Discover more from The Bulwark
Our Axis of Evil
Plus: A list of the absolute worst takes
More than 20 years ago — in January 2002, —George W. Bush declared that there was an “axis of evil” in the world. At the time, he identified it as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea:
“States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”
What followed, of course, was the disastrous war in Iraq but as David Frum later noted, it is important to remember the shock and the fear of that post-9/11 world. Our sense of security and peace had been shattered. “Now it felt as if death could strike anywhere, anytime. Would suicide bombers attack movie theaters? Would teams of terrorist gunmen open fire in shopping malls? It all seemed horribly possible.”
The 10/7 attack on Israel was that nation’s 9/11, when every horror became possible and real. And like 9/11, it changes everything.
It also reminds us that there is still an Axis of Evil and it is still very real, and exceptionally dangerous. Today it is Russia, Iran, and Hamas — and all those who support, rationalize, or enable them.
It’s hard to look at the horrific images and read the heart-breaking accounts coming out of Israel: the massacre at a peace concert; families murdered; children kidnapped; Holocaust-survivors wheeled into captivity; the blood-dimmed tide loosed on peaceful towns.
Much of the initial shock focused on the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the surprise attack. (A failure that, given Israeli’s vast intelligence resources is, frankly, incomprehensible.)
But the weekend’s horror was graphic evidence, once again, that raw evil is a global reality, and that it is once again flooding the Middle East. As Mona Charen writes in today’s Bulwark, the terror attacks “demonstrated prodigious cunning, logistical sophistication, and unanticipated military capabilities in executing coordinated attacks by land, sea, and air. “
And yet, she writes, “for all the sophistication, these attacks were fundamentally barbaric.”
Hamas fired some 2,200 rockets into civilian neighborhoods, stripped Israeli women naked and paraded their bodies in a pickup truck. They indiscriminately shot hundreds of civilians at bus stops, in cars, and in their homes. They lit houses on fire to force people out of safe rooms. They kidnapped dozens (possibly hundreds) of Israelis, including both the elderly and infants. And judging by their homemade videos these terrorists view their depravities not as regrettable necessities, but as joyous and righteous sport.
The inevitable Israeli response will be both righteous and terrible to behold. And that, too, seems to be part of the Hamas plan — to use the deaths of its own people to win the world’s sympathy, and perhaps lead to a wider and even more vicious war. Writes Charen:
Hamas calculates that it will also be able to use the imagery (and reality) of Palestinian grief and suffering to hurt Israel again. And perhaps even to draw Hezbollah (another Iranian proxy) to join the conflict. Hezbollah sits on some 130,000 missiles in Lebanon and commands 20,000 active fighters, along with 20,000 reserves. On Sunday, there were short exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah, suggesting that they are on a hair-trigger already.
Perhaps they think that Israel is so divided that Hamas might actually win such a war this time. Again and again, the Arab world has made that bet, and again and again they have lost. But it’s hard to find any good news here. Charen writes:
Many Israeli civilians have died and more surely will. Many Palestinian civilians will die, too. Innocent people have been kidnapped from their homes and taken hostage. This nightmare will get worse.
Which was exactly the terrorist’s goal.
Exit take: This seems an especially bad time to be shutting down the US government and blocking military promotions. And a bad time for the House to be without a speaker.
Morning Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Before we get to the absolute worst takes, I wanted to share Ben Wittes’s sober advice: “How Not to Respond to a Terrorist Attack”:
The following, however, are seven ways not to respond to the mass murder of Israelis:
Please don’t explain that it shows that the only language that Palestinians (or Muslims) understand is force. Just don’t do it. There are many variants of this response. They often seem to involve a lot of words like “crush.” But Hamas isn’t “the Palestinians” or “Muslims,” and the answer to the murderous racist essentializing of Jews is not the murderous racist essentializing of Palestinians. There will be a major Israeli military response against Hamas in Gaza. It’s already happening. I suspect the magnitude of it is going to surprise a lot of people. And given the way Hamas operates and the extreme population density of Gaza, a lot of Palestinian civilians are going to get killed and injured as a result. That is a tragedy. They do not deserve that fate any more than the Israeli victims today did. So spare us the chest thumping.
