- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) — Within 48 hours of the President's 2002 State of the Union address, the State Department issued a set of talking points to its embassies on the speech, stressing that U.S. policy had not changed with George W. Bush's declaration that Iran, Iraq and North Korea formed an "axis of evil."

The talking points were followed up with phone calls to foreign capitals by senior State Department officials aimed at "calming nerves and correcting misimpressions," according to one American diplomat at the time.

The damage control seemed necessary, observers said. In Seoul, the South Korean government was asking that Bush not renege on his intentions to talk to their Stalinist neighbors to the north. In Paris, the foreign minister called the speech simplistic.

And in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell's predecessor, Madeleine Albright, said the speech revealed the White House's own disorderly approach to foreign policy.

Soon, Powell had gathered his senior staff and instructed them to stop walking back Bush's speech. But by then it was clear that for the next year, the State Department would be fighting a rear-guard action against the Bush rhetoric and that of other administration voices intent on articulating a foreign policy that mirrored his vision.

The Axis of Evil was a huge victory for the Reagan wing of the Republican Party that has insisted that American foreign policy ought to have a moral dimension. By nationalizing the war on terrorism and focusing it on three states with flags, armies and intelligence services, Bush handed his hawks a mission that recalled the comfortable territory of the Cold War.

And just as the neoconservative gospel holds that the 50-year battle against the Soviets was won with former President Ronald Reagan's robust defense spending and his support for insurgents in Angola, Nicaragua and Afghanistan, many of the policy prescriptions for the new war on terrorism from the Bush hard-liners was to follow along these lines.

For a brief moment, after the State of the Union speech, it looked as if war with Iraq was inevitable; bags of cash would be headed to Iranian protestors seeking a referendum on their government's legitimacy and there would be no discussions with North Korea.

All three countries had been designated evil. The object was not to figure out how to live in a world with them in it, but to defeat them. But like Reagan's Evil Empire speech a generation earlier, Bush's rhetoric got ahead of his government's foreign policy.

Only one day before Bush attacked Iran's "unelected few" for repressing "the Iranian people's hope for freedom," U.S. diplomats were meeting with representatives from the Mullah's regime about formalizing a diplomatic channel opened after Sept. 11 to discuss the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

For the next 12 months, the administration hawks would be fighting the diplomats to derail their agenda of engaging the country's moderates. One year later, the policy on Iran is a little bit of both. While the White House gives lip service to the anti-regime protestors seeking change in Iran, it is aligning with two major Iraqi rebel groups backed by Iran's revolutionary guards, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Al-Dawa, a set of Islamist cells inside Iraq with links to master terrorist Imadh Mugniyah.

Only three weeks after he accused Pyongyang of starving its own people while pursuing weapons of mass destruction, Bush stood at the line that divides the Korean Peninsula and reiterated his call for dialogue with the north. In November, the United States said it had sent its last shipment of heavy fuel oil to North Korea under a 1994 agreement, only to offer the possibility of fuel aid two months later even though North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had kicked out international weapons inspectors and announced intentions to pull out of the Non-proliferation Treaty.

In Iraq, Bush decided in August to give Saddam Hussein one more chance to 'fess up to the weapons stockpiles he should have destroyed after the Gulf War. Bush took his case for war to the United Nations.

Now, the U.N. inspections team says it will need until at least March to complete is work. Is this the same President Bush who said: "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons?"

Reflecting the pitched battles inside the Bush administration, one senior conservative told United Press International he had a copy of the speech in his pocket to remind policy adversaries of the President's words with him at interagency meetings.

The best examples of the schizophrenic pulls and pushes of an administration divided are the confusing signals sent by an interdiction incident in December.

On Dec. 10, Spanish vessels in the Arabian Sea, using American intelligence, pulled over an unmarked ship carrying 15 North Korean Scud missiles under bags of cement bound for Yemen. The Spanish announced the find to the world.

After the Yemenis protested, the Spanish reluctantly handed the weapons over to Sanaa, on instructions from Washington.

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