Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


MAY 2003

When George Bush used the phrase "axis of evil" in his State of the Union Address to Congress in January 2002, he bewildered many people at home and abroad about his intentions. Was he planning, they speculated, to make war on Iraq, Iran, and North Korea?

The just concluded war to depose Saddam Hussein answered that question as far as Iraq is concerned. Now Iran, labeled by the administration as a supporter of terrorists, is feeling the heat from Washington. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld warned recently that Iran was interfering in the U.S.-British occupation of Iraq by helping Shiite Muslims there to establish an Islamic state. The White House also warns of Iran's efforts to build nuclear weapons.

The third member of Mr. Bush's axis of evil, North Korea, admits openly that it is building nuclear weapons. It demands that Washington agree to give it economic aid in return for suspending production. So far the Bush administration is taking a detached attitude on Pyongyang's blandishments, saying it will not engage in bilateral talks with the its regime and that China, Japan, and South Korea must be included in negotiations.

Why the difference, skeptics ask, in Bush's attitude toward North Korea's nuclear program and those of Iraq and Iran? The main reason is that the White House and State Department believe that China, Japan, and Russia should be engaged in persuading North Korea that blackmail with nuclear weapons threatens their vital interests.

All axis of evil countries have two characteristics that qualified them as enemies of the United States. They supported terrorists in other countries and threatened U.S. regional interests. More important, however, is that each of them was engaged in war with the United States.

North Korea and China fought American troops for three years during the 1950s and inflicted tens of thousands of casualties on them. No peace treaty was ever concluded.

Iraq and the United States engaged in a short war in 1991 after Saddam Hussein's army invaded and annexed neighboring Kuwait. Many Arab and European countries joined the U.S. to defeat Iraq's forces, but Saddam Hussein held on to power. American and British aircraft continued to patrol no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, however, and U.N. inspectors were able, until their ouster in 1998, to find and destroy many of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The 2003 war was, in reality, a continuation of the Gulf War.

In Iran, there was no shooting war with the United States in 1979 after its Islamic government authorized the seizure and imprisonment of fifty-two American embassy personnel for fourteen months. This was a blatant breach of international law and is an act of war. In addition, agents of Iran's Revolutionary Government instigated the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in which seventeen Americans were killed.

In sum, Iraq was, and Iran and North Korea still are, a source of real trouble for Washington.

The Arc of Dissent

Recently we saw the emergence of another trio of countries that is opposed to policies of the Bush administration. This arc of dissent, as I call it, includes France, Germany, and Russia. They were opposed to Washington's plan to oust Saddam Hussein's regime, and France even threatened to veto any U.N. resolution in support.

France, Germany, and Russia have different reasons for opposing the robust foreign policy that George Bush adopted following the events of 9-11, 2001.

Moscow was the major weapons supplier of Saddam Hussein's regime during the 1970s and 1980s and wants to collect on billions of dollars that Iraq owes for those weapons. Also, Russia has links to Iraq's oil industry and stands to lose influence if the United States and Britain dominate Iraq's government.

Germany's government opposed Bush on Iraq for two major reasons: it did not want to bear the high financial costs of a new war in the Middle East, as it had in the Gulf War; and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in a tough reelection campaign last year, decided to exploit strong public opposition to Bush's policies by taking an anti-American position on Iraq. The tactic worked and Schroeder's party won the September 2002 election by a narrow margin. During the U.N. Security Council's debate on Iraq in March, Germany joined France and Russia in opposing the U.S.-British position.

The primary mover behind the arc of dissent is France. President Jacques Chirac follows in the footsteps of a famous French dissenter, Charles De Gaulle, who took France out of NATO's defense organization in 1966 because he hoped to build an independent European power center that included Germany and the Soviet Union, but not Britain which he viewed as part of an Anglo-Saxon plan to dominate Europe.

Chirac seized on Schroeder's public dissent from American policy on Iraq to forge an understanding with him and with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. Their motivation was to check what they believed were George Bush's hegemonic foreign policy plans

The ousting of Saddam Hussein's regime now opens two promising prospects for peace in in the Middle East. First, it gives Bush leverage to convince friendly Arab countries -- Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain -- to recognize Israel's existence as a state. In addition, it enables him to exert greater influence on Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to make the painful decisions to withdraw from occupied Palestinian lands, which he resisted so long as Saddam Hussein remained in power in Iraq.

Victory in Iraq also puts on notice Syria and Iran, two steadfast opponents of peace with Israel, that their regimes may be in jeopardy if they continue to resist the new movement toward a comprehensive settlement between Israel and the Palestinians

France, Germany, and Russia will continue to challenge what they consider to be George Bush's hegemonic tendencies in foreign policy. But his friendly meetings with Putin in St. Petersburg and Chirac in France last week suggests that their relations may be on the mend. A deal to defuse tensions between Washington and Moscow on Iraq is likely to emerge soon, and Chirac and Bush agreed at the G-8 summit to put aside disagreement on Iraq and move on to other issues. Chirac pledged to assist the United States by sending a French combat force to help out in Afghanistan.

Germany may be a more difficult problem for Bush. Unlike Chirac and Putin, who are in strong political positions at home, Gerhard Schroeder faces a public that simply refuses to be persuaded about the use of force anywhere. This legacy of World War II is very strong among young people, many of whom fear another disastrous war. Like Ronald Reagan's twenty years ago, George Bush's rhetoric tends to frighten many Germans as well as other Europeans.

File last modified on Thursday, 12-AUG-2004 09:00 PM EST

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