Media editorial boards, defense analysts, security pundits and every cubicle-caged IR policy wonk under the crystalline radiance of the United States has been, in the last couple of weeks, hurriedly attempting to unpack the implications of Bush’s charge. As mentioned above, the linkage is not altogether self-evident, which has led many to the conclusion this particular rhetorical gambit may only precipitate further problems. Some examples:
  1. The Economist (notoriously neoliberal but well-informed UK world affairs magazine) which has been very supportive of US policy since last autumn, has shifted its editorial stance drastically since Bush used the term in last month’s State of the Union address – now calling American policy on terrorism, ‘bold but dangerous’ and the US hard line on nuclear proliferation ultimately ‘radically wrong’. (Editorials, Jan. 31 & Feb. 8)
  2. Former US SOS Madeleine Albright broke ranks immediately when she remarked that day after Bush’s speech many of her diplomatic colleagues around the world believe US policy-makers ‘may have gone mad’(New York Times February 3, 2002, “Axis of Debate: Hawkish Words”),while the French Foreign Minister Varine called the approach reductive, simplistic & expressed shock the EU was not being consulted.* Even Tony Blair called upon the presentation of clear evidence linking Iraq with terrorism (Washington Post, February 7, 2002).
  3. The official state news agency in North Korea, after week’s measured contemplation, shot back with the charge that America was an ‘Empire of the devil’ that is simply using terrorism as an excuse to justify a proposed $48 billion U.S. defense spending increase would be the largest in two decades.1 (Reuters, February 8, 2002)
      Nowhere, however, in Bush’s speech, or in the use of the phrase in following briefings with other US officials, was there ever any insinuation of collusion between these nations – the phrase is simple rhetorical shorthand for the three nations which American intelligence has assessed as most potentially threatening at this time. They may not represent material interests (through Iraq/Iran2 do carry that additional element) and may even be moving towards improved relations (Iranian political reform has been making slow but noticeable progress for nearly a decade according to many Western human rights observers) . They certainly will not necessarily, just by extension of rhetoric, be immediate military targets (Somalia, the Philipines & Indonesia will be getting that dubious honour, mainly through the action of proxy forces).4
      Some possible explanations, then, for such a unilateral & non-conciliatory stance: see footnotes.
* In Canada, Parti Quebecois leader Bernard Landry went further, back on November 18, 2001 at a PQ convention, in a speech which drew a direct line from repression to terrorism, and he said any powerful occupying force could only expect to be a target when it denied a minority nation their sovereignty. 9-11, he said, was a clear example (National Post, December 6, 2001, “Dissension within the 4th estate”).! English Canada is well acquainted with Quebecois anti-Americanism; but similar lines of reasoning have emerged from Europe as well, most notably the UK & France. Jean Baudrillard started the ball rolling with his piece, ‘L’esprit du terrorisme’ which appeared prominently in Le Monde, November 2, 2001. Regarding the smoking rubble of Manhattan he writes: ‘the moral condemnation and the sacred union against terrorism are directly proportional to the prodigious jubilation felt at having seen this global superpower destroyed, because it was this insufferable superpower that both gave rise to the violence now spreading throughout the world and to the terrorist imagination that (without our knowing it) dwells within us the end, it was they who did it, but we who wished it.’ Finally, on 01.04.02, Reuters reported the French are apprently enthralled by Thierry Meyssan's new book The Frightening Fraud which 'proves' the destruction at The Pentagon during the terrorist attacks last autumn was staged by the US government. The book is now the top seller on's French site (reported April 1, 2002, Globe and Mail, "French hot on theory Pentagon plane a hoax," A8) - One could venture to say statements like these, and countless others around the world, may be precisely why the US is going unilateral as of late.# That, and I think a genuinely felt concern for what just one suicide bomber with a wayward tach-nuke could do to downtown London, Paris or Washington.

! Actual quote: "The freedom of peoples and nations and their character is an indispensible condition for global equilibrium. Since the events of Sept. 11th, if there is one conclusion to draw in relation to the project of Quebec sovereignty and the sovereignty and liberty of all people, it is that" ('Why the PQ is Doomed', National Post, A18, February 28, 2002). This seems to say: look how 'unfree' these ethnic groups are, who can blame them for mass murder? It's reductionist & revisionist thinking, i.e. vintage PQ.
