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Axis of evil

The axis of evil, as defined by United States President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, is constituted of "regimes that sponsor terror". The only specific states named were Iraq, Iran, North Korea and then later Syria, but the definition could be interpreted broadly to include other regimes. Shortly after its utterance, the phrase was attributed to former Bush speechwriter David Frum, originally as the "axis of hatred" and then "evil".

Bush was referring to countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism, and originally named the above three countries as examples. His words have been interpreted by some to mean that the "axis of evil" consists solely of those three countries. Some argue that this is a misinterpretation. However, singling out the three in such a forum as a State of the Union address, and the mention of three countries and no others as an "axis", in light of the historical analogy of the German-Italian-Japanese Axis, is likely to result in such an interpretation.

The phrase is derived from that of the rogue state, but the term itself is reminiscent of the Axis powers of World War II and of President Reagan's evil empire designation of the Soviet Union. The inclusion of North Korea among the trinity might have been a way for the US to distance itself from the perception that the "war on terror" is a "war against Islam". Although the United States' methods for dealing with Iraq markedly differed to those used with North Korea, this is probably due to the fact that whereas Iraq was only suspected of having WMD, North Korea openly flaunted its long-range ballistic missile capabilities. In addition, some right-wing political strategists (the Neoconservatives, lead by Richard Perle) favored by the Bush Administration have recently demanded military strikes in North Korea against its nuclear sites. (Daily Telegraph article)

Table of contents
1 Origins of the phrase
2 The speech
3 "Beyond the Axis of Evil"
4 Criticism of the term
5 Parody
6 External links

Origins of the phrase

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum explained his rationale for creating the phrase "axis of evil" in his book The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. Essentially, the story begins in late December 2001 when head speechwriter Mike Gerson gave Frum the assignment of articulating the case for dislodging the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in only a few sentences for the upcoming State of the Union address. Frum says he began by rereading President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "date that will live in infamy" speech given on December 8, 1941, after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. While Americans needed no convincing about going to war with Japan, Roosevelt saw the greater threat to the United States coming from Germany, and he had to make the case for fighting a two-ocean war.

Frum points to a now often-overlooked sentence in Roosevelt's speech which reads in part, "...we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again." Frum interprets Roosevelt's oratory like this: "For FDR, Pearl Harbor was not only an attack—it was a warning of future and worse attacks from another, even more dangerous enemy." Japan, a country with one-tenth of America's industrial capacity, a dependence on imports for all its food, and already engaged in a war with China, was extremely reckless to attack the United States, a recklessness "that made the Axis such a menace to world peace", Frum says. Saddam Hussein's two wars against Iran and Kuwait were just as reckless, Frum believed, and therefore presented the same threat to world peace.

The more he compared the Axis powers of World War II to modern "terror states", the more similarities he saw. "The Axis powers disliked and distrusted one another", Frum writes. "Had the Axis somehow won the war, its members would quickly have turned on one another." Iran, Iraq, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah, despite quarrelling among themselves however, "all resented power of the West, and they all despised the humane values of democracy." There, Frum saw the connection: "Together, the terror states and the terror organizations formed an axis of hatred against the United States."

Frum sent off a memo with the above arguments and also cited some of the atrocities perpetrated by the Iraqi regime. He expected his words to be chopped apart and altered beyond recognition, as is the fate of much presidential speechwriting, but his words were ultimately read by Bush nearly verbatim. His term "axis of hatred" had been changed to "axis of evil" to match the theological language used by Bush since September 11, 2001. North Korea was added to the list, he says, because it was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, had a history of reckless aggression, and "needed to feel a stronger hand".

The speech

The section of the 2002 State of the Union speech where the term was introduced reads as follows:

"Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature."

"North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world."

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."

The entire speech can be read on the
White House website.

"Beyond the Axis of Evil"

On May 6, 2002 United States Under Secretary of State John Bolton gave a speech entitled "Beyond the Axis of Evil". In it he added three more nations to be grouped with the already mentioned "rogue states": Libya, Syria, and Cuba. The criteria for membership of this group was: "state sponsors of terrorism that are pursuing or who have the potential to pursue weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or have the capability to do so in violation of their treaty obligations". The speech was widely reported as an expansion of the original Axis of Evil. The allegation of Cuban WMD capability was particularly strenuously denied by the Cuban government, and disputed by former president Jimmy Carter who visited the country a week later after being briefed by US officials.

Criticism of the term

There have been a number of criticisms of the term.

One of them is that unlike the Axis powers, the three nations mentioned in Bush's speech have not been coordinating policy, and therefore the term axis is incorrect. Indeed, Iran and Iraq fought the long, bloody Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, under basically the same leadership as that which existed at the time of Bush's speech. Additionally, it is argued that each of the three have some special characteristics which are obscured by grouping them together.

Most controversial was inclusion of Iran into the "axis of evil", because Iran is seen by many as in the process of secularization, and it is speculated that the US terming it evil will give more influence to the radical Islamists in that country.

After Bush defined which nations he considered to be in the "axis of evil", several opponents of America created their own version of the "axis of evil". Many critics in Muslim nations defined their "axis of evil" as being composed of United States, Israel and Britain (or sometimes India).


The term has lent itself to various parodies, including the axis of weasel (France, Germany, and Russia for their opposition to the 2003 Iraq War) and several other variations. Andrew Marlatt wrote an extensive parody for Satire Wire, with the rule: "An axis can't have more than three countries".

External links