America’s Failing War Effort (Part 4 of 13) The Cold War Against “The Axis of Evil”

by | Nov 22, 2003 | POLITICS

In his first State of the Union address after September 11th, 2001, President Bush alerted the world to the existence of an “axis of evil,” arrayed against the United States and its allies, consisting of three nations: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Since then critics have lampooned Bush’s language as simplistically “black-and-white.” In fact, however, […]

In his first State of the Union address after September 11th, 2001, President Bush alerted the world to the existence of an “axis of evil,” arrayed against the United States and its allies, consisting of three nations: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Since then critics have lampooned Bush’s language as simplistically “black-and-white.” In fact, however, the “axis of evil” designation was remarkably accurate. The governments of these nations were unmistakably evil, and they did, at least in part, constitute an “axis” (considering the real cooperation over weapons development between Iran and North Korea [11]).

And yet despite Bush’s admirable identification of America’s primary enemies, two out of three of the members of the axis of evil have so far escaped American retribution. Instead the Bush administration has pursued a policy of relentless appeasement toward them. Therefore the conflict between the United States and these nations is best described as a state of “cold war.” Despite the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that both nations are developing destructive WMD, and/or supporting terrorists–evidence far greater than anything ever presented on behalf of Iraq–the Bush administration has limited its confrontations with these regimes to diplomatic posturing and occasional public condemnation. But since these regimes do constitute such great threats, the present course of Bush policy is potentially disastrous.

For this reason, the Bush administration scores a D- in its handling of the remaining members of the axis of evil, and only misses an F for having at least named these enemies as evil.


One could argue that the current war against Islamic terrorism began, not on September 11th, 2001, but on November 4, 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the American embassy in Tehran, beginning a grueling hostage crisis, and inspiring a series of increasingly hostile terrorist attacks against Americans through the 1980s and 1990s. As the only modern nation founded explicitly on militant Islamic, Iran by its very ideological nature came to oppose the United States, regarding it as a “Great Satan.”

To carry out its ideological calling, Iran became the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, at least according to the Bush administration’s own State Department. Iran is widely believed to have sponsored the 1983 bombing of marine barracks in Beirut, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina, and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. With the help of Syria, Iran supports Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, and its continuing rocket attacks on Northern Israel. Iran supports a variety of Palestinian terrorist groups, ranging from the secular Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade [12], to the religiously-inspired Islamic Jihad[13] and Hamas.[14] It was a ship from Iran, the Karine A, which was intercepted carrying weapons to the Gaza Strip in January of 2002. Iran is believed by many to support the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in western Afghanistan who enter into direct combat with American troops.[15] Numerous Iranian fighters (not to mention Iranian-supported Hezbollah fighters from Syria) have infiltrated Iraq, where they have participated in insurgencies against American troops.[16] Fighters from the Al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Islam in Northern Iraq have also recently found their way back into Iraq from Iran (despite Iran’s putative opposition to that group). [17] And Iran has now acknowledged the presence of key Al Qaeda figures within its borders,[18] claiming to have “detained” them (although the circumstances of that “detention” are highly suspicious[19]).

As if Iran’s support for terrorism were not enough of a threat, there is now overwhelming evidence that Iran is working feverishly to develop nuclear weapons.[20] Even before the Iraq war, top intelligence officials were cited as claiming that Iran’s nuclear program was far more developed than Iraq’s.[21] In addition to the normal intelligence channels, the West has also received reports from Iranian resistance groups identifying new nuclear facilities (first at Natanz, and later at Arak.). Even inspectors from the UN’s IAEA have directly verified that Iran is enriching uranium, a tell-tale sign of military plans for nuclear technology.[22] With the assistance of the other remaining member of the axis of evil, North Korea, Iran has successfully tested ballistic missiles that could reach as far as Israel.[23] And although former president Hashemi Rafsanjani recently declared that the use of nuclear weapons would be “un-Islamic,” no one has forgotten his statement in December 2001, that with nuclear weapons, Iran could singularly annihilate Israel.[24]

Some have suggested that despite the immense threat posed by Iran, there is no need for external intervention given the potential for internal reform, as evidenced by the ascendancy of “reformist” prime minister Mohammed Khatami and the popular student opposition to the Iranian theocracy. But these delusions should have been shattered by the events of the summer of 2003. In the spring, leaders of the Iranian student rebellion announced plans for a general strike on July 9th. After severe pressure on the student population, including attacks on student dormitories by pro-clergy militants (allegedly, acting without the permission of the Iranian government), Iranian student leaders called off the general strike. Since then, reports of thousands of political arrests have filtered their way into the West,[25] despite the Iranian government’s best efforts to suppress them, and the Western media’s efforts to ignore them.

