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Culture Vulture: The Axis of Error

By CLAUDE SALHANI   |   Jan. 7, 2003 at 3:06 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- If you live outside the ego-inflated Washington Beltway, chances are you may have never heard of David Frum. Until now. Frum was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and coined the "axis of evil" phrase. Well, sort of.

The term "axis of evil," was first introduced in the president's first State of the Union speech to the joint House of Congress last January and has continued to stir controversy since.

The axis of evil, you may recall, lumped non-sectarian Iraq, Islamic Iran and communist North Korea into one nasty federation of malevolence. You may also remember that there was, and still is, no evidence that any of those three nations were in any way involved in the heinous Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. If one had to look for clues, (hint, hint FBI, and CIA) one would look at Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 terrorists originated. Or Pakistan, that supported the Taliban. Oh, but they are our friends.

Frum, who has since left the Bush White House, has just published a book called "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush (an Insider's Account)," where he reveals some of the inside secrets of his short tenure working for the world's most powerful man who, Frum says, is surprisingly different from the general image Bush portrays.

In an interview with National Public Radio on Tuesday, Frum explained how the now infamous phrase came to be coined. In Frum's own words, he was asked to come up with a term depicting the terrorists, their friends and the countries that supported them. As anyone familiar with presidential speechwriting will attest, writers will go through a number of drafts before the speech giver -- in this case, the president -- is satisfied with the final draft.

Frum says he came up with the term "axis of hatred." But after going through the obligatory multiple drafts and rewrites, it came out in Bush's message to the nation and the world, as the "axis of evil."

Rumors circulating inside the Beltway report that Bush was displeased with Frum claiming credit. Frum says he never claimed credit, but that his wife sent an e-mail to some friends, who sent it to others, and before you know it, the e-mail made its way to a journalist, who erroneously credited him with coining the phrase. Of course, let's blame it on the media.

While the speech and its catchy slogan caught on like peanut butter on a dry mouth in the United States, it was very poorly received elsewhere. "Arrogant," is how Iranian officials referred to Bush's speech, while Iraqis said it was the United States who were the terrorists for their continued support of Israel. Other Arabs leaders and diplomats accused the Bush administration of maintaining double standards when it came to dealing with the Arabs. Yet others turned it around, saying the axis of evil was the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

At the time the speech was delivered, I remember writing in a column that "Part of the problem facing the American president and his administration as it continues its war on terrorism is one of public relations." I was traveling in Morocco and France at the time and felt, first-hand, the negative effect the speech had on people outside the United States, especially in the Arab world.

As a public relations fiasco, nothing could be more to the point today, as the Bush team tries to downplay and defuse the crisis with North Korea after the latter admitted last week to be actively pursuing its nuclear agenda.

As American combat troops -- some 60,000 and counting, along with fighter aircrafts, patriot missile batteries, naval war vessels and hospital ships -- continue to pour into the Persian Gulf area in preparation for a likely war with Iraq, (part of the "axis of evil") the United States, on the other hand, is now trying to defuse the Korean crisis.

So how do you justify going after Saddam Hussein, in Iraq, who denies having weapons of mass destruction and where United Nations inspection teams have so far failed to uncover any such weapons, while advocating peace with Kim Jung-Il. Kim, the leader of North Korea, who is also an esteemed member of the evil alliance, openly admitted to following up on his nuclear dream -- and who some analysts believe might already posses at least two nuclear warheads. If I didn't know better, I would say that this is when people in the Middle East would accuse the Bush administration of double standards once again.

This is probably where Bush, and many in the State Department, may well wish the president had not included North Korea in his evil axis. It would make diplomatic life inside the Beltway so much easier.


(Culture Vulture is a column written by UPI's Life & Mind editor and reflects on current trends and events. Comments may be sent to claude@upi.com)

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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