Hate of the union
Bush's startling state of the union speech proclaimed an escalation of the US war on terror that has more to do with justifying national missile defence than with September 11, says Julian Borger
Wednesday January 30, 2002
In an extraordinary state of the union address, President Bush catapulted the US into uncharted territory in its war on terrorism, issuing blunt warnings that Iraq, Iran and North Korea could become targets if they do not change their ways.
Osama bin Laden was not mentioned once, al-Qaida only in passing. The speech was clearly aimed at ushering a new phase in the anti-terrorist campaign, in which links with the September 11 attacks will no longer be the criteria for US military action.
Iraq has long been mentioned as a possible adversary in a widening conflict over terrorism. Washington simply agreed with its allies back in October that Baghdad would be left off the initial target list, which would be defined solely in terms of the al-Qaida terrorist network and reprisals for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Sooner or later, Iraq and the unresolved conflict with Saddam Hussein was always likely to be put back on the table. Enough senior members of the administration had made a career of preparing for a final showdown. However, the inclusion of Iran and North Korea in the "axis of evil" depicted by George Bush raises the stakes significantly.
North Korea has hitherto been seen as an inward-looking oddball dictatorship, with few outside links to global terrorism.
Conventional wisdom on Iran is that its own forces of democracy have been gradually reining in its terrorist export business from within.
Taking on Saddam Hussein would probably have the support of most Middle East and European leaders, if the US finished the job this time. He is seen as a menace by most of his neighbours.
But Iran has a democratically-elected president and parliament, albeit constrained by a conservative theocracy. A conflict with the US could set back the development of democracy there by decades. It is unlikely to have the support of Europe, which sees Tehran as a regime to be cultivated and encouraged.
The Iranian government provides support for Hamas and Hizbullah, but most of Europe and the Middle East believe the fate of those militant groups is dependent on reaching a lasting Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
As for North Korea, progress was made in talks between Pyongyang and the Clinton administration towards exchanging Korean disarmament in return for economic aid.
Those talks were abandoned by the Bush team so abruptly that it made observers wonder whether the souring of relations was intended to serve as a justification of National Missile Defence (NMD).
The inclusion of North Korea and Iran in the "axis of evil" serves the same purpose, as both have advanced missile programmes which could - several years down the line - provide the sort of threat that NMD is intended to defend against.
Without their inclusion on the list, NMD critics could argue that September 11 made the expensive and elaborate scheme all but irrelevant for the foreseeable future. The al-Qaida or Iraqi threat was far more likely to materialise in the form of a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon floated into an American harbour inside a shipping container.
The "axis of evil", as described by the president, may have little to do with September 11. It has a lot more to do with the Pentagon's long term plans, and for a $50bn increase in defence spending, the biggest leap in two decades.
Guardian Unlimited (c) Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002