"Axis of Evil" Ten Years Later: Where Are Iran, Iraq, and North Korea Now?


January 29 marked the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush's infamous "Axis of Evil" speech, which he articulated for the first time during his State of the Union Address in 2002 shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks. Bush used the term to describe Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, governments that he accused of aiding terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction. How have these three enemies of the state fared since being labeled sponsors of terrorism?

In coining the phrase “Axis of Evil,” Bush put a face to the perceived threat our nation faced at that very moment. Americans were scared of another terrorist attack, angry about 9/11, and unified in our resolve and desire for payback back then.

Iran, Iraq, and North Korea became the face of the enemy. With then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair in attendance, Bush issued an ultimatum to the countries of the world, to either stand "with us or against us.” America was out for blood, and nothing was going to stop us. Not even the rugged Afghani terrain that once overwhelmed the Soviets two decades earlier.

With the Taliban smoked out of their caves, Bush had his father’s nemesis Saddam Hussein in his sights. Everyone knew the re-invasion of Iraq was coming, it was just a matter of time. As soon as Colin Powell went before the U.N. Security council and made the U.S. case for going to war with Iraq a year later, it was game on.

On March 19, 2003 the United States invaded Iraq. By April 9, Saddam Hussein had been removed from power and his statue symbolically taken down by the Iraq people. On May 1, 2003, Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and gave his famous “Mission Accomplished” speech. The Iraqi army was disbanded a few weeks later and Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay were killed in June. Hussein himself was captured on December 14 and executed two weeks later.

Next came North Korea, long an enemy to the United States. By 2003, Kim Jong Il had resorted to firing missiles “off east coast into waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan.” Within a few years, he fired seven more missiles in the same direction. By 2009, he was firing missiles over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean despite being removed from the United States' list of states that sponsor terrorism on October 18, 2008. Tensions between the two Koreas were becoming increasingly high until the North Korean dictator died in December, 2011. With Kim Jong Un taking over the country for his father, it remains to be seen what becomes of the isolated communist outpost.

Iran is an entirely different story. Since being labeled as part of the Axis of Evil, Iran has become even more erratic. From Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaiming the Holocaust never happened and saying that Israel “must be wiped out from the map of the world” to the threatened closure of the Straight of Hormuz, Iran is seen as a threat. There have been rumors of their trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction for years. This could have dire implications.

Ten years since Bush's speech, two of the most tyrannical despots of our time are dead and the man who denies homosexuality exists in his country is somehow still in power. Iraq has been a long, hard war that is finally coming to an end. North Korea is as much of a wild card as it has ever been. We already have begun what some suggest is a covert war against Tehran. Will it escalate? Only time will tell.

Photo Credit: Paul Morse