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Bush's "axis of evil" is suddenly making a comeback

2023-12-04T08:58:55.984Z

Highlights: Bush's "axis of evil" is suddenly making a comeback. Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington warn of the growing ties between Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Russia is relying on Iranian and North Korean arms shipments to fund its war in Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies are anxiously watching any military or economic lifeline Beijing might throw at Moscow to prolong the war. And many in Washington argue — rightly or wrongly — that a Russian victory in Ukraine would encourage China to invade Taiwan.



Status: 04.12.2023, 09:51 a.m.

By: Foreign Policy

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The credo from the Bush era is back in fashion, to the delight of some and the horror of others: Will the motto of world politics soon be "good versus evil?"

  • "Axis of evil" revived by US: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as enemies
  • "Don't lump them all together": Criticism of equating China with other three countries
  • Countries of the Middle Ahead of Decision: Are They in "Axis of Evil" for or against the USA?
  • This article is available in German for the first time – it was first published by Foreign Policy magazine on November 29, 2023.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush warned that the United States would have to confront a new "axis of evil" threatening the world—a turn that would define Bush's controversial foreign policy legacy and years of costly swamps in the Middle East.

If you thought Washington had put all this behind you, you're wrong. More than two decades later, the Axis of Evil is back on the menu. This and similar terms have re-engraved themselves in Washington's zeitgeist to describe what some see as a growing alliance between China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

"We must always remember that a victory for Russia is also a victory for China. And we must not allow this axis of evil to gain even more momentum," former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said in late August as part of her Republican presidential campaign. "There is an axis of evil in the world: China, Russia, North Korea and Iran," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell also warned in an interview with CBS News in October. "And we must stand up to the axis of evil and not try to do business with them.

U.S. foreign policy: Ties between Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are groundbreaking

President Joe Biden is running again in the 2024 U.S. election. The election also affects the new U.S. foreign policy. © Tom Williams / Imago Images

The "axis of evil" is a term that evokes an era of misguided optimism about American power abroad — and the poorly managed wars that followed. The fact that he has resurfaced could be a harbinger of what U.S. foreign policy will look like in the coming years.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington warn of the growing ties between Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Russia is relying on Iranian and North Korean arms shipments to fund its war in Ukraine, and the United States and its allies are anxiously watching any military or economic lifeline Beijing might throw at Moscow to prolong the war. Russia's support for Iran, meanwhile, is having a positive impact on militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which are seen as Iranian proxies in the fight against Israel, and Russia appears to be using the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas to burnish its own credibility in the Global South.

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President Joe Biden has linked U.S. support for Israel and Ukraine in his plea to Congress for more funding for national security, portraying both conflicts as part of a global struggle to defend democracy. And many in Washington argue — rightly or wrongly — that a Russian victory in Ukraine would encourage China to invade Taiwan. Many in Washington believe that these rivalries are closely intertwined — even if they don't beat the drum for the axis.

Don't "lump all four countries together": debacles and mishaps for US feared

"I think it's important that we be clear about who our opponents are," Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic foreign policy heavyweight in the Senate, said in a recent interview with Foreign Policy. "We need to understand who is trying to undermine the United States, who is trying to undermine democracies around the world. And that's China, Iran, Russia and North Korea."

Obviously, neither Biden nor other senior administration officials have used this phrase, but that doesn't mean it doesn't resonate. On the Republican side, McConnell and Sens. Tim Scott and Marsha Blackburn, as well as Rep. Cory Mills, have thrown the term around, while on the other hand, one of the most influential and longest-serving Democrats in the House of Representatives, Rep. Steny Hoyer, has adopted it.

However, not everyone is on board. Some experts balk at the idea of lumping these four different powers together, fearing that it could lead to a new generation of foreign policy debacles and mishaps in the US. "There are big differences in the strategic goals of these countries," says Matt Duss, vice chair of the Center for International Policy. "Ultimately, it's not productive to put them all in one group and treat them as if they were a Voltron against the United States."

Only alliance of convenience between four countries: as opposed to alliances of the USA

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They are all nuclear powers, or will soon be. They are all wreaking havoc in their neighborhoods. But the security challenges posed by Russia, which is currently at war in Europe, or China, which wants to conquer Taiwan in the indefinite future, are different from those posed by Iran and North Korea.

