In his State of the Union address, President Bush startled Americans and the rest of the world byimplying that the U.S.s next focus in the war on terrorism should be on three states: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, which he called an axis of evil. Subsequent events and analysis have shown that the statement was not only premature, but misleading and counterproductive as well.
First of all, the fierce fighting around Gardez in Eastern Afghanistan, which has cost us the lives of several U.S. servicemen, is a brutal reminder that we cant yet afford to look beyond the battle in that country, In this pitched battle, some 2000 troops from the U.S., the Northern Alliance, are trying to capture or kill hundreds of al Qaeda fighters.
Nor is the situation in other parts of Afghanistan stabilized. The interim Karzai government has yet to take control of the areas outside Kabul, and the Northern Alliance factions that joined with the U.S. to oust the Taliban have now begun fighting amongst themselves and with Karzai for control of the countryside. Without substantial U.S. involvement and leadership, there is a real risk that the situation in Afghanistan could descend into chaos that allowed the Taliban to come to power in the first place.
Second, we musnt forget that our main concern must be dealing with the Al Qaeda network throughout the world; this must come before undertaking a major operation against any of the axis of evil nations. U.S. troops are already on the ground in the Philippines and Georgia and will soon be going into Yemen. Pockets of Al Qaeda probably also exist in countries like Somalia and Sudan, and must be dealt with if the Bush administration wants to accomplish its central objective of destroying terrorists with a global reach.
Third, before undertaking a campaign against Iraq, the most evil and most threatening of the Axis of Evil states, the violence in the Middle East must be brought under control. None of the Arab nations in that part of the world would provide the necessary logistical or moral support for an attack on Iraq as long as scores of Israelis and Palestinians are dying each day.
We must also be sure to shore up the support we will need before undertaking any major new military effort. It didnt help when Bush wrongly implied that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea formed an axis, as Germany, Japan, and Italy did in World War II or that these three nations were in some way responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. And if at some point in the future the U.S. should decide that it must bring about a regime change in Iraq,other nations, even if they supportedgetting rid of Saddam, would be hesitant to support us because they fear we would march straight from Baghdad on to Tehran and Pyongyang.
In response to the attacks of September 11, the Bush administration was right to declare war on terrorists with a global reach and states that supported them. This is a war the U.S. and its allies can, should, and must win. But by broadening the objectives of the conflict to rooting out evilin the world, Bush risks undermining his original goal and has taken on a war no nation can win.
Lawrence J. Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, is vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in New York.