Axis of Evil: Foreign Policy or Political Philosophy?

WPI Briefing: In his state of union address, Bush labelled Iran, Iraq and Korea an axis of evil. Is this a change in USA policy? Is his speech particularly about these three countries and a fight against terrorism, solely for domestic consumption, or larger global issues?

Koorosh Modarresi: I think this is neither a change in US foreign policy nor a change in policy towards Iran, Iraq or North Korea in particular. One should put this speech in its context. This was, as you have mentioned, the state of the union address and not a speech on US foreign policy towards these countries. What George W. Bush is trying to do is give a purpose or a philosophy if you like, to justify the role of the United States as a sole super power, running world affairs in its own interest. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, this political philosophy has been lost. Different administrations and political think tanks have tried, unsuccessfully, to justify such a policy. Putting together a 'world affairs analysis', the results of which are a priori known, is not that easy, let alone hypocritical. They have developed bizarre arbitrary theories, from the 'clash of civilizations' to the 'axes of evil'; all these theories have been there right from the beginning. Depending on the think tank circles which come to office at each election or the world situation and problems facing the US administration, one of these so called theories are picked up. They are picked up not to give a new direction or dimension to US foreign policy, but to justify what is already taking place. The US government needs to keep the fire of American patriotism alive and to justify its military spending, its intervention in wherever it is involved, and its pressure on Europe to stay in- line and particularly to justify its unjustifiable policy towards the Palestinian question. Defining the 'fight against terrorism' is not descriptive enough of US foreign policy. With such a general statement, one would immediately question the Israeli government's state terrorism towards the Palestinians for example, so a collection of evils is picked at will. First it was Iraq, an ally of the West when the former was using chemical weapons against the Kurds; then it was Yugoslavia, now Iran and North Korea have been included in the list. As I said, these theories only create a kind of façade for US policy rather than a framework and they should not be taken at face value. Accordingly, I do not believe this speech is putting forward a new direction to US policy toward any of these countries. US policy towards these countries will remain the same as before. They lack any strategy towards Iraq and deal with it on a daily base. US policy on Iran will also remain the same as before - trying to create a transition from above to a benign Islamic and possibly a pro-West regime like Turkey. North Korea is simply a Joker card to complete the axis.

WPI Briefing: Bush's speech has caused some groups to whip up hysteria about an imminent attack on Iran similar to the one on Afghanistan. Clearly Iran is not Afghanistan. Do you believe that the USA will attack Iran? If it did, what would the consequences be?

Koorosh Modarresi: I don't think there is a real possibility of any sort of military action against Iran for two reasons. First, as I said earlier, this speech should be put in the context of giving a populist political philosophy to current US global interventions and military spending, and second, Iran is a country with powerful strategic leverages, which cannot be taken lightly. Iran can block the Persian Gulf, destabilize other countries in the region and is a vast and populated country with considerable regional economic and military might. Bringing Iran and Iraq together against the US is beyond even the simple minded George W. Bush. Any military action against Iran would be way beyond the dimensions of the actions against Iraq or Afghanistan. I don't believe the US is ready or capable of such an operation on its own, keeping in mind that Europe is not dancing to its tune.

The hysteria of an imminent US attack on Iran is either coming from the Islamic government, especially Khamanei's faction, or nationalist-anti-imperialist organisations, whose only political compass is anti- Americanism. Of course we should also add the narrow-minded political analysts who see everything through their 'expertise', i.e. Iranian affairs.

The consequence of US military action against Iran would be nothing but a blunt provocation of the Islamic regime against the people. If the US government wants to help Khamenei, it should drop bombs on Iranian targets. Such an action, before anything, will bring the ranks of the Islamic regime in line behind Khamenei and will more importantly legitimize a bloody suppression of any protest and possibly the mass execution of political and union activists by the army of deranged Islamic militia and revolutionary guards. The balance of power between the people in Iran and the Islamic government is not at a stage that such an action will result in the people's fight back against the regime. On the contrary, I believe, it will result in a mass retreat and will extend the life of the Islamic regime.

WPI Briefing: Following Bush's address, anti-war coalitions and anti-imperialists abroad and religious- nationalist groupings in Iran have rushed to the aid of the Iranian government. Why do these groups always stand besides repressive regimes? What is a principled approach to the USA's threat, which can really support the people vis-à-vis both governments?

Koorosh Modarresi: Well, these coalitions are among the first victims of the threat. I said anti-imperialist forces in Iran would rally behind the government; European and American versions of these forces will follow. This is yet another stage of the political activism of these forces, which ends up supporting a repressive government. I have given a rather detailed portrait of these forces in another interview with WPI Briefing.

I think we should demand that the US leave us be. People in Iran are in the process of getting rid of the Islamic regime. If anyone wants to help then they should promote the undeniable rights of people in Iran and help and support the opposition which is fighting for these rights. There is no room for US jingoism or support of yet another repressive force.

Published in WPI Briefing No. 45, 13 February 2002