All Writings
February 17, 2002

The Folly Of “The Axis Of Evil”

NEW YORK, Feb. 20 (UPI) — Much has been said in reaction to President Bush's characterization in his State of the Union address of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the "axis of evil." An overwhelming consensus here at home and abroad seems to have emerged that the president's characterization is, at best, misguided. Lumping all three nations together as if we could deal with them on equal terms only undermines our national interest and the war against terrorism.

It appears that the administration did not think through the implications of what was said and how that might impact our friends, allies and adversaries. They question if there is a strategy and a plan of action behind the president's words. Although no one expects a blueprint detailing what the administration intends to do next, it obviously has no grand strategy on how to deal with international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction as evidenced by the willy-nilly approach the president's remarks signified. But what is clear is the folly of such utterances and the dangers they might entail.

There is no question that we are facing ruthless enemies–Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations–determined to terrorize us by any means, kill as many Americans as they can and inflict indiscriminate destruction. We dare not become complacent until we achieve their complete devastation. And there is also no doubt Iraq's Saddam Hussein is a brutal leader bent on developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction. He is determined to undermine our interests and those of our allies by any means available to him while tormenting and ravaging his own people. And he too must go, although the use of military force is not the only option available to oust him. While the Administration still debates how to go about achieving Saddam's political demise, one might ask: What is the logic behind the deliberate alienation of Iran? At a minimum, we could seek its acquiescence to, if not its support of, our campaign against Saddam Hussein. By lumping Iran with Iraq and North Korea, we have achieved the precise opposite of what prudence dictates.

We have played into the hands of the Iranian hardliners who have always sought to maintain some form of warlike relations with the United States and have reignited the revolutionary fervor at the expense of the reformers in Iran. We also stand to lose any leverage we might have with Iran as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan. Similarly, our implicit threat only confirms the Iranian clergy's ultimate fear that America intends to overthrow them, a fear that could prompt direct attacks against our interests. In addition, Iran now has an even greater stake in supporting Hizbullah, Hamas, and Jihad and in allowing Russia to regain a much stronger foothold in Iran to counterbalance our presence in the Gulf. Finally, instead of enlisting Iran to isolate Iraq, we have given them a strong incentive to work together on security matters to undermine our presence in the Gulf.

It may not be too late to rectify the situation with Iran. But for that to happen, we must be clear about what we expect the Iranians to do. We must make it abundantly plain to the Irani clergy that we do not seek their overthrow but, at the same time, we are unwilling to tolerate indefinitely the status-quo of hostility toward the United States. Bilateral relations must move in one direction or the other. There is a price to be paid for unmitigated hostilities. Iran must understand that it will no longer be permitted to capitalize on its enmity to the United States to nurture its own revolution.

We should also be clear about the various issues of concern to us, go beyond public polemics and accusations and be prepared to enter into a dialogue in the search for solutions to the following troubling issues: (1) Iran's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, specifically nuclear, (2) its support of terrorist groups, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza, (3) its export of weapons to the Palestinian Authority and other anti-Israeli groups, (4) its consistent subversive activities to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process and, finally, (5) its providing refuge for terrorist groups and individuals, including Al Qaeda members who might have escaped from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the United States ought to listen to Irani grievances, including our role in the overthrow of the Mossadeqh government and the installation of the Shah in 1953, Iran's frozen assets in the United States since 1979 (money paid for fighter jets that were not delivered) and its trepidation over our military preponderance in the Persian Gulf.

However extreme the Irani clergy might be, they are not adventuresome. The overwhelming majority of the Irani people admire the United States and wish for normal relations with us. That is why they were shocked and dismayed by President Bush's utterances as they struggle to push for more reforms. We cannot let them down and so must do everything in our power to encourage and support the reform movement. The continuing mutual hostility has served neither our nor their national interests. And whatever course of action we choose against Saddam Hussein, we need at least the tacit support of Iran.

Iran is a proud nation. The Iranian people do not like to be threatened or intimidated. American sanctions against and containment of Iran since 1979 did not bring the clergy to heel. It is time for a more creative approach, especially now when we must focus on Iraq and can ill afford to open two hostile fronts simultaneously. We must use all the support we can garner to successfully oust a brutal dictator from whom Iran itself has much to fear and thus a strong incentive to cooperate.