Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- the so-called 'Axis of Evil'. How evil are they really?
Some would have you think that they are all pure evil, their governments are corrupt, their residents all hate America, and we have to be wary for the slightest twitch from them, lest we miss the attack that destroys us all.
Mmmm.... Not quite.
All of them are dangerous. Libya (not a named member of the Axis of Evil, but often mentioned in the war on terrorism) has a formidable chemical weapons industry and has been a past sponsor of terrorism; Iraq has, of course, already shown that it's willing to go to war, not to mention sponsoring terrorism and providing huge cash payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers; Iran has a populace that can get into a frenzy seen few places in the rest of the world, not to mention their support for terrorism; and North Korea, besides the recent naval skirmishes and border threats, has no problems selling any arms it can up to and including ballistic missiles to the highest bidder. All of these are things to beware, but a closer look at the individual states is in order.
Led by Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi for more than 30 years, Libya has sponsored terrorism such as the Berlin disco blast in the mid-1980s that led to the American airstrikes on Tripoli and the surrounding areas. This terrorist support also led to crippling UN sanctions in 1992, triggered in part by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 109 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In the last ten years, though, Qadhafi has seemingly turned over a new leaf. Not only has his support for terrorist activities ground to a virtual halt, he has also made himself something of a peacemaker in Africa, brokering cease-fires and treaties in several wars. He has pledged monies to humanitarian causes, and generally kept himself on a short leash. A ruse? Perhaps. But even as we keep a close eye on him and his country, it's important to recognize that sometimes even national leaders can change.
With a population of 21 million, and an army comprised of more than one million, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea could seem a powerful threat. However, the country receives more than $200 million a year in humanitarian aid from other countries, spends between a quarter and a third of its budget on the military, and has experienced periods of drought which stripped the land of vegetation followed by torrential rains which washed away the arable soil. The country is a mess, and aside from a relatively paltry amount of money made on the black arms markets, has little to look forward to. Even China has taken to allowing North Korean defectors to make it to the South Korean embassy. The main danger right now is the possibility of a nuclear weapon being developed. This will certainly give them an edge, but whether they can pull it off before South Korea and the United States force the move to light-water reactors remains in doubt.
Even if the North did manage to come up with a viable nuclear warhead program, it wouldn't improve their standings much; the North has not shown themselves capable of hiding many things, and any real threats coming from Pyongyang would probably result in American and/or South Korean airstrikes. Risking a war with a weakened enemy is far preferable to having Seoul or Japan held hostage to nuclear blackmail. Besides, the shared Korean border is the most heavily mined land in the world; whatever side thinks they can cross will quickly learn what several million mines can do, which is what has kept the peace there for almost 50 years.
American and European politics have nothing on Iranian politics. On the one side is the religious order, a group of powerful, conservative Islamic clergy who wield control over the military, security, and police forces, not to mention a respectable portion of the populace, and who have condemned almost anything having to do with Western society as un-Islamic and therefore prohibited. On the other side are the politicians who would see reform come to Iran and allow the country to open up to the West and provide prosperity to the people, and which is supported by the majority of the people. It's a delicate balance, and it's a full-time job for the religious classes to provide enough propaganda to keep the people in order.
Yes, the state of Iran supports terrorists. They have been quiet about it, but not silent. The most likely source of this support is the religious arm of the government; while there are some extremists in the political sections of life, as there are in any country, most of the politicians understand that supporting terrorism makes Iran look bad in the eyes of the rest of the world, hampering investment in the country and making it difficult for companies inside Iran to do business elsewhere. This has had a positive side-effect of causing the country to form a manufacturing base of its own, and it has built a number of military ground vehicles and recently made forays into combat aircraft, though how well they work against opposing forces whose industries have decades of experience is yet to be seen.
In any case, Iran isn't a simple case of "they're the bad guys", and as we should have learned in 1979, they have a population that acts when its blood is excited. Attack them, and we'll have a nightmare of a problem to put down. Iran probably has a formidable chemical and perhaps biological weapons program, and it's almost certain that they also have excellent defenses against them, given the use of such weapons by Iraq during the war in the 1980s. Suggestions have been made that if an attack commences against Iraq, then Iran would be next on the list of targets. I suggest this course would be inadvisable at best, with political discourse and financial methods being the best way to bring about favorable change in this nation.
