February 15, 2002

Bush's Axis of Evil

Perhaps fearing that the day's events were not surreal enough, former US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on September 11 2001 that the kamikazes who'd struck America with passenger jets had demonstrated the need for a National Missile Defense system. When the interviewer pointed out that such a system could not have prevented the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Mr. Weinberger obligingly shifted his position: the tragedy showed that the US needs a National Missile Defense system in addition to something that would have prevented the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. So great was his enthusiasm for the proposed cloaking device that even the northward progression of killers bees would have proven its necessity, or at least proven the need for NMD plus something that would stop killer bees.

Weinberger's signature had appeared, alongside those of current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, on an open letter dated February 19 1998 to then President Clinton. The letter urged Clinton to recognize a provisional Iraqi government which, aided by a US air campaign and possibly by US ground forces, would lead an insurrection against Saddam Hussein. Following the ascension of George Bush Jr. to the Presidency in January 2001, the missile technology of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea quickly was deemed the Principal Threat to America's Security. Here was a lode rich enough to supply all of Bush's associates, the academic hawks who promoted huge defence contracts as well as the oil stooges eager to deflect attention from Saudi Arabia and its familial web of banks, holding companies, and militant charities.

So there was despair among the A-hawks when they couldn't persuade their colleagues that the annointed enemies were behind the September 11 attacks and would therefore be legitimate targets of US retaliation. "Everything so far continues to point to bin Laden," the Toronto Star quoted a U.S. official as saying days after the attacks. "Iraq doesn't seem to be panning out, and the same thing with Iran." What had happened to Yankee ingenuity? Could no one find a tearful ambassador's daughter to claim that she had seen Iraqi and Iranian soldiers rip babies from their incubators and enroll them in tiny American flight schools?

Bush's January 2002 State of the Union address did not elaborate on how the Saudis who donated their money or their lives to hit New York and Washington DC might have been controlled from Pyongyang. Instead, with a little expatriate Canadian help, the President tried to spin all anti-American plots around an "axis of evil" uniting North Korea, Iraq and Iran. (The Toronto Sun's Peter Worthington proudly assigned credit for the cartoon poetry to his stepdaughter's husband, National Post alumnus and current Bush speechwriter David Frum.) Buttressed by a vow to "develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack", Mr. Bush's speech marked the beginning of the larger war to convince his allies that they need or want such protection.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson sounded like a man unzipping for much-needed release when he responded to Bush's theme. "I think if the Americans could produce convincing evidence that there was a link between other countries and the attack that took place, then I think the allies would be seriously interested in that information," he said two days after the address. "But that hasn't been forthcoming up to this moment." The same day, the International Atomic Energy Agency fouled one of the President's favourite trails with a report that Baghdad had co-operated fully with the IAEA's annual inspection.

Here in Canada, there has been considerable disbelief that the government to the south is genuinely worried about the rocket threat posed by such "rogue states" as North Korea. Are the underfed North Koreans planning some sort of Hail Mary attack, in which they would fling a missile across the Pacific and hope to be bombarded in return with rations of beans and tomato sauce? Frum's former employer even published excerpts from the briefing documents for a Nov. 1999 meeting of Canadian defence policy officials, including the assessment that "those regimes would never lob ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] at the U.S. or allies unless their very survival was at stake."

Underneath the skepticism is the belief that the USSR was the only state that ever came close enough to matching the US arsenal to justify the phrase Mutually Assured Destruction. For any other country, even China, a missile attack on the US seems more likely to fall into the category of Unilaterally Assured Suicide. During a May 2001 session of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa, a member of the governing Liberal party suggested that even if a "rogue state" were techically capable of firing a missile at the US, "twenty minutes later, that state would cease to exist with a United States retaliatory strike. In war or aggression, I always look for the profit. Where's the profit in destroying yourself?"

Canadian officials were not alone in asking why any government that wished to harm the US would use a missile to do so. The Central Intelligence Agency had as much as admitted that the rogues' fireworks were not intended to be "operational weapons of war". National Intelligence Officer Robert Walpole told a US Senate Subcommittee in February 2000 that "in the coming years, US territory is probably more likely to be attacked with weapons of mass destruction from non-missile delivery means (most likely from non-state entities) than by missiles, primarily because non-missile delivery means are less costly and more reliable and accurate. They can also be used without attribution."

Though members of the Congress have dumped buckets of offal on the CIA in recent months for not predicting that hijacked planes would be the preferred weapons of mass destruction, the Agency was somewhat closer to the mark than those who habitually claim that lack of National Missile Defense is America's Great Vulnerability. But Caspar Weinberger's remarks have a certain logic if you assume - as the Canadian briefing documents did - that the NMD crusade has little to do with defending US territory and much to do with protecting the US government's "freedom of action". This freedom is especially dear to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, who have been arguing for 25 years that CIA assessments are too complacent, and that the examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not sufficiently memorable to discourage America's enemies from launching a missile attack.

In 1976 the Ford Administration gave in to pressure from opponents of arms control and allowed an outside review of the CIA's National Intelligence Estimates. This surprising openness followed the arrival of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and George Bush Sr. as CIA director, and the advisory panel for the "Team B" assessment included one Paul D. Wolfowitz of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Team B found that the CIA had grievously underestimated the Soviet threat by focusing on the actual military capabilities of the USSR, rather than the crucial information about motives that could be inferred from Russian folk songs and kick dancing.

When the CIA produced an intelligence estimate in 1995 that contained few predictions alarming enough to justify a National Missile Defense system, Wolfie once again got the call to sit on a review panel. This time the commission chair was occupied by Rummy himself, and the resulting 1998 report concluded that "the threat to the U.S. posed by these emerging capabilities is broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the Intelligence Community." There was no attempt this time to read the tea leaves of America's enemies for evidence of a mystical belief that they could survive US retaliation. The simple fact that other countries possessed short-range missiles and might someday be able to build long-range missiles was asserted to be a threat to America.

The Associated Press article in which Lord Robertson lubricated the "axis of evil" also reported that Bush Jr.'s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice "called North Korea the world's No. 1 seller of ballistic missiles, with the Pentagon saying Iran and Pakistan are customers." Ms. Rice, who resigned as a Director of Chevron Oil effective January 15, 2001, knows first-hand how concerned the major companies are that the US remain free to protect democracy in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. So why not invite America's citizens to make a modest investment (Time magazine estimated in May 2001 that the costs of building the system "could top $200 billion") in a project designed to overcome their own reluctance to support US attacks on states that have missiles? Maybe it will take their minds off of Enron.


  • Category : US Foreign Policy