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Sunday | January 12, 2003

Frum the Horse's Mouth

Or other orifice, as the case may be.

Several days ago I posted a piece on the similarity between George I's "read my lips" rhetoric and George II's "axis of evil" crack.

In it, I argued the Bushes have developed a dangerous habit of letting speechwriters formulate policy for them, just so they can get off a few tough-guy lines.

In fact, I'm worried that one of these days Shrub will hire Joe Esterhaus to write a speech, and it'll be World War III here we come. (editor's note: didn't Esterhaus do "Showgirls"? So what are you worried about? Laura's the one who should be worried.)

Um, yeah. OK. As I was saying. The current issue of The New Yorker contains an excellent piece by Hedrick Hertzberg, a very skilled journalist who doesn't wear fishnet stockings, and it gives a bit of the back story to Shrub's Axis of Evil speech.

Apparently, as part of the White House's usual serious and scholarly policy process, Shrub's speechwriter, David Frum, was told by higher ups to "think of some stuff" to put in the speech that would justify a war, ideally with Iraq. So Frum came up with the "axis" analogy (Bundles for Britain, the blitz, Humphrey Bogart kissing Claude Raines, etc.)

Frum's original version was "Axis of Hatred." But this was changed by one of the aformentioned higher ups to read "Axis of Evil,' because it sounded "more theological."

I'm told Jerry Falwell wanted to make it "Axis of Godless Fags, Heretics and Liberals," but Shrub just had way too much trouble pronouncing "heretic."

Be that as it may, the crack White House policy team then needed to figure out the members of this fictional Axis of Evil (people might ask). Shrub reportedly lobbied hard for putting the Dark Lord Sauron on the list, but piped down when somebody told him Mordor was actually a friendlly non-OPEC oil-producing country.

So they did rock, paper, scissors instead. And the losers were Iraq (duh) and Iran ("Did that this morning," Shrub said.)

But this violated the well-known foreign policy principal known as the "rule of three," which is: If you're giving a speech, and you want to sound really cool, you've got to find at least three examples of what you are talking about.

Well, this was a problem. Who else do we hate? Cuba? Too close to home; not alien enough. Pakistan? On our side. Saudi Arabia? On Texaco's side. Libya? Dictator nicknamed "Kaddafi Duck" not scary enough.

Then someone realized, with that flash of insight so characteristic of the Bush policy team, that Iraq and Iran are both Islamic countries. Having an all-Muslim league of bad guys might not look so good, propaganda-wise.

"How about them Grecians," Shrub suggested. "We can always get our hair dye from other countries, can't we? . . . What? NATO member? Oh."

In the end is seems, North Korea was paper and Belarus was scissors and we all know scissors cut paper. Settled. Although Shrub kept arguing that some kinds of paper are awfully damn hard to cut with scissors -- particularly the little kind that Cheney lets him use -- and shouldn't that count for something?

Anyway, the rest is recent history, which hopefully won't prove to be the end of history.

What's that? You don't believe such an absolutely critical matter as U.S. policy towards a potential nuclear power like North Korea could be decided in such a comically half-assed way?

Well, according to Hertzberg, Frum's White House memoirs will be hitting the Amazon web site any day now, so we'll all have a chance to find out. Already, I'm sure, Rove's people are going around muttering about "doing a DiIulio" on Frum.

Better watch out, David. There just might be a pair of cement shoes in your future.


Posted January 12, 2003 01:42 PM | Comments (19)


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