More than six years have passed since President George W. Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an “axis of evil” in his first State of the Union address following September 11, 2001. For their cultivation of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, and for their sponsorship of international terror, President Bush denounced these regimes and others like them that would threaten the peace of the world.
He pointed to the stark contrast between states which fight terrorists and states which choose to support them. He declared war, not on the three countries he named, but against terrorist groups themselves, and regimes which would use biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons to threaten the United States, either directly or through terrorist subsidiaries. In short, the president outlined this struggle as the next great international war which must be fought—the war on terror.
These words were not new, not even in January 2002. Nine days after the September 11 attacks, in his first speech from the Capitol Building since those attacks, the president identified our fight against terrorism as a struggle between freedom and fear. He recognized the true nature of al Qaeda: “its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.” He identified al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups as “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century,…sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions…abandoning every value except the will to power.”
Finally in both post-9/11 speeches, he warned that the war on terror was “only begun,” adding that “this campaign may not be finished on our watch—yet it must be and it will be waged on our watch.” The war would not be finished, in the president’s eyes, until “every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”
Since 2002, the president’s words have garnered little more than disdain from America’s academic quarters—scholars criticize the term “axis of evil” as anything from idealistic and naïve to scare-mongering and hawkish. They point to the War in Iraq as a deception, a quagmire, and a distraction which has kept us from concentrating on the real bad guys who hang out in Pakistan. They lament Washington’s supposedly clumsy handling of the “global good will” which existed after 9/11 and during operations in Afghanistan. They sneer at the mere use of the term “evil,” psychoanalyzing terrorist motives to the point of inanity.
Most analyses boil down to the same exhortation: “if we leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone. America should just get out of the Middle East.” Aside from the practical unreality of such a withdrawal (outlined by Hoover Fellow Thomas Henriksen in his most recent publications), very few scholars are willing to denounce the morality of a withdrawal. (Historians such as Victor Davis Hanson and Raymond Ibrahim are among the few.)
America’s universities have viciously attacked nearly every step in the Bush administration’s waging of the war on terror; but they have failed to address the validity of the war itself. In academic circles at least, it is not in vogue to believe in the war on terror. A few academics have denied the need for any such “war”; most have simply ignored this central question, preferring to carp about each and every one of the administration’s tactics.
Return to 2007, and scan the most recent headlines involving “axis” countries. Americans in Iraq uncover new Iranian weapons caches every day. A few weeks ago, Washington released photos of a Syrian nuclear reactor built with substantial North Korean aid (and subsequently destroyed by Israeli airstrikes last September). Within Iraq, according to CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus, Sunni Arab communities are increasingly rejecting al Qaeda and its ideology as they witness its atrocities.
These headlines are a tiny slice of the mountain of facts which, piling up since 9/11, add up to one truth: Iran, North Korea, and the terrorists prolonging the fight in Iraq are no friends of America, of human rights and dignity, and of world peace. They never were and they never will be. Their pursuit of power, entirely unlike American military action, is unaccompanied by any respect for individual human life and freedom.
The term “evil” means something specific and real. From the beginning, the President’s critics have been embarrassed by this word. In addition to mocking the President for using it, that vast crowd of critics—media, academics and liberal politicians—have asserted for nearly eight years that his use of the word “evil” is evidence of a simple-minded, arrogant and bullying approach to international relations: an approach, in their view, which actually undermines world peace by refusing to deal tactfully, diplomatically and intelligently with nations with whom we have “frictions.”
In this editor’s opinion, that view of the world actually betrays the single profound difference between those who support the war on terror and those who criticize its every twist and turn. That difference is simple. Some people will fight for what is right; for human freedom from terror and intimidation. Other people will not fight. Those who will not fight will very seldom acknowledge, to themselves or others, that this basic reluctance is the driving force behind their words and actions. Instead they will endlessly decry the lack of nuance or sophistication they so much deplore among the fighters. They will endlessly argue that it’s not necessary to fight “evil”, because “evil” itself exists largely in the imagination of their opponents.
Eight years ago President Bush clearly explained our need to fight. He could not have said it better. The problem, since then, has been that too many Americans with public voices—again, the media, academics and politicians—simply don’t wish to believe it.