The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
The Axis of Outcasts
by James Dunnigan
December 20, 2002
Naming Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the "Axis of Evil" actually understates the problem with nations that don't get along with anyone very well, and tend to deal more with like minded states. The Axis of Outcasts includes Israel, Taiwan, Burma, Syria, Libya and, until quite recently Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia.) Earlier, South Africa was also a member. Unable to trade freely with most other nations, the Axis of Outcasts states traded with each other. Especially when it came to buying and selling weapons and supporting terrorism against all those other nations that they didn't get along with.
Complicating the situation is the sharp differences for each of these nations being an outcast. Some are on the list because they supported terrorism (Syria, Iran) or did for a long time and don't anymore (like Libya.) Others are there because they have huge armed forces and threaten their neighbors (Iraq, North Korea.) Others are their because of diplomatic problems (Taiwan, Israel). And many are outcasts because they run brutal police states and make war on their own people (Iraq, North Korea, Burma, Syria).
It's amazing how so many people speak of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as if they were clones just because they have been tagged as the "Axis of Evil." Each of these nations is very, very different. North Korea is the last Stalinist dictatorship on the planet. Cuba used to be Stalinist, but they changed rather than allow mass starvation. North Korea stayed the course, and allowed over a million North Koreans to perish. All three nations are police states where dissent is severely punished. North Korea runs labor camps and has the most regimented and terrorized population. Iraq is run more like a criminal enterprise, with loyal insiders given monopolies on smuggling and parts of the economy.
Iran is a unique case because the elected government is actually opposed to all those things that land other countries in the Axis of Outcasts. But because of its 1979 revolution, and subsequent establishment of an "Islamic Republic", a religious minority has veto power over laws passed by the more moderate legislature. Moreover, Islamic radicals and terrorists are allowed to operate freely within Iran. Attempts by the moderate majority to stop this activity are vetoed by the Islamic "Council of Guardians." So far, the majority has not been willing to force the issue, and likely start a bloody civil war. The religious minority have made it clear that they would fight to preserve their privileges. These include a stranglehold on the economy and a lot of corruption. Until the Iranian majority asserts its rights, the sins of the Islamic radical minority keep the entire nation in the Axis of Evil.
North Korea is evil largely for what it is doing to its own people. With the most repressive police state in history, and an inept and inefficient command economy, the North Korean leadership was able to survive the starvation of over a million of its citizens. The government did not want to pollute the purity of its Stalinist doctrine by deviating from classic Marxist economic control. The government has, in the last year, undertaken economic reforms, but it still depends on massive foreign food aid to keep starvation at bay. On the plus side, North Korea has not invaded any of its neighbors since 1950, but has threatened to do so many times. It also fought a bloody (and generally unreported) war of commando raids in the south during the 1960s that left several hundred dead. In the 1970s and 80s the North Koreans also supported international terrorism. But since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the North Koreans have stuck to just killing their own people and trying to develop long range missiles and nuclear weapons. Like others in the Axis of Outcasts, North Korea is quick to sell this destructive technology to anyone willing to pay cash up front.
Iraq is a special case in many ways. It's a brutal police state that makes war on its own people, even using chemical weapons. Iraq is also unique in that it not only threatens its neighbors, like North Korea does South Korea and Japan, but actually does something about it. In 1988 and 1990, Iraq invaded neighbors. From the 1970s to the present, Iraq has supported international terrorists and tried to build nuclear weapons. Iraq is a unique combination of bad habits that puts it at the top of the list, even though the country has been restrained for the last eleven years by embargo and UN sanctions. But the rest of the world, and especially the United States, is getting tired of the expense and frustration of trying to keep the genie in the bottle. Thus the movement to invade and rearrange Iraqi politics into a more palatable format. The vast majority of Iraqis favor this, but most of the rest of the world, for inexplicable reasons, does not. Maybe there's something lovable about a police state, brutal dictators or perhaps its just nostalgia. Then again, maybe a lot of people are afraid to look in the mirror.