It was four and a half years ago, in his first State of the Union speech, that President Bush declared that North Korea, Iran and Iraq constituted an "axis of evil" arming themselves to threaten the peace of the world.
At that moment North Korea was the only one of the three rogue nations that was thought to have one or more nuclear weapons. Iran even then had nuclear ambitions and, of the three, was the only one with confirmed ties to international terrorist groups that posed a direct threat to the United States.
So what did this president do? He took direct aim at the least dangerous of the three—Iraq—and marched us off into the swamps of an unending war that revealed the weaknesses of both our target and ourselves.
The more threatening of the three, Iran and North Korea, were treated to years of benign neglect by Washington while our focus and our national efforts were on toppling Saddam Hussein's brutal government and an amateurish quest to plant Jeffersonian democracy in some of the most infertile soil in the Middle East.
The United States has declared its anti-missile missile system is ready for use, but it hasn't been fully tested yet—meaning it hasn't proved capable of intercepting and killing any missile in real-world conditions.
North Korea tested a long-range missile on Tuesday—a provocation even if the missile did flop in less than 40 seconds. And Iran is continuing its program to enrich uranium, a process that could be used to make material for weapons if the processing is done at high enough levels.
For four and a half years the Bush administration steered clear of diplomacy, leaving negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions in the hands of European countries, who have their own economic interests in Iran.
And the six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs haven't yielded much.
So let's review the bidding in this situation. We threaten to use our unproved missile defense system against a non-working North Korean long-range missile even as we demand that Iran first shut down its uranium enrichment facilities before negotiations on the problem can begin.
Over in the Pentagon they are doing contingency planning for air strikes to knock out the Iranian nuke facilities. Air Force planners, singing a song almost as old as the one about the wild blue yonder, tell their bosses they could knock out 85 percent of the Iranian facilities with pinpoint bombing. Or they could if they knew where all of them were located, and by the way, would we mind if they used small nuclear bombs on those targets?
Wiser heads among the senior military leaders have cautioned that we would do well to consider the fall out, nuclear weapons aside, from such an attack on Iran. First, they could shut off their oil exports and kick the price of a barrel of oil over $100 a barrel overnight. Then they sink a supertanker or two in the Persian Gulf and kick that price far higher. Then they intervene in Iraq, directly or indirectly through their Shiite brothers, and give our already hard-pressed soldiers and Marines a real nightmare situation to deal with on the ground. Then they signal their terrorist clients to launch all-out attacks on American interests wherever possible.
One would think that President Bush and his people might have learned something in their time in power about the real world and the very real consequences of making threats and acting precipitously, and thinking about it later, if at all.
We have come upon perilous times, and they call for smart, skillful diplomacy of a sort that hasn't exactly been the strongest suit of those who are in charge of our fate and future.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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