Bush's "Axis of Evil" -- Hysteria or Words of Hope?
Many have harshly criticized President Bush's characterization of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "axis of evil." Taken in context, however, his words offer hope.
by Jerome F. Winzig
There has been much unfavorable reaction to President George Bush's characterization of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "axis of evil." According to Fox News, 89 percent of the U.S. news media's "talking heads" disapproved of Bush's comments. Many European leaders condemned Bush's statements as "unilateralist;" Christopher Patten, the European Union commissioner for foreign policy, warned against abandoning constructive engagement with Iran and North Korea.
Those who disapproved of Bush's stance did not take note of the outpouring of e-mail messages from Iranian citizens immediately after Bush's first speech on the topic. In these messages, Iranians said they were encouraged by a Western leader who forcefully stated the truth about their government.
This weekend, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by Robert F. Worth that lambasted the Bush administration, comparing its statements to past "anti-Communist hysteria." Worth even compared the administration's stance to 19th-century U.S. anti-Catholicism, saying "it remains true that like the terrorists today, and the Catholics in the 19th century, Communists were often conceived [of] as moral monsters."
These viewpoints completely ignore the realities of the North Korean regime. This columnist has repeatedly condemned the U.S. trade embargoes against Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as counterproductive and harmful to the peoples of those countries. But pretending that the governments of those countries do not pose a threat to their own people and the rest of the world is equally harmful.
Last week, the online Time Asia web site ran a story about Lee Young Kuk, who served for 11 years as a bodyguard for the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il. The account describes his bizarre lifestyle as totally disconnected with the realities of his own people. Kim parties with scantily-clad women, imbibes heavily in rice liquor, is always accompanied by a pretty female doctor and nurse, and becomes furious if he is not the center of attention. Any North Korean who accidentally wanders near any of Kim's residences is simply shot.
Because of a rule prohibiting more than one family member from working on Kim's security detail (due to fears of conspiracy), Lee was dismissed as a bodyguard when a cousin of his is selected as one of Kim's drivers. Sent back to his home town in Musan near the Chinese border after 11 years near Kim's extravagant lifestyle, Lee was shocked to find his parents didn't have enough to eat. When he heard about South Korea's growing prosperity on an illegal second-hand radio, he decided to flee to China.
North Korean agents tracked him down, captured him, brought him back to North Korea, and imprisoned him at the infamous Yoduk political prison camp for four years. This is the same notorious camp described in The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Kang Chol-hwan's horrific account of a boyhood spent in a concentration camp.
During his Feb. 20 visit to South Korea, Bush said he was "troubled by a regime that tolerated starvation" and said "Korean children should never starve while a massive army is fed. No nation should be a prison for its own people." He pointed out that "When satellites take pictures of the Korean peninsula at night the South is awash in light" but the "North is almost completely dark" and added, "I will not change my opinion on Kim Jong Il until he frees his people."
Two days before Bush's visit, the North Korean Central News Agency reported with a straight face that, on Kim's 60th birthday, after 60 snowy days, the snow around his "native home in the secret camp of [sacred] Mt. Paektu is 60 centimeters thick" reminding people of "the weather of the historic day when the bright star of Paektu rose." The awestruck account omitted the fact that Kim was actually born in Russia, near Khabarovosk in Siberia.
Nonetheless, Bush emphasized he was open to constructive dialogue with North Korea and added, "I see a peninsula that is one day united in commerce and cooperation instead of divided by barbed wire and fear." Speaking from Dorasan Station on the South Korean side of a new rail line and road linking the North and the South (the North Korean side is unfinished), he said, "Traveling south on that road the people of the North would see not a threat but a miracle of peaceful development -- Asia's third largest economy, risen from the ruins of war." His words sound more like an intentional offer of hope than anti-Communist hysteria.