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The phrase "axis of evil" was first used by U.S. President George W. Bush and originally referred to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. It was used in Bush's State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, less than five months after the 9/11 attacks and almost a year before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and often repeated throughout his presidency. He used it to describe foreign governments that, during his administration, allegedly sponsored terrorism and sought weapons of mass destruction. The notion of such an axis was used to pinpoint these common enemies of the United States and to rally the American populace in support of the War on Terror. The countries originally covered by the term were Iran, Ba'athist Iraq, and North Korea. In response, Iran formed a political alliance that it called the "Axis of Resistance" comprising Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Other countries were later added to the "axis of evil" by US politicians and commentators. The term "axis of evil" is itself a portmanteau of the Axis powers of WWII (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan) and the Cold War era “Evil Empire”[dubious ] (the Soviet Union as described by Ronald Reagan).
The phrase was attributed to former Bush speechwriter David Frum, originally as the axis of hatred and then evil. Frum explained his rationale for creating the phrase axis of evil in his book The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. Essentially, the story begins in late December 2001 when head speechwriter Michael Gerson gave Frum the assignment of articulating the case for dislodging the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in only a few sentences for the upcoming State of the Union address. Frum says he began by rereading President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "date which will live in infamy" speech given on December 8, 1941, after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. While Americans needed no convincing about going to war with Japan, Roosevelt saw the greater threat to the United States coming from Nazi Germany, and he had to make the case for fighting a two-ocean war.
Frum points in his book to a now often-overlooked sentence in Roosevelt's speech which reads in part, "...we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again." Frum interprets Roosevelt's oratory like this: "For FDR, Pearl Harbor was not only an attack—it was a warning of future and worse attacks from another, even more dangerous enemy." Japan, a country with one-tenth of America's industrial capacity, a dependence on imports for its food, and already engaged in a war with China, was extremely reckless to attack the United States, a recklessness "that made the Axis such a menace to world peace", Frum says. Saddam Hussein's two wars, against Iran and Kuwait, were just as reckless, Frum decided, and therefore presented the same threat to world peace.
In his book Frum relates that the more he compared the Axis powers of World War II to modern "terror states", the more similarities he saw. "The Axis powers disliked and distrusted one another", Frum writes. "Had the Axis somehow won the war, its members would quickly have turned on one another." Iran, Iraq, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah, despite quarreling among themselves, "all resented power of the West and Israel, and they all despised the humane values of democracy." There, Frum saw the connection: "Together, the terror states and the terror organizations formed an axis of hatred against the United States."
Frum tells that he then sent off a memo with the above arguments and also cited some of the atrocities perpetrated by the Iraqi government. He expected his words to be chopped apart and altered beyond recognition, as is the fate of much presidential speechwriting, but his words were ultimately read by Bush nearly verbatim, though Bush changed the term axis of hatred to axis of evil. North Korea was added to the list, he says, because it was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, had a history of reckless aggression, and "needed to feel a stronger hand".
Afterwards, Frum's wife disclosed his authorship to the public.
A decade before the 2002 State of the Union address, in August 1992, the Israeli-American political scientist Yossef Bodansky wrote a paper entitled "Tehran, Baghdad & Damascus: The New Axis Pact" while serving as the Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the US House of Representatives. Although he did not explicitly apply the epithet evil to his New Axis, Bodansky's axis was otherwise very reminiscent of Frum's axis. Bodansky felt that this new Axis was a very dangerous development. The gist of Bodansky's argument was that Iran, Iraq and Syria had formed a "tripartite alliance" in the wake of the First Gulf War, and that this alliance posed an imminent threat that could only be dealt with by invading Iraq a second time and overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
2002 State of the Union Address
In his 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush called North Korea "A regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens." He also stated Iran "aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom." Bush gave the most criticism to Iraq, stating "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world." Afterwards, Bush said, "States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."
Bolton: "Beyond the Axis of Evil"
On May 6, 2002, then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton gave a speech entitled "Beyond the Axis of Evil". In it he added three more nations to be grouped with the already mentioned rogue states: Cuba, Libya, and Syria. The criteria for inclusion in this grouping were: "state sponsors of terrorism that are pursuing or who have the potential to pursue weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or have the capability to do so in violation of their treaty obligations."