# On that matter of unilateralism (lest I be accused of Us vs. Them-atics - oh! were that it was so clearly binary as that), I leave you with Samuel Huntington as he surveys a multi-polar world : "It is a dangerous place, in which large numbers of people resent our wealth, power, and culture ... In this world America must learn to distinguish among 1. our true friends who will be with us and we with them through thick and thin; 2. opportunistic allies with whom we have some but not all interests in common; 3. strategic partner-competitors with whom we have a mixed relationship; 4. antagonists who are rivals but with whom negotiation is possible; and 5. unrelenting enemies who will try to destroy us unless we destroy them first." (The Clash of Civilizations, 1991)

1 Ronald Reagan, for better or worse, depending on how you judge his administration, used the same combination of tough, frequently apocalyptic rhetoric along with military spending & confrontation, in dealing with the Soviet Union. President Reagan's Evil Empire Speech and the Star Wars/Strategic Defense Initiative of the early 1980’s typifies the characterization. Of course, this approach really shouldn’t be nearly as shocking as everyone seems to think it is – I mean, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft? That was the Reagan Administation.
2 The Bush and Bin Laden families both have extensive oil investments all across the region: Desert Storm, rightly or wrongly, was the move to protect those interests from Iraqi incursion – at present, ¼ of US oil imports still originates from the Gulf states. But the aftermath of the war is still heavily debated. Briefly – as the Iraqi military withdrew from occupied Kuwait & the Saudi border at the end of the Gulf War, in 1991, the US had a choice – fight a ground war with their own troops in hostile Baghdad & attempt to remove Hussein or leave bases in Saudi Arabia & go for containment. Removal of Hussein would have led to the destabilization of the Iraqi state – Iran would have immediately pressed in to reoccupy eastern territories it lost in the brutal Iran-Iraq War which raged through the 1980’s. The Kurdish nation in the northern regions, which has never recognized Iraqi rule, would have immediately pushed for independence – which would have included mountain regions in Iraq, Jordan & Turkey. In other words, destabilization of the region and possible Balkanization – esp. in Turkey where there are numerous other ethnicities besides the Kurds, namely Armenians, who would go for succession in any shift of regional power.3
      Sooo…, in absence of a strategic architecture for dealing with all those problems (in the early 90s, as you may recall, the US had more pressing domestic unrest at home & in Central America) – Bush felt unprepared for the possibility of such an escalation in Central Asia, and deemed containment was the way to go. One decade later, we witness the grim repercussion of that endgame: containment meant staying in Saudi Arabia, which meant placating another corrupt, undemocratic, oil state, the elites of which, no doubt with damaged pride for having to seek American assistance, turned against the US. Saudi money established dozens of madrasas throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, which specialized in anti-American rhetoric, to inculcate violence against any Western intervention or exchange – be it military, humanitarian, economic or cultural.
3 I use Balkanization in the truly bleak and nasty sense of the word, because the potential for a multi-racial implosion in Northern Iraq – with Arabs, Kurds, Turks and Armenians is a dizzyingly ominous possibility. The 25,000,000 Kurds (the only ethnicity left stateless after WWI) hate the Iraqis for gassing them and the Turks for denying them independence; which holds true for the Armenians too, except they weren’t gassed by Iraqis, but rather by Kurdish militias under the Ottoman Turks. See R.G. Suny’s Looking Towards Ararat : Armenia in Modern History (Indiana University Press, 1993).
4 David Malone of the International Peace Academy, "Too little, too late, Saddam" Globe and Mail, February 8, 2002, A11.
If you find my tone & conclusions ambiguous, you’ve guessed my true feelings on the subject – total and abject uncertainty about what to think, whom to believe and/or what motives to question. The imminent Palestinian state, Caspian Sea oil developments and Syrian-Turkish internal stability explain much more about the various actors’ moves in the region (US, Saudis, Israel, Afghanistan) than religion ever will. Anyone who actually believes it’s a holy war is being played and probably will end up used as cannon fodder – just old nationalisms dressed up in tired religious garb to bring violence to innocents & clout to new regimes. On the flip side however, I find Chomsky, Baudrillard et al. pretty hopelessly simplistic themselves – Jean, in particular, should know better given he lives within sight of the Eiffel Tower, which Algerian terrorists only f*ing tried to fly a plane into in 2000. Needless to say, had the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and 3,000-odd Frenchman been reduced to atomized dust, and some American comedian had piped up that everyone hates the French anyway, Baudrillard probably wouldn’t have been quite so relativistic & blasé - *gah* - anyway, The Custodian's right though, sorry about the footnotes; I'll try to get that under control.