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"Axis of Evil" Speechwriter Leaves for Rightwing Think Tank

by Jim Lobe

AEI reach within the administration extends far
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- White House speechwriter David Frum, who coined the incendiary "axis of evil" moniker used by President George W. Bush, is leaving Bush's employ for the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). It seems the perfect fit.

The phrase incited a diplomatic storm over Bush's next moves in his anti-terrorist campaign. Likewise, the AEI has long been a source of provocation, particularly for intelligence professionals at the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The staunchly unilateralist AEI, and its foreign-policy honcho, Richard Perle, have never been so powerful. Much to the frustration of Secretary of State Colin Powell and Washington's European and Arab allies, the Bush administration has embraced virtually all of the AEI's policy positions on the Middle East, including the right-wing Likud Party's opposition to the Oslo peace process.

The "axis of evil" -- and the policy consequences of that designation, including the option of pre-emptive military attacks against Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- represents a major triumph for AEI, which for years has denounced U.S. and European efforts to engage any of those three countries as appeasement.

AEI and especially Perle, who holds a unique position as both chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and as an independent commentator, have emerged as the keystone of an axis of incitement -- a small but potent network of like-minded, ultra-hawkish officials, analysts, and opinion-makers.

Unlike the "axis of evil," members of the axis of incitement share a passionate belief in the inherent goodness and redemptive mission of the United States; the moral cowardice of "liberals" and "European elites"; the existential necessity of supporting Israel in the shadow of the Holocaust and in the face of the "implacable hatred," as Frum has written, of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims; and the primacy of military power.

Their reach within the administration extends far. At the Pentagon, they include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose relationship with Perle goes back 30 years; Under Secretary for Policy Douglas Feith, whose pro-Likud sentiments led him to denounce the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt as an Israeli sell-out.

They include Vice President Dick Cheney's powerful and outspoken chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, and several senior members of the National Security Council staff. In Powell's State Department, the same network succeeded in imposing AEI's then-senior vice president, John Bolton, as under-secretary for arms control and international security. He has used this top post to systematically destroy much of the existing global arms control architecture.

Outside the administration, the axis includes like-minded policy groups with overlapping boards of directors, such as the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and the Project for a New American Century (PNAC); influential media outlets including the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the Rupert Murdoch-financed Weekly Standard; and nationally syndicated columnists including Charles Krauthammer, A.M. Rosenthal, and Michael Kelly.

At AEI, the most prominent players post-Sept. 11, besides Perle, are Michael Ledeen and former Central Intelligence Agency Mideast operative Reuel Marc Gerecht. They have used the Journal's and Standard's opinion pages to agitate for including Iran with Iraq in Washington's policy of "regime removal."

"Iran is ready to blow sky-high," Ledeen enthused in November, citing recent newspaper reports of pro-U.S. demonstrations. "The Iranian people need only a bright spark of courage from the United States to ignite the flames of democratic revolution."

"On to Iran!" was the title of a recent Gerecht column in the Standard.

On North Korea, the AEI's Nicholas Eberstadt and another former CIA official, James Lilly, have been among the strongest voices here against U.S. engagement of Pyongyang since then President Bill Clinton signed an accord to freeze its nuclear program in 1994.

Ledeen, who later played a key role in the Iran-Contra affair, was a major proponent of the theory -- first advanced by journalist Claire Sterling and heavily promoted by the Wall Street Journal and Rosenthal -- that the Kremlin was behind the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, a notion for which the CIA could find no evidence.

More recently and in an ironic parallel, Perle, backed by the Journal, strenuously argued the case -- advanced by another AEI associate, Laurie Mylroie -- that Iraq was involved in the 1993 bombing by Islamist militants of New York's World Trade Center, for which the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also could find no evidence.

Mylroie's argument was part of an all-out offensive to tie Saddam Hussein to terrorism and the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Someone taught these suicide bombers how to fly large airplanes," Perle told reporters on the day of the attack. "I don't think that can be done without the assistance of large governments."

By the end of the week, Perle and Wolfowitz had convened a two-day meeting of the Defense Policy Board to discuss ousting Saddam and to send former CIA chief James Woolsey, another active member of the neo-conservative network, to Europe to gather evidence of a Baghdad connection to Sept. 11.

Over the following months, Perle and his comrades cited as proof of that tie, meetings in Prague between Iraqi agents and the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, the anthrax attacks, and new Iraqi defectors allegedly willing to testify about a secret compound in which non-Iraqi Arabs were trained to hijack commercial aircraft with knives and their bare hands.

Meanwhile, the CIA and the FBI concluded that Saddam had essentially halted terrorist operations against Western targets in the early 1990s.

By late December, Perle apparently realized he could not win the argument and changed gear. In a New York Times column, he gave much more prominence to the notion that, like Osama bin Laden, "Saddam hates the United States with a vengeance" and that his determination to obtain weapons of mass destruction was enough to justify pre-emptive action to remove him before "it is too late."

One month later, Bush endorsed precisely that notion, arguing that the development of weapons of mass destruction alone by hostile regimes -- the "axis of evil" -- was on a par with the dangers posed by international terrorism. "I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer," he said.

Krauthammer called it "an astonishingly bold address."

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Albion Monitor March 10, 2002 (

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