Iran and Iraq fought the long Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s under basically the same leadership as that which existed at the time of Bush's speech, leading some to believe that the linking of the nations under the same banner was misguided. Others argued that each of the three nations in the "axis of evil" had some special characteristics which were obscured by grouping them together. Anne Applebaum wrote about the debate over North Korea's inclusion in the group.
In the days after the September 11 attacks, Ryan Crocker would later become the United States ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, and other senior U.S. State Department officials flew to Geneva to meet secretly with representatives of the government of Iran. For several months, Crocker and his Iranian counterparts cooperated on capturing Al Qaeda operatives in the region and fighting the Taliban government in Afghanistan. These meetings stopped after the "Axis of Evil" speech hardened Iranian attitudes toward cooperating with the U.S.
None of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were citizens of the three nations Bush cited.
In April 2006 the phrase axis of terror earned more publicity. Israel's UN Ambassador, Dan Gillerman, cautioned of a new axis of terror—Iran, Syria and the Hamas-run Palestinian government; Gillerman repeated the term before the UN over the crisis in Lebanon. Some three months later Israeli senior foreign ministry official Gideon Meir branded the alleged alliance an axis of terror and hate.
In 2006, Isaias Afewerki, the president of Eritrea, had declared in response to the deteriorating relations with the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen by accusing them of being an "Axis of Belligerence."
The former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, described the so-called New Latin Left as an "axis of good" which comprised Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela but described "Washington and its allies" as an "axis of evil".
In 2008, The Economist featured an article about the "Axis of Diesel" in reference to a burgeoning alliance of Iran, Russia, and Venezuela. They cite the billions of dollars in arms sales to Venezuela and the construction of Iranian nuclear facilities as well as the rejection of added sanctions on Iran. They did conclude that the benefits of the arrangement were exaggerated, however.
In 2012, author William C. Martel, in a short essay for The Diplomat, wrote of an "Authoritarian Axis", comprising China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela. Following the death of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in 2013, Martel removed Venezuela from the assigned list of countries, in his subsequent writings about the "axis". Martel's thesis drew criticism from The American Conservative and Muslim Village, with the main arguments cited in opposition to his idea being the lack of cohesion and generally low levels of cooperation shown between the cited countries.
Several environmental non-governmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth International and Greenpeace, as well as the Green Party of Canada, have dubbed Australia, Canada and United States, the "Axis of Environmental Evil" because of their lack of support for international environmental agreements, particularly those related to climate change.
During a March 2018 interview with the Egyptian media, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman referred Iran, Turkey and Islamist organizations such as the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood as the "triangle of evil", to describe their current policies in the Middle East. Those remarks were later dismissed by Iran, describing it as "childish" and said that Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen has "caused instability and extremism and stuck in a quagmire" in Yemen.
In October 2018, the economist Paul Krugman argued "[t]here's a new axis of evil: Russia, Saudi Arabia—and the United States", the three countries that declined to endorse the United Nation's latest climate study at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
In February 2022 American conservative commentator Danielle Pletka called China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea a "new" axis of evil in an article for the National Review. Following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taipei Times published an editorial calling the alliance between the Russia and China "the real axis of evil".
This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2019)
Various related pun phrases include:
- axis of weasels – mocking certain countries that did not support the 2003 invasion of Iraq
- Axis of Eve – a women's political action group that opposed Bush through satirical expression
- asses of evil – a mocking insult against George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft
- axles of evil – denouncing sport utility vehicles for their poor fuel efficiency, and several other variations
- coalition of the drilling – mocking the 'coalition of the willing', stating the possible goal behind the "willing" in getting access to the Iraqi oil
- "Axes of Evil" – the title of a song by the Canadian heavy metal band 3 Inches of Blood
- The Axis of Awesome – an Australian musical comedy act
The term has also lent itself to various parodies, including the following:
- In a Saturday Night Live skit with host Jonny Moseley, George W. Bush played by Will Ferrell expands the "Axis of Evil" (although he doesn't mention North Korea, instead saying "one of the Koreas") to include things with "evil" in it or things he does not understand (including Enron, Tom Daschle, the economy, France, those who "mess with Texas", the "original Axis of Evil", mathematics, Dick Cheney (for now), and Evel Knievel, with the exception of Dr. Evil). Ferrell mispronounces "axis" so it sound like "Access of Evil".
