The Washington Axis of Evil

International Socialist Review, March / April 2002


President Bush used his January State of the Union address to serve notice on the world: Get in line with the USA or face the worst the Pentagon can dish out. Appearing before Congress two months after the most powerful military in the world routed the ragtag Taliban government, Bush played the role of Caesar surveying his empire.

"I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons," Bush said.

Into the role of "world's most dangerous regimes" Bush cast Iraq, Iran, and North Korea-the "axis of evil." Never mind that these regimes share little in common with one another, or that they have gross domestic products smaller than the Pentagon budget. Two of them- North Korea and Iran-were even seeking rapprochement with the West until Bush rode into Washington.

None of that matters to Bush. Just as the Pentagon used these countries-under their former title of "rogue nations"-to justify maintaining a Cold War-sized military after the Cold War, Bush is using them today to justify Star Wars, permanent war, and the huge boosts in military spending that go along with them.

Bush sold the war in Afghanistan as an extended police action intended to "bring to justice" those responsible for September 11. Of course, Bush hadn't the slightest concern with justice. So soon after the war started, Bush's goals shifted to uprooting the Taliban government and installing a friendly regime in its place. With that mission accomplished-though fighting continues between U.S.-led forces and "remnants" of al-Qaeda and the Taliban-Bush and Co. stopped talking about Osama bin Laden and began looking for other locations to bring their "war on terrorism."

U.S. "advisers" have already landed in the Philippines. Supposedly, the U.S. military is helping the Philippine government to root out Abu Sayyaf, a gang of a few dozen kidnappers on the remote island of Basilan. But as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof explained, "The real aim of the American mission is political: to demonstrate momentum in the war on terror, deploy troops in a country where they are welcome, show the flag in Southeast Asia, and find an enemy that can be quickly beaten." With its sights on establishing a stronger foothold in the entire Southeast Asian region, the U.S. has also begun to link Abu Sayyaf with Islamic radicals in Indonesia, not coincidentally the most strategically placed archipelago in the area, as far as U.S. interests are concerned.

The Philippines expedition is only the warm-up act for the main event-the plan for "regime change" in Iraq. With the administration's so-called dove, Secretary of State Colin Powell, signed on to the plan, it is only a matter of time before the administration makes its move to oust Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein. The current plan calls for the U.S. to provoke a crisis over Iraq's refusal to readmit U.S. weapons inspectors, leaving the U.S. with only one option-to overthrow Saddam. Vice President Dick Cheney embarked on a March tour of the Middle East to line up support for the attack.

Bush's threats against Iraq have brought a chorus of criticism from America's European allies, who condemn the administration for its "unilateralism" and disregard for other countries' interests. As military action nears, most of these critics will get on board the American bandwagon- or remain silent. Bush and Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, will hold an April summit conference to plan the attack, according to the London Guardian newspaper.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest believe they can sell just about any Pentagon boondoggle or imperial adventure abroad by claiming it as part of the "war on terrorism." Within the space of a few months, Bush has junked his campaign rhetoric about U.S. "humility" and asserted a unilateral U.S. right to intervene and to overthrow governments anywhere he decides. His evangelical preacher's claptrap about fighting "evil" merely covers a naked assertion of U.S. economic, political, and military hegemony over the world.

In Colombia, Bush's saber rattling and pressure from the Pentagon gave President Andres Pastrana the opening he wanted to end the "peace process" and launch a war to wipe out guerrilla forces. U.S. aid-including almost $100 million and U.S. troops to guard a strategic oil pipeline- pushed Pastrana along. Now the U.S. doesn't even uphold the pretense that the war in Colombia was about stopping drugs-and it is looking into ways to increase military support for Colombia's government even further.

Some U.S. commentators have slammed Bush for adopting the permanent war as his version of President Clinton's "permanent campaign." They note that an invasion of Iraq would likely coincide with the fall's midterm elections.

More than simply Bush and Republican Party reelection dreams are at work here. Under the cover of the "war on terrorism," the U.S. has advanced the geopolitical agenda of the most ideological proponents of U.S. military domination of the world. The U.S. has gained the right to base troops in Central Asian republics, which it has sought since these countries broke from the Soviet empire in the early 1990s. From these bases, the U.S. will be able to project military firepower to gain control over the region's huge oil and gas reserves. U.S. troops are inserted directly into a region where proponents of U.S. imperialism believe the most likely challenger to America's self-proclaimed role as the lone superpower will come.

In pursuit of these goals, the Bush administration has also recently announced plans (for the time being, without opposition from Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin) to send hundreds of military "advisers" to Georgia-a former Soviet republic-supposedly to quell that country's al-Qaeda-linked terrorist threat. But as the Chicago Tribune explained, Washington is using the war on terror as a pretext to pursue other goals:

Georgia is a prime objective in the post-Cold War struggle between Russia and the United States for influence in the Caspian Sea region. Georgia is pushing itself as the perfect route for a series of pipelines that would carry oil and gas from new fields opening across the region. U.S. officials strongly support Georgia's bid, largely because it would allow the pipelines to skirt Iran and Russia but still get the petroleum to Turkey and then on into Europe.

Bush is trying to use "terrorism" today the way that Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, and others used "communism" during the Cold War-as the all-purpose ideological justification for U.S. imperial designs. At home, it has meant keeping up the "permanent war" atmosphere, including creating a Dr. Strangelove-style "shadow" government, complete with its own underground cave complex.

Yet this U.S. government isn't merely interested in "containing" its enemies. It wants to be able to impose the American ruling class's program on the world. "Missile defense" isn't about shooting down North Korean missiles that don't even have the power to make it into U.S. airspace. It's about eliminating the nuclear deterrents of other challengers (read Russia and China) so that the U.S. can get its way.

This is the Pentagon's doctrine of "full spectrum dominance," as enunciated in Joint vision 2020, the public document laying out the U.S. military's plan for the 21st century:

Full spectrum dominance implies that U.S. forces are able to conduct prompt, sustained, and synchronized operations with combinations of forces tailored to specific situations and with access to and freedom to operate in all domains - space, sea, land, air, and information. Additionally, given the global nature of our interests and obligations, the United States must maintain its overseas presence forces and the ability to rapidly project power worldwide in order to achieve full spectrum dominance.

These dreams come with a huge price tag. Bush's proposed 2003 budget will boost military spending beyond $400 billion-a level not seen since Ronald Reagan's military build-up at the height of the Cold War. With Democrats bowing and scraping before the "wartime" president, it's likely that Congress could push the military budget above Bush's request. Besides the people who might feel the effects of this horrible arsenal one day, the biggest losers in this Pentagon porkfest will be ordinary Americans. Money for schools, Medicare prescription drugs, and aid to the unemployed will take a backseat to the Pentagon.

Bush's plans not only menace billions of people around the world. They will continue to provide the pretext for raiding social spending and shredding civil liberties at home. That's why it's more important than ever to rebuild an antiwar opposition in the United States.

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