by the incoherence of a foreign policy defined largely by biblical notions of
the struggle between good and evil, the Bush administration thrashes about in
its hunt for the devil. Sadly, all that has produced are shopworn enemies that
were once our surrogates in battles we would rather forget.
That is the case with Saddam Hussein, whose war against Iran in the 1980s was
decisively aided by a U.S. eager to protect pro-Western Arab oil sheikdoms from
the contamination of Iran's virulently anti-American Islamic revolution. Hussein's
use of chemical weapons, now cited with horror in the Bush administration's daily
demonization of Hussein, occurred early in that war and was well known to U.S.
officials, who at least implicitly condoned his war crimes.
The most recent evidence of this complicity was reported Sunday in the New
York Times: "A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided
Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence
agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons."
Iran, which also used chemical weapons, still is ruled by the same type of
religious zealots who once seized the U.S. Embassy and kept Americans captive.
But while President Bush early this year placed it in his "axis of evil," along
with North Korea and Iraq, Iran is now viewed more ambiguously because Hamid Karzai,
the president of Afghanistan, is dependent on Tehran for his life.
The Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance--our ally in fighting the Taliban and
which now controls the Afghan military--was long backed by Iran. A brutal bunch,
it stands accused by the United Nations of having suffocated hundreds, if not
thousands, of Taliban prisoners whom the U.S. entrusted to Northern Alliance care.
Karzai, the token representative of the country's Pashtun majority and hand-selected
by the U.S., is no match for the Northern Alliance thugs and will be gone the
day their Iranian sponsors give the word. Thus the warm greeting extended by Karzai
to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on his visit to Kabul last week.
The Afghan nightmare, as the Russians learned, never ends. Our current allies
will be tomorrow's enemies, as it has always been. Recall that the Taliban's members
and its Arab supporters in Al Qaeda are veterans of the moujahedeen, who were
once hailed by the Reagan administration as anti-Soviet "freedom fighters.'' And
that the Taliban government was congratulated by U.S. officials only weeks before
Sept. 11 for having dramatically eliminated Afghanistan's huge opium harvest and
was rewarded with increased U.S. economic aid through the U.N.
In the area controlled by the Northern Alliance, however, the opium trade was
still king. And, not surprisingly, with the Taliban gone, Afghanistan is again
the major supplier to the world heroin market.
Conveniently, the drug war that obsessed this administration before Sept. 11
is now ignored. Our new enemy is not dope growers but Iraq, even though Bush has
produced no convincing evidence that Baghdad has anything to do with the Al Qaeda
The country that clearly does, of course, is that hotbed of hypocrisy, Saudi
Arabia, homeland of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the Sept. 11 hijackers. The sheikdom
is now being sued for $1 trillion by families of the Sept. 11 victims. But President
Bush would never move against the Saudis because American corporations, some led
by close Bush family friends and associates, do too much business there.
So who else can Bush invade to take our minds off the dismal economy that his
much-ballyhooed tax cut failed to save and may have helped wreck? Not North Korea,
the third member of Bush's evil axis, which is proving a major disappointment
by giving strong signals of embracing Chinese-style capitalism while courting
its rich neighbors.
How depressing for Bush administration militarists that the world is such a
complex place. For a few months, it seemed that the invasion of Iraq was the ticket
to ride into another four-year term, but then the most respected of GOP elders,
Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger, rose up to remind Junior that just such hubris
had destroyed his father's presidency.
Time to forgo the biblical allegories of good and evil and recognize that in
the 21st century, smiting one's enemies is an elusive goal requiring patience
and subtlety, as well as timely heroics. The enemy, whether it be global warming,
addictive drugs, endemic poverty, religious fanaticism, terrorism or weapons of
mass destruction, is best thought of as a dangerous disease succored by ignorance,
pride and avarice--sins of which the U.S. too is sometimes guilty. That is why
we will continue to be tormented by monsters of our own creation.
Robert Scheer writes a syndicated column.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times