Our post-Cold War dilemma ended last month. No longer will we have to grope about in a complicated world of shifting interests and alliances and innumerable shades of gray. We can fall back into an easy outlook of blacks and whites. We finally have a new enemy. A whole axis of them as it turns out.
But George W. Bush”s attempt to capture a bit of Roosevelt may disappoint. Unlike the original Axis powers, the new don”t even pretend to like each other and aren”t gobbling up other countries.
In Asia this week, Bush is trying to sell other nations on the axis idea. But the complaints, especially from the Europeans, about the inappropriateness of the “Axis of Evil” language haven”t let up since Bush threw that rhetorical bomb in his Jan. 29 State of the Union address. Americans, on the other hand, can”t fall over themselves fast enough to talk about how great it is for a president to have “clarity of purpose,” as U.S. News and World Report put it, with apparently no regard for what that purpose is.
The problem with all the complaints and compliments of the “axis” talk is that it misses the rather glaring fact that nothing is being done about it. Several weeks into the era of our new enemies, the administration admits there”s no military action, or even much diplomatic movement, with regard to Iran and North Korea in the offing. They are more overtly hostile to Iraq, with posturing Democratic presidential hopefuls and TV studio generals egging them on, but are we really going to war with Iraq again? Since both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where we would likely need to base such an operation, oppose it and the rest of the world is backing them up, there”s at least one huge hurdle that we aren”t yet doing much to overcome.
And when asked about what”s happening with Iraq, administration officials invariably say something about all options being considered, without ever committing to or being specific about anything. The anti-Iraq talk, propped up by the war (read: Ratings) fevered press, sounds like just that a lot of talk.
Why would Bush be making such a big deal out of Iraq if he didn”t really intend to do something about it? Maybe he”s trying to get Hussein to let arms inspectors back into Iraq by convincing him that an attack is inevitable otherwise. Or maybe I”m wrong and Bush seriously feels we can topple Saddam alone in another Afghanistan-like walk in the park. Or maybe in addition to driving the national debt to undreamt of heights, pouring money willy nilly into every military boondoggle available, and telling us to say no to drugs, Bush is taking another cue from that most popular past president and found us some evil to fight (or at least yell at).
The admiration of so many had for Ronald Reagan has always astounded me. He certainly talked a good game if you”re into blather about how wonderful we all are and bluster about the evil of our enemies. Not that we aren”t good people and the Soviet Union didn”t need to go. But if you think Reagan did the Soviets in, then you ludicrously believe their economic and political systems were sustainable and it was the stern disapproval of the Gipper that brought them down. Perhaps he made them spend more on their military than they would have, but it was communism, not American weapons, that doomed them.
Having an evil empire for an adversary made us feel better though. It let us lob invectives at someone whenever the mood struck us or our minds need to be taken off the latest sale of government policy to interest group X.
It feels awfully Reagan-esque these days. I don”t remember Reagan all that well personally, but I do remember enthusiastically belting out “God Bless the U.S.A.” with my grade school music class as the Iran-Contra affair unfolded. As people like to say about Reagan, he just made us feel good about being Americans.
Unfortunately, huge deficits, increased inequality and U.S. sponsored terrorism in Central America are a few of the things our patriotism got us during the Reagan years. But for Bush, such patriotic popularity couldn”t look better. As Reagan showed, if he can get all the kids singing again with pride in his clarity of purpose, then he can do anything.
Never mind that North Korea was starting to finally engage the outside world when Bush decided to cut the legs out from under South Korea”s heroic efforts at reconciliation. And forget that Iran has been reforming and in its most virulently anti-American moments has never put the United States in as much danger as Saudi Arabia.
I”m no fan of Saddam Hussein, but his ouster seems unlikely. The administration must see the mess such an endeavor would be and while they talk tough, there seems to be little real movement towards any kind of attack.
Why fight an enemy when it can just be continually condemned from afar anyway? Just as Reagan is acclaimed for an empty rhetorical flourish that got people”s hearts pounding, so too Bush may be able to use slogans against an adversary he never fights to carve a place in history.
Peter Cunniffe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.