclear weapons, and it isn’t exactly keeping that fact a secret. Iran is populated by millions of radical Islamic militants who won’t run up a white flag and cry “uncle” when the U.S. comes looking for a scrap — they’ll give as good as they get.

U.S. government policy in this “war on terrorism” is full of hypocrisy, doublethink, contradiction, and outright lies. Iraq is being targeted for its alleged attempts to manufacture “weapons of mass destruction.” Meanwhile, North Korea’s admission that it is trying to build nukes brings no more profound a rebuke from this administration than a dazed silence, followed by a lot of diplomatic backpedaling and suggestions that North Korean attempts to make weapons of mass destruction are somehow different from Iraqi attempts to make weapons of mass destruction.

And now that the No. 3 member of the “axis of evil” is openly selling aggressive weapons to the No. 2 member, well, a bully hates someone with the confidence to stand up for himself. Imagine the bully’s dismay when his would-be victim brings his best friend to the fight.

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    Scott McPherson is policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation. An advocate of the Free State Project, he lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.