With the Israeli body count rising by the hour, do not quickly change the subject to the crimes or misdeeds of the Israeli side or the oppression of Palestinians. Don’t be too quick to tell us about the “context” of this attack. There’s a place for that conversation, of course; it’s ongoing every day; and it’s legitimate. But 9/11 was not the day to discuss the errors of US foreign policy. The day ISIS attacked Paris and killed 100 people was not the day to lecture France about its sins. And if your response to 300 people getting killed in Israel is to wag your finger at Israelis and tell them how they brought it on themselves, you’re justifying murder—whether you understand that you are or not.
Relatedly, do not use any sentence that begins with anything like, “I oppose violence against civilians and terrorism, but…” You need to be able to end the sentence before the “but.” What comes after it may be right and valuable. But it’s not valuable today and probably won’t be valuable tomorrow or the day after that.
Do not use the attack to score points on unrelated matters about which you have a bone to pick with someone. Specifically, if you’re American, don’t use the murder of Israelis as a means of going after your political enemies domestically. I don’t care who they are. This wasn’t Donald Trump’s fault. It wasn’t Joe Biden’s fault. It had nothing to do with the recent deal with Iran.
More generally, the world doesn’t need to hear your insistence that the attack shows that you were right or that your enemies are wrong or foolish or treacherous. Hamas didn’t launch this attack in order to validate your sense of your own wisdom or insight.
We don’t need your conspiracy theory about how or why this happened or who is behind it. I know you think it’s clever. But really, we’re good.
And finally, we also don’t need your prediction about how this will reshape this or that, how it was just what Benjamin Netanyahu needed to do yadayadayada or how it will sink him once and for all and blah blah blah. The future will come soon enough. And you’re probably wrong, anyway.
Ben does not name any names. I, however, will not be so restrained.
The absolutely worst takes
(An incomplete list.)
Elon Musk, who links to an account that refers to Israel as "the Zionist regime" or "the Jewish terror state" (since deleted).
Trump Himself. Of course.
And the ALL-CAPS bleat: “THE HORRIBLE ATTACK ON ISRAEL, MUCH LIKE THE ATTACK ON UKRAINE, WOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED IF I WERE PRESIDENT – ZERO CHANCE!” Trump posted to Truth Social.
Don Jr., who used the incident to display his inveterate ignorance once again:
“How is it possible that I’ve seen more videos out of this war in Israel in a few hours than I have from Ukraine in almost 2 years???”
Laurence Tribe (in since deleted post): “Is Netanyahu wagging the dog of war to take attention away from his own war on the independent judiciary? Can anyone put that past him?”
J.D. Vance, who blamed America first: “As we watch this horrible situation in Israel unfold, Americans must face a stark truth: our tax dollars funded this. Money is fungible, and many of the dollars we sent to Iran are being used to now kill innocent people. This must stop. Israel has every right to defend itself. I wish our friends well, but most of all I wish they weren’t fighting against weapons bought with our money.”
The Democratic Socialists of America. Here’s Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres, denouncing the DSA:
Romney: “I think this is a great opportunity for our candidates to contrast where Republicans have stood with Israel time and time again and Joe Biden has been weak,” McDaniel said on Fox News on Saturday.
Cori Bush, who managed to blame both the US and Israel. As Israelis were being murdered, she issued a statement saying “must do our part to stop this violence and trauma by ending U.S. government support for Israeli military occupation and apartheid.”
Rashida Tlaib, who also managed to blame Israel, which she referred to as an “apartheid government.”
"The path to that future must include lifting the blockade, ending the occupation, and dismantling the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance," Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, said in her statement. "The failure to recognize the violent reality of living under siege, occupation, and apartheid makes no one safer.”
Senator Rick Scott: “@JoeBiden funded this attack when he bowed to Iran and gave $6 BILLION to this evil regime that starts every day plotting to destroy Israel. While Biden is silent, his appeasement of Iran and Hