For a moment last week it looked as if George W. Bush was about to declare war on three enemies at once. During his State of the Union speech, when the President asserted that Iran, Iraq and North Korea "constitute an axis of evil," he fired a shot that had been months in the making. Since the fall, Bush had been worrying that terrorists might get their hands on nuclear, biological or chemical weapons--and he wanted to warn rogue states not to help them do it. So in January the Defense Department drew up an assessment of the danger and channeled it back to the White House, where two speechwriters, Michael Gerson and David Frum, came up with what they thought was the perfect rallying cry.
Bush liked their phrase--"axis of evil"--from the start, catching the historical reference to the World War II alliance among Germany, Italy and Japan. So after 11 drafts circulated among his top advisers, he stood before Congress, the country and the world last Tuesday, clenched his fist and delivered the line with gusto, then made a vow. "I will not wait on events while the dangers gather," he said. "I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." He drew a rousing cheer from the crowd; but as people caught their breath, they had to wonder precisely what Bush had in mind.
As those questions mounted the next day--allies wondered if Bush was moving toward some sort of unilateral, pre-emptive strike--the Administration scaled back its rhetoric. A senior White House official cautioned reporters not to read too much into the President's remarks. But on Thursday Bush and his team cranked it up again. The President warned Iran, Iraq and North Korea that they are on his "watch list" and that "they better get their house in order." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice vowed that the U.S. would "use every tool at our disposal" to turn back the threat.