Finally, we come to Iraq. For nearly twelve years now, they've been flaunting the very treaty that specified their surrender conditions. Saddam Hussein has been ruthless in suppressing dissent, with even the recent death of Sabri al-Banna has been blamed on Saddam's wrath, either because he considered so prominent a terrorist personality being in his midst a potential reason for an attack on Iraq, or because he refused to attack US interests; the given reason depends upon whom one asks. Saddam or his sons have also seen to the execution of family members who have dared to challenge him in even the most passive ways. His payments of up to US$25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers has provoked many poor Palestinians to try this simply to provide for their families. He has attacked, from the ground, the Shi'ites of the south, and Kurds in the north of Iraq. Rumors abound of attempts to aquire weapons-grade or near-weapons-grade fissile material, and his chemical weapons program doubtless lives on.
It would seem from all of this that Saddam Hussein is a despicable man, leading a country terrified by his rule, and this is true. Were he to drop dead this moment, whether from natural causes or assassination, few people in his country, let alone around the world, would shed real tears. There would be an official outpouring of grief within Iraq, mostly because one of Saddam's sons -- either Qusay or Odai -- will be taking the reins next. They may see things differently, although what little about them is available to the public suggests that they may be even more bloodthirsty than their father, with whom they seem to share views on treatment of Iraq and the world at large. Surely it will be a blessing to see them all removed.
But the way the Bush Administration would like to do it is a dangerous route. Yes, Hussein has kicked weapons inspectors out, and even when they were there, it was impossible to get reliable data. The United States has made its own mistakes, though, such as making the once-head of the inspection teams an intelligence agent, completely undermining the independence of the inspection teams, a vital component of the trust placed in them. Pointless airstrikes by the Clinton Administration at the time the inspectors were kicked out were akin to throwing rocks at the bad neighbors house and breaking some windows. At the time, an invasion might well have had the agreement of many nations, if not their outright support. Times have changed.
Now the United States faces going it alone, with even the United Kingdom backpedaling on its traditional supportive stance. Saudi Arabia wants no part of the invasion, nor do most of the Gulf states, and even Kuwait has backed out. Word now comes that Turkey would take an invasion and fall of the Hussein government as a chance to annex Iraqi territory, something that may become a requirement if the United States is to use Turkish bases. Barring that would leave Jordan as the main entrance point, as well as a tiny, easily defended strip of airspace to fly through between Kuwait and Iran, the latter of which might be waiting for an American place to slip a half-mile into its airspace. It gets even more complex and mind-bending the more one looks into it, especially if Israel starts in, something Ariel Sharon has been chafing at the bit to do since he was a dissenter in the Israeli government's decision to stay out of the Gulf War.
Some in the Bush Administration have said that Iraq would not be the last stop. Where would it stop? Iran has a formidable military, more flexible than Iraq's and with newer equipment. They likely wouldn't win in a fight against the United States, but would put up a bloody fight. North Korea is certainly a pain, but how to cross the most heavily-mined real estate in the world without losing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of soldiers? And how would China react? They may not come to the immediate aid of Pyongyang, but they could make a fuss politically, having gained stature by that point as an attempted mediator and voice for peace.
The ramifications of an unchecked "war on terror" are enormous. Some of the actions will be taken, and a few must be. If there is to be war, let it be based on real issues. Give Hussein the opportunity to let the inspectors back in, and give him the chance to let disarmament complete. If he prevents them from coming in, or poses undue obstacles to their investigations, warn Hussein once or twice, then give the final notice that the inspectors will come out and that as soon as their plane has left Iraqi airspace, the invasion will begin, with no stops this time. That is how to do it -- follow procedures, and give them a chance to go along with things, and show the world that despite being bruised, America can play fair. Following the current path of naked aggressor will just turn the USE into that which it so despises: a bully trying to force its view on the world with claimed moral supremacy. Sounds a lot like the terrorists.