origin of the axis of evil

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    This article from the Guardian makes an interesting read...

    How I created the axis of evil

    It is the phrase that defines the Bush era - and Washington insiders are betting on whether it will turn up again in today's State of the Union address. But David Frum, the man who coined it, is now out in the cold. Julian Borger meets him

    Tuesday January 28, 2003
    The Guardian

    We are at the end of Year One in the time of the Axis of Evil. It was 12 months ago that George Bush took three apparently dissimilar countries in his State of the Union address and fashioned a new enemy for America. Banded together, the three rogue states, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, conjured up an enemy every bit as fearsome as Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire". The phrase has not only defined the battle lines of the 21st century, it has helped shape the world we now inhabit.
    Bush's supporters naturally insist this is a good thing. It has opened our eyes to the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of dictators. The detractors, who include most of Europe and the developing world, see the axis of evil speech more as a self-fulfilling prophecy that has set back the democracy movement in Iran, goaded North Korea towards nuclear brinkmanship and undermined any incentive Saddam Hussein might have had to disarm.

    Bush himself has not used the phrase since summer, but Washington is now placing bets on whether it will resurface in the State of the Union address today. Whatever happens, its true father looks on in awe and pride. David Frum, a 42-year-old Canadian who served for 13 months as a presidential speechwriter and helped coin the fateful phrase, has just written a book about the experience - a cardinal sin amid the hushed piety of the White House.

    Speechwriters are supposed to be anonymous. We are supposed to associate the State of the Union speech, the rhetorical high point of the White House calendar, with the president alone, not with the paid hack in the back room. In retaliation, Frum has been left out in the cold in Bush's Washington.

    His book, The Right Man, tells how the callow and unimaginative American prince was challenged by the horror of September 11 and responded Henry V-style, by showing his true mettle. It is larded with chapter upon chapter of rightwing polemic, brimming with contempt for European "appeasers" and the "stinking bowl" of the Arab world.

    As so often with the most vituperative pamphleteers, Frum is in person genial and conciliatory. He argues that his former boss is misunderstood in Britain, mainly because of his Texan drawl and Bible-thumping ways. In fact, Frum suggests - and here he is surely stretching the hand of doctrinal friendship further than credulity allows - Bush has a lot in common with the average Guardian reader. "He is someone who takes a moral view of the world and looks for big, bold answers," he says, by way of evidence. He even suggests the "Bush-as-Guardian-reader" idea would make a thought-provoking article.

    As one of the louder voices of radical neo-conservatism, such outside-the-box ideas are Frum's stock in trade and there are a lot of them in The Right Man - so many that they invite the creeping suspicion that the title does not just refer to Bush.

    But the book is also a well-written memoir of Frum's short adventure in the administration which just about lives up to its sales pitch as the "first inside account" of the Bush White House.

    Frum talks about Bush's sour, watchful presence, in contrast to the jovial hick he sometimes appears in public. He talks about the disconcerting grip evangelical Christianity has on the White House, its squeaky-clean gentility and generally low level of intellectual curiosity. The president, Frum tells us, is "sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill-informed; more conventional in his thinking than a leader should be".

    Most interesting of all, The Right Man tells the story of how the axis of evil got its name - an unnerving tale of rhetorical accident by which a catchy phrase ended up driving policy. It begins when Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, approaches Frum a few weeks before the pivotal State of the Union address and tells him, "Here's an assignment. Can you sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq?"

    This was in late December 2001. Frum argues that this does not necessarily mean a decision to oust Saddam had been taken, as he is sure other speechwriters were working on more peaceful versions. But his was the version that was used on January 29 2002.

    Looking for historical resonance, Frum goes leafing through the speeches of Franklin Roosevelt, in particular the "day of infamy" address to the nation that followed Pearl Harbor. "On December 8 1941, Roosevelt had exactly the same problem we had. The United States had been attacked by Japan, but the greater threat came from Nazi Germany," Frum argues. In effect, al-Qaida is Japan and no prizes for guessing who plays Hitler this time around.

    The phrase Frum comes up with is "axis of hatred", describing the ominous but ill-defined links between Iraq and terrorism. It is Gerson who tweaks the phrase into the "axis of evil", to make it sound more "theological".

    "I thought that was terrific," Frum says. "It was the sort of language President Bush used."

    The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, then add Iran on the grounds that denouncing the ruling theocracy might accelerate the incipient revolt they see emerging in the street protests. Why North Korea gets tacked on to the axis is not clear in the book - although Pyongyang's presence does bring the number of miscreants up to the magic number three, and ensures the list is not entirely Islamic.

    Watching from home, Frum was spellbound. "When I heard that speech, I thought it was one of the great moments in American history. I thought it was magnificent," he says. "Even though I know I shouldn't be surprised by Bush, I am always surprised. Up until the last, he looks like he might compromise and do the small thing. And then he does the big thing."

    "The big thing" in this case was very big indeed. What had begun life as a speechwriter's conceit a month before had filled with hot air and taken off, casting a monumental shadow over the rest of the world.

    It also, paradoxically, put a bit of a dent in Frum's own standing in the White House. Hearing of his presence at its creation, his wife, Danielle Crittenden, emailed their circle of friends: "I realise this is very 'Washington' of me to mention, but my husband is responsible for the 'axis of evil' segment of Tuesday's State of the Union address." She signed off adding: "So I'll hope you'll indulge my wifely pride in seeing this one repeated in headlines everywhere!!"

    Frum said the email "only went to about 15 people", but one of that number clearly lacked discretion and it ended up splashed across the online magazine, Slate. Frum left the White House soon after.

    One year on, he insists his departure had nothing to do with his wife's email. He just got fed up with writing for someone else. "As thrilling as it was, speechwriting is ultimately frustrating for someone who wants to be a writer," he says.

    He insists his White House colleagues were amused or sympathetic throughout the two-week scandal, but the truth is that this White House does not appreciate the hired hands stealing the president's thunder. In the book, the president comes across as a far more commanding presence in private than in front of the cameras. "Bush was a sharp exception to the White House code of niceness. He was tart, not sweet," Frum writes. "In private, he was not the easy, genial man he was in public. Close up, one saw a man keeping a tight grip on himself.

    "In that hour, Bush had settled one thing in my mind: I could never again take seriously the theory that somebody else was running this administration ... but where was he leading us all to?"

    The answer turns out to be: "God knows." According to Frum, the Bush White House is in the grip of Christian evangelism. The first words he hears on his first day at work are: "Missed you at Bible study," - a rebuke to his new boss, Gerson, from some unnamed Bush lieutenant. Attendance at such sessions were "if not compulsory, not quite uncompulsory either".

    The president, according to Frum, believes that the future is in "stronger hands than his own". It is a theme which is beginning to emerge from the Bush administration. While most people saw the extraordinary circumstances of the 2000 election as a fluke, Bush and his closest supporters saw it as yet another sign he was chosen to lead. Later, September 11 "revealed" what he was there for.

    The president's gut instincts are consequently taken extremely seriously. After interviewing the president at considerable length, Bob Woodward said those instincts had virtually become the object of a White House religion. It is a religion to which Frum, one of the few Jews in the Bush White House, became a convert. The rest of us can only wonder, as Frum once did, where we are all being led.

    Special report

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