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The power of words: "Axis of Evil," North Korea, and nuclear weapons proliferation

David Frum, a speech writer for George W. Bush, coined the phrase "Axis of Evil."

Bush then used it in his 2002 State of the Union address to Congress and the American people. Included in the "Axis of Evil" were Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

Just over a year later, the U.S. invaded Iraq, based on the lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Although the Bush-Cheney administration also beat the drums of war against Iran, thankfully that war never began. Instead, the Obama administration hammered out the Iran Nuclear Deal (which the Trump administration is now attempting to undermine).

North Korea decided, in response to Bush's "Axis of Evil" designation, to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which, unfortunate as it is, it had the sovereign and legal right to do. The North Korean regime and military then raced to develop nuclear weapons, testing its first in October 2006.

The risk of war between the U.S. and North Korea has not been higher in many decades, thanks to President Donald J. Trump's decision to join North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in the gutter of bellicose hyperbole (which, unfortunately and frightfully, both countries' conventional militaries, let alone nuclear arsenals, could readily deliver in a very short period of time).

Remarkably, Frum admitted on a C-Span Radio interview many years ago that North Korea was added to the "Axis of Evil" list as a sort of afterthought. The Bush administration didn't want to leave the list as just Iraq and Iran, for fear of appearing to be anti-Muslim. So they simply added North Korea, as a non-Muslim entry. And the rest is history.

The North Korean Kim regime responded to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime, by racing to install a nuclear weapons arsenal. The North Korean Kim regime has explicitly stated it has done so in order to deter a similar U.S. attack, or attempt at regime change in North Korea.

It's also interesting to note that each of the three countries -- NPT signatories all -- responded differently to Bush's dubious designation.

Saddam Hussein let the WMD accusation stand. Given its tough neighborhood, with enemies on every flank -- Iran, Israel, the U.S., etc. -- even the false illusion of a secret, hidden WMD arsenal had its upside for the Iraqi regime in 2002-2003. But it of course back-fired -- fatally for Saddam -- when the U.S. invaded on the pretense of WMD, despite broad and deep evidence to the contrary, including that provided by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), under the direction of Mohamed Mustafa ElBaradei. ElBaradei and the IAEA were later awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for these, and similar efforts.

The Iranian regime did not withdraw from the NPT. But it did press its (again, unfortunate) right, under the NPT, to develop a nuclear power program. This right has been preserved in the Iran Nuclear Deal signed by the Obama administration. (The promotion of nuclear power in the NPT is a fatal flaw -- uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and other aspects of nuclear power industries enable any country possessing them the ability, should they choose to go that route, to shift gears away from "atoms for peace" nuclear-generated electricity, into developing nuclear weapons.)

As mentioned above, North Korea withdrew from the NPT, and has since developed a nuclear weapons arsenal. This was its response not only to being listed on the "Axis of Evil," but also to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and toppling of Saddam's regime.

Another country that should be mentioned is Libya. Its military dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, attempted to obtain uranium enrichment capability for nuclear weapons development, through a secret nuclear black market deal with Pakistan's A.Q. Khan. The shipment was intercepted by the U.S. and Italian militaries on the high seas in the Mediterranean. The uranium enrichment equipment was transferred to Oak Ridge Nuclear Lab in Tennessee, for "safe keeping." Gaddafi came clean, fessed up, and attempted to normalize relations with the U.S., France, etc. But that only lasted so long. After civil war erupted in Libya during the Arab Spring of early 2011, the U.S. and France led the military intervention to topple Gaddafi. Gaddafi was later executed by his Libyan adversaries.

That outcome, as well as Saddam's execution, has likely factored in to the North Korean Kim regime's adamant refusal to even consider giving up its nuclear weapons, which, as mentioned above, it has cited and attempted to justify as needed in order to deter a U.S. regime change attack.

The U.S., as a signatory to the NPT, is itself supposed to abolish its nuclear weapons arsenal, in good faith, with all deliberate speed. But it has not done so, in 40+ years.