"Each of these countries needs to be treated on its own," said Comfort Ero, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group think tank.

Unlike Washington's network of alliances abroad, which are based on interconnected economies, militaries, values and other connections, the alliances between these four U.S. adversaries are more likely to be alliances of convenience, argue Ero and other experts and Western diplomats. These alliances of convenience are also riddled with mutual suspicion and mistrust, and they are more fragile than the representatives of the axis of evil seem to believe.

North Korea as an important buffer state between China and the USA

China, the main beneficiary of North Korea, views the country as an important buffer state between Washington and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region, especially South Korea. However, according to several senior Western and East Asian officials, China is increasingly concerned about how North Korea is deepening its ties with Russia, as it could reduce Beijing's influence on Pyongyang or further exacerbate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Iran's rulers are divided on how their country has deepened its ties with Russia, and Tehran still views Moscow with suspicion, even as it expands its military ties, according to the region's experts. China may seek to deepen its relations with Russia, but only in a way that benefits Beijing's economic and political interests, and not out of affinity or loyalty to Moscow, as evidenced by recent talks on energy cooperation between the two powers. This axis wobbles.

It may be "a convenient shorthand, but it's not suitable for shaping policy," Ero said. "I think there's a danger of lumping everything together and assuming with the stroke of a pen that you can have just one policy for everyone.

New Era of U.S. Foreign Policy: "Good vs. Evil" in World Politics

Foreign policy hawks have been testing phrases, portmanteaus, and acronyms to describe threats to the West in recent years. Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence briefly tried the term "wolf pack of rogue states" in 2019 when he wanted to polish up his foreign policy credentials. Earlier this month at the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of hundreds of senior foreign policy officials and experts from democratic countries, some began using the acronym CRINK — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea — to describe these Western rivals, alluding to the BRICS bloc. But recycling is easier than inventing something new.

If this rhetorical game heralds a new era in U.S. foreign policy — which depends in part on who wins the 2024 presidential election — some foreign dignitaries warn of the real consequences for Washington as it seeks to revive an era of "good versus evil" in world politics.

Several foreign diplomats expressed concern in Halifax, saying the trend could drive middle powers and countries in the so-called Global South away from the United States; many of them, such as India and South Africa, have close economic and military ties with both China and Russia.

Including China in "axis of evil" controversial according to US and Ukraine

Senior officials in the Biden administration have repeatedly emphasized that they do not want to force countries in Africa, Latin America or elsewhere to choose between the U.S. and China, as they are wary of driving away potential partners. But explicitly pinning China into an axis of evil could end up having the same effect.

Even dignitaries from some of Washington's closest partners are expressing concern about lumping China together with Russia, Iran and North Korea. Senior Ukrainian officials are careful not to derail relations with China, even as Kyiv's main backers in the West prepare for a new cold war against Beijing, lest China be pressured to step up its support for Russia in the ongoing war.

"I hate the idea of including China in the list of nations of the axis of evil," Petro Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine, told Foreign Policy on the sidelines of the Halifax Forum. "I mean Russia, Iran, North Korea, maybe Belarus, but definitely not China. We shouldn't see it that way, because that would be the biggest mistake," he said.

US's "axis of evil" makes it difficult for countries in the middle

"I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that China's influence can help de-escalate the situation," he said, adding that he had "very positive experience working with China and President Xi [Jinping]." Bush said that countries were either with America or against America. In reality, things are more complicated, and experts largely agree that world politics in general is far more complicated than it was in 2001 or 2002, when the United States stood out as a lone and undisputed superpower.

The West "needs to acknowledge that what we see as major global problems sometimes don't resonate the same way in other parts of the world," said Sarah Margon, director of foreign policy at the Open Society Foundations.

'Axis of evil' is a great title for an article, but when it becomes the driving force of politics, it really makes it difficult for countries in the middle because they feel like they have to pick sides, and that's just not the way international politics works in today's world," she said.

FP intern Olatunji Osho-Williams contributed to this report.

About the author

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

We are currently testing machine translations. This article has been automatically translated from English into German.

This article was first published in English in the magazine "ForeignPolicy.com" on November 29, 2023 - as part of a cooperation, it is now also available in translation to the readers of IPPEN. MEDIA portals.

Source: merkur

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