by Mushahid Hussain
his State of the Union address before Congress last week, President George W. Bush talked about the war against terrorism as an open-ended campaign without any finite time limits, targeting a troika of enemies whom he dubbed the "axis of evil."
These three countries -- North Korea, Iran and Iraq -- were accused of being "timid in the face of terror." Bush added, somewhat ominously, "if they do not act (against terrorism), America will."
Setting out his strategy, Bush said that in this war against terrorism, "Time is not on our side...I will not wait on events while dangers gather. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
Interestingly, all the three countries classified as an "axis of evil" have not been officially linked to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
The "axis" that he labelled is a term reminiscent of World War II enemies of the Western allies, since it then referred to the triangular alliance of Germany, Italy and Japan.
North Korea and Iran had denounced the Sept. 11 acts of terrorism, with Pyongyang quickly signing international anti-terrorism conventions in its aftermath and even apparently asking members of the Japanese Red Army, long-standing residents in that country, to leave so that North Korea could be struck off the State Department's list of "states sponsoring terrorism."
The United States had then noted the "positive attitude" of Pyongyang in this regard.
Iran was a de facto ally against the Taliban, even discreetly offering assistance in case any American servicemen accidentally slipped into Iranian territory during the operations, assuring humanitarian help and medical aid plus swift repatriation to the American side.
This cooperation, the first such gesture from Iran to the United States since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was talked about in the American press as opening a "new chapter" in bilateral ties.
Regarding Iraq, even Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congress on Oct. 25, 2001, that the United States had "no evidence" linking Baghdad to al-Qaeda.
In a recent book on bin Laden and terrorism published by CNN anti-terror specialist Peter Bergen, he quoted from a 1997 interview with bin Laden in which Osama was critical of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.
Given this context, why has the United States suddenly launched the second phase of the war against terrorism?
Incidentally, it is already underway in soft spots like the southern Philippines, where 650 U.S. Special Forces troops are helping Filipino troops combat the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group. There is also a virtual naval blockade across the coast off Somalia in the Horn of Africa, ostensibly to cut access to incoming or outgoing al-Qaeda members.
There are three reasons behind this. First, after obliterating the threat from bin Laden and Taliban, the Bush administration needs to give, for the benefit of the American people, their "new enemy" a face, a location and a target, which has been done through the "axis of evil."
Demonizing the new enemy will play on the American people's fears and placate those in the Republican Party's conservative constituency who are itching to go at the next enemy, using the conducive environment to sort out all of America's real or potential enemies.
Second, by a quite convenient coincidence, this axis of evil happens to be the same as the list of the "rogue states" which Bush announced on May 1, 2001, well before Sept. 11, when he was launching the National Missile Defense (NMD), the world's most expensive and technologically advanced weapon system said to cost a whopping $60 billion.
A new arms build-up and big contracts to American arms manufacturers, many of them major contributors to the Bush election campaign, would clearly be on the cards.
Third, by listing this "axis of evil" as a danger to American national security interests, the United States has provided itself justification both for a future military operation against these countries and, equally important, a permanent military presence in the region where the "axis of evil" is located.
This region includes East Asia, where greater U.S. presence would allow it to keep an eye on China (which has criticized the Bush speech) as well North Korea, with Bush planning to visit China and South Korea later this month.
There is also Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which now is knit together with a string of American bases, all in Iran's close proximity, and the Persian Gulf and Turkey, where the United States has ringed Iraq with a string of military bases.
If the goals of the evolving American strategy outlined in the Bush speech apparently weave in with U.S. interests in key parts of Asia, what would be the implications of these moves on U.S. foreign relations in the broader Muslim world?
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Jan. 31, George Schwab, chairman of the national committee on U.S. foreign policy, interpreted the Bush State of the Union address, saying that "terrorism is a manifestation of militant Islamic fundamentalism and it has to be fought everywhere."
In other words, the only terrorism that poses a threat to the global community comes from Muslims, notwithstanding the actions of groups like the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka to the Irish Republican Army or the Basque separatists in Europe.
An even more important implication would be for American key allies in the current war against terrorism like Pakistan, Turkey or Saudi Arabia, who have expressed strong reservations of expanding the war.
If at all any axis exists, signifying the emergence of a similar attitude, it is the one emerging between America, India and Israel. The intifida in Palestine and the insurgency in Kashmir coupled with threat of war in South Asia continue unabated.
President Bush's rhetoric will only raise tensions that exist in the region that begins at Israel and ends at Indonesia, with no sign of a lasting peace and stability that were promised when the Taliban were defeated in Afghanistan.
February 4, 2002 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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