How has the United States responded to the Iranian threat, and the disappearance of the only hope for a domestic resolution of that threat? The President has lent verbal support to the cause of freedom in Iran, but has stopped short of even calling for as much as “regime change” (by whatever means). In the meantime, far from calling for regime change, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has insisted that Iran is unique in the Middle East as a “democracy.”[26] And Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned against interfering with what amounts to a “family fight” between students and mullahs in Iran.[27] The president and his advisors have repeatedly declared that they have no plans for war with Iran, and have dissuaded Israel from attempting a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, pressing instead for time for diplomacy.[28] In response to Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, the United States has endorsed yet another round of UN inspections, and has urged Iran to sign a protocol renouncing nuclear weapons[29] (as if this could work when Iran’s original accession to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty had not been enough). And as for the Al Qaeda members hiding in Iran, the United States has engaged in low profile talks, purportedly to bargain with the Iranians for extradition of the “detainees,” in exchange for an American clamping down on anti-Iranian resistance fighters in Iraq.[30]

The essence of the American approach toward Iran, therefore, has been to hope for internal reform to eliminate dictators, while at the same time conceding their legitimacy in public. Contrary to Armitage, Iran’s “democratic” election of a parliament is, of course, irrelevant to prospects for reform, given that a ruling council of clerics has the power to veto any decision made by the parliament. After the suppression of the June-July protests, whatever reform movement that might have once existed in Iran is now dead, as Khatami himself has virtually conceded in public. And contrary to Powell, the struggle in Iran is not merely a “family fight,” because its outcome determines whether or not the Iranian dictatorship will continue to threaten “Death to America.” The United States has every right to intervene in Iran to bring about regime change, a regime change that would be even more welcomed by the Iranians than Saddam Hussein’s ouster was welcomed by Iraqis. But it is not primarily for the sake of the Iranian people that the United States should intervene in Iran. Even if the student movement did have a chance of overthrowing the mullahs without American assistance, this change might not come fast enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, or possibly passing them on to one of the terrorist groups it supports. Contrary to even the harshest critics of Iran, therefore, active military intervention may be necessary.

For this reason, it is imperative that the United States drop all efforts at “multilateral engagement” and inspections. It must end all secret bargaining with Iran, and instead demand the immediate release of Al Qaeda operatives. If it is unwilling or unable to launch a full-fledged war to topple the mullahs, it can at minimum launch preemptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. And if it is unwilling to do even this, it could at least permit Israel to launch such strikes, which it is willing and able to do.[31] But while such a minimum strategy would stave off the most immediate Iranian threat, it would not suffice to prevent Iran’s long-term threat. A disarmed Iranian regime would only live to rearm again some other day. The United States should, therefore, act not only to destroy the Iranian nuclear capability, but to take whatever means necessary to destroy the Iranian theocracy, the source of modern Islamic terrorism. This step would also have the immediate effect of helping the United States to win its hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not only by cutting off a source of funding and training, but more importantly, by ending the example of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a source of ideological inspiration for Islamic militants the world over.

Cartoons by Cox and Forkum.


[11] “Paper: North Korea plans to export missiles to Iran.” Reuters report. August 5, 2003. <>; “Iranian experts visited North Korea.” Agence France-Presse report. June 11, 2003 .

[12] “Security Sources: Iran has financed most attacks since truce.” Ha’aretz. August 5, 2003.

[13]“Dahlan seizes millions Iran sent to Jihad.” Ha’aretz. August 15, 2003

[14] “Hamas seeks closer ties, funds from Iran.” Ha’aretz. February 21, 2003 <>

[15] “U.S., allied forces battle Afghan rebels.” Associated Press report. January 29, 2003 <>.

[16] “Bush warns of Iraq infiltrators.” BBC report. August 23, 2003 ; “Militia trained in Iran controls a tense town.” New York Times. June 27, 2003 ; “Iran link to rocket attack against US troops.” Financial Times. June 6, 2003.

[17] “After the war: the military; terror group seen as back inside Iraq.” The New York Times. August 10, 2003 .

[18] “Top Al Qaeda agent in Iran, official says.” Los Angeles Times. July 15, 2003.

[19] “Why Iran protects Al-Qaeda.” Daily Star (Lebanon). August 28, 2003 .

[20] “Iran closes in on ability to build a nuclear bomb.” The Los Angeles Times. August 4, 2003.

[21]“US suspects Iran is becoming a greater nuclear threat.” Newsday. November 20, 2002.

[22] “Evidence may indicate Iran is closing in on nuclear arms.” Los Angeles Times. August 27, 2003 .

[23] “Iran’s successful missile test puts Israel within range.” Ha’aretz. July 5, 2003 .

[24] “Former Iranian president Rafsanjani on using a nuclear bomb against Israel.” Middle East Media Research Institute Special Dispatch. January 3, 2002. _analysen/laender/iran/iran_nuclear_03_01_02.pdf>.

[25] “Iran’s hardliners step up arrests of activists.” The Guardian. August 4, 2003 ; “Student arrests spark defiance in Iran.” Associated Press report. June 29, 2003 .

[26] “U.S. now views Iran in a more favorable light.” Los Angeles Times. February 14, 2003 .

[27]“Powell: Keep out of Iran feud.” BBC report. July 3, 2003 .

[28] “Israel lowering profile on Iran’s nuke plan.” Ha’aretz. August 21, 2003 .

[29] “Iran could sign nuclear protocol.” Agence France-Presse report. July 22, 2003.

[30] “U.S., Iran hold direct talks in Geneva, U.S. official says.” Reuters report. May 10, 2003.

[31] “Washington Post: U.S. fears Israel may strike Iran’s nukes.” Ha’aretz. August 14, 2003 .

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