WASHINGTON -- Just four months after 9/11, George Bush identified Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the "axis of evil" and declared that defanging these rogue regimes was America's most urgent national security task. Bush will be judged on whether he succeeded.
Six years later and with time running out on this administration, the Bush legacy is clear: one for three. Contrary to current public opinion, Bush will have succeeded on Iraq, failed on Iran and fought North Korea to a draw.
Iran. Bush has thrown in the towel on Iran's nuclear program because the intelligence bureaucracy, in a spectacularly successful coup, seized control of the policy with a National Intelligence Estimate that very misleadingly trumpeted the claim that Iran had halted its nuclear program. In fact, Iran only halted the least important component of its nuclear program, namely weaponization.
The hard part is the production of the fissile material. Iran continues enriching uranium with 3,000 centrifuges at work in open defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Once you have the necessary fuel, you can make the bomb in only a few months.
Thus to even speak of the Iranian program as having been stopped while enrichment continues is absurd. And that is true even if you discount recent dissidents' reports that the weaponization program, suspended in 2003, in fact resumed the following year -- contrary to the current NIE estimate, offered with only "moderate confidence," that it has never been restarted.
The administration had to immediately release and accept the NIE's sensational conclusions because the report would have been leaked and the administration then accused of covering up good news to justify going to war, the assumption being that George Bush and Dick Cheney have a Patton-like lust for the smell of battle.
The administration understands that the NIE's distorted message that Iran has given up pursuing nukes has not only taken any military option off the table but jeopardized any further sanctions against Iran. Making the best of the lost cause, Bush will now go through the motions until the end of his term, leaving the Iranian bomb to his successor.
North Korea. We did get Kim Jong Il to disable his plutonium-producing program. The next step is for Pyongyang to disclose all nuclear activities. This means coming clean on past proliferation and on the clandestine uranium enrichment program that North Korea had once admitted but now denies.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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