- Serj Tankian, lead singer for the group System of a Down and Tom Morello, guitarist and former guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave (respectively) founded a political action group called the Axis of Justice.
- Andrew Marlatt wrote an extensive parody for SatireWire, where Libya, China, and Syria formed the "Axis of Just as Evil" and other countries "rushed to gain triumvirate status" in a "game of geopolitical chairs".
- The Economist ran a 2006 (May 13–19) cover headline titled "Axis of Feeble" about the end of the George Bush–Tony Blair partnership.
- King Dedede, a character from the Kirby series, refers to the titular character as an "axis of evil" in an episode of the Japanese version of the anime.
- In the Top Gear Middle East Special, during a road trip through Syria, Jeremy Clarkson installs an "axle of evil" to make his Mazda MX-5 a six-wheeled vehicle.
- In Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race, Sanders refers to the super-team composed of the Ice Dancers, the Police Cadets and the Haters as an "axis of evil". Don laters coins them as such (to the displeasure of Ryan) and liking the sound of it, they form an alliance with the intent of backstabbing each other, though it later falls apart.
In response to the problems Americans of Middle-Eastern descent have in the current climate, a group of comedians have banded together to form the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. The comedians, Ahmed Ahmed (from Egypt), Maz Jobrani (from Iran), and Aron Kader (whose father is Palestinian), have created a show which aired on Comedy Central. They have also included half-Palestinian, half-Italian Dean Obeidallah in some of their acts.
The group took the comedy tour around the Middle East (November–December 2007), performing in the UAE, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon to sell-out crowds.
In 2003 the Norwegian record label Kirkelig Kulturverksted published the CD Lullabies from the Axis of Evil containing 14 lullabies from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Cuba. Every lullaby is presented in its original form sung by women from these countries, and then a western version with interpretations in English.
- Holidays in the Axis of Evil is a documentary by BBC.
- Literature from the "Axis of Evil"
- Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil is a direct to video film.
- Empire of Evil (documentary film)
- Team America: World Police comedy film
- In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, after Operation Tecumseh, commentators label even allied Pakistan as a member of the axis of evil.
- The song "Axis Of Evil" by "Sodom" in their self-titled album Sodom.
- Axis powers
- Axis of Resistance
- Coalition of the willing
- Dual containment (Iran-Iraq)
- Evil Empire speech
- Great Satan
- Islamic socialism
- Outposts of tyranny
- Pakistan's role in the War on Terror
- Rogue state
- State-sponsored terrorism
- State Sponsors of Terrorism (U.S. list)
- Troika of tyranny
- Johns, Michael (October 2, 2019). "Seventy Years of Evil". Policy Review.
- "Axis of Evil" Authorship Settled! It was Frum and Gerson, and definitely not Bush. January 9, 2003. Archived February 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- "Proud wife turns 'axis of evil' speech into a resignation letter", Matthew Engel, The Guardian, February 27, 2002
- Yossef Bodansky & Vaughn S. Forrest on behalf of the House Republican Research Committee (August 10, 1992). "Tehran, Baghdad & Damascus: The New Axis Pact". Archived from the original on June 10, 2007. Retrieved May 22, 2007.
- "State of the Union Address (January 29, 2002)". Miller Center. Archived from the original on October 11, 2011.
- John R. Bolton (May 6, 2002). "Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction". Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
- Anne Applebaum (February 12, 2002). "North Korea: Threat or Menace?". Slate. Archived from the original on May 25, 2007. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- Dexter Filkins (September 30, 2013). "Dexter Filkins: Qassem Suleimani, the Middle East's Most Powerful Operative". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on January 25, 2014. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
- Glass, Andrew (January 29, 2019). "President Bush cites 'axis of evil,' Jan. 29, 2002". Politico. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
- "Israel attacks 'axis of terror'". BBC News. January 20, 2006. Archived from the original on October 13, 2013. Retrieved May 22, 2007.
- "Gillerman fingers 'axis of terror'". Jerusalem Post. February 22, 2006. Retrieved November 28, 2007.[permanent dead link]
- "Israel blames Iran and Syria for violence". Gulf Times. July 14, 2006. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2007.
- "parade-magazine-2007-02-17>". Archived from the original on December 2, 2008.
- Alba Gil (January 5, 2006). "Evo Morales hace amigos". AmericaEconomica.com. Archived from the original on April 9, 2014. Retrieved May 22, 2007.
- "An axis in need of oiling". The Economist. October 23, 2008. Archived from the original on October 26, 2008.
- "Syria: Iran vows it will not allow Assad to fall". The Daily Telegraph. July 12, 2012. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
- "Iran backs Assad as Syrian forces choke off Aleppo". Reuters. August 7, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
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- William C. Martel, The Diplomat. "An Authoritarian Axis Rising?". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on December 16, 2013.
- Daniel Larison (June 29, 2012). "The "Authoritarian Axis" That Doesn't Exist". The American Conservative. Archived from the original on September 18, 2015.
- "The Return of the "Authoritarian Axis" That Doesn't Exist". The American Conservative. July 24, 2012. Archived from the original on September 9, 2015.
- Nick Ottens (July 4, 2012). "There is no cabal: The "Authoritarian Axis" nonsense". Muslim Village. Archived from the original on April 20, 2017. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- Peter I Hajnal; John J Kirton, "Sustainability, civil society, and international governance : local, North American, and global contributions" page 344
- "Canada pressured at UN climate change talks". CTV Television Network. November 13, 2006. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011.
- Jansen, Michael (March 11, 2018). "State visit to Britain by Saudi leader fails to sway critics". Irish Times. Archived from the original on March 12, 2018.
- Al-Monitor Staff (March 8, 2018). "Iran dismisses Saudi talk of 'triangle of evil' as 'childish'". Al-Monitor. Archived from the original on March 11, 2018.
- "NYT's Krugman: US, Russia and Saudi Arabia are 'new axis of evil'". December 10, 2018.
- "Bolton praises Bolsonaro while declaring 'troika of tyranny' in Latin America". The Guardian. November 1, 2018.
- "Turkey accuses five nations of forming 'alliance of evil'". May 13, 2020.
- "China's Olympics Are at the Center of a New Axis of Evil". National Review. February 12, 2022. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
- "EDITORIAL: Real 'axis of evil' revealed". Taipei Times. March 16, 2022.
- SNL (2002), Saturday Night Live S27E13 - Jonny Moseley, retrieved November 29, 2022
- Andrew Marlatt (February 1, 2002). "Angered by snubbing, Libya, China Syria form Axis of Just as Evil". SatireWire. Archived from the original on May 17, 2007. Retrieved May 22, 2007.
- "George Bush and Tony Blair: The end of a Bush-Blair era". The Economist. May 11, 2006. Archived from the original on April 7, 2007. Retrieved May 22, 2007.
- Watson, Ivan. "Comedic Trio Takes Tour to Middle East". NPR.org. Retrieved October 25, 2022.
- Erik Hillestad. "?". Kirkelig Kulturverksted. Archived from the original on May 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-22.
- Works related to George W. Bush's Second State of the Union Address at Wikisource
- 2002 State of the Union Address – President George W. Bush, January 29, 2002
- "AXIS OF EVIL" Archived October 31, 2013, at the Wayback Machine – PBS Online NewsHour, January 30, 2002
- "US expands 'axis of evil'" – BBC News, May 6, 2002
- "How to defeat the Axis of Evil" – Salon.com, October 24, 2002
- Axis of Evil Comedy Troupe, produced by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
- Lullabies from the Axis of Evil Archived November 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine – Recordings of folk tunes by women from the targeted nations, in a production by Erik Hillestad.