Tuesday, February 07, 2012

So What If Bush's 'Axis Of Evil' Speech Has Held Up? The World Has Changed.

It was 10 years ago, give or take a few days, that President Bush delivered a State of the Union address with a passage alluding to an “axis of evil” and asserted that the world’s leading rogue state — Iran, Iraq and North Korea, by name — and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda threatened world peace. He not only did not include Pakistan as a rogue state, which it was and is, he praised it.

David Frum, who had a hand in crafting the speech, writes that it has withstood the criticism it received at the time as well as the scrutiny of 10 years. I happen to believe that Frum is correct, but that belief is tempered by the fact that times have changed, which goes a long way to undercutting his argument.

On a personal level, Frum has been banished from the Republican temple for refusing to hew to the hard right-wing political orthodoxy that has run roughshod through the party formerly known as the Big Tent, producing among other things a litter of presidential wannabes who almost to the last man want to start new wars or revisit old ones.

On a global level, the war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan finally is winding down. Iran and North Korea are still schoolyard bullies, but the Obama administration is looking past their sand kicking while still keeping an eye on them, and has instituted a foreign policy where bellicosity is a last resort that is paying dividends. For this we also can thank Hillary Clinton, the best secretary of state since forever, and Vice President Biden, who unlike his predecessor long ago stopped fighting the Cold War.

Beyond Myanmar acting like it wants to come in from the cold, the ouster of Moammar el-Qaddafri and the nascent Arab Spring movement, all of which the Obama administration can take some credit for, the global playing field has changed substantially and not to the Republican Party’s benefit.

It is ironic (but then is there anything that the GOP does these days that isn’t ironic?) that the Republican Party, tone deaf to the concerns of ordinary Americans when it comes to their health and well-being, remains the War Party at a time when most of us are sick of war.

There is another trap for Republicans in this regard: Obama has made it clear that he supports a vigilant military ready to take up arms in faraway places when the need arises, but he also advocates a leaner Pentagon, which is anathema to the GOP despite its deficit-reduction frenzy.

And should the eventual Republican presidential candidate bring up the tired refrain that Obama is weak on terrorism and foreign policy, which John McCain continues to do when having one of his senior moments, the president can point to an admirable record that has included icing Osama bin Laden and most of his AQ cadre.

This mostly admirable record includes Iran but not Pakistan, where Obama continues to walk a tightrope between conciliation and retaliation for that country's historic and ongoing meddling in Afghan affairs while clandestinely supporting the Taliban

With Iran, the U.S. is leading an effort to restart nucular . . . er, nuclear negotiations by increasing economic sanctions. The E.U. has bucked up and agreed to forgo Iranian crude, which represents about a fifth of Iran's oil exports, by July, while the value of Iran's currency has dropped dramatically because of sanctions.

The knock against Obama here is that he was not a helpmate during the convulsive student-led “green revolution” of 2009 and had he been more forceful that Amahadinejad and the ayatollahs would have been sent packing. That’s bull bleep because the Iranian opposition didn’t want direct American support knowing that it would have given the regime the ability to wave the Great Satan cudgel.

When the regime recently made noises about shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, the Obama administration was quick to suggest that the consequences of doing so would be regrettable and not to Tehran’s liking. The regime heeded the warning and a crisis was adverted. For the time being.

And so where once advocating war with Iran made Republicans look tough, it now makes them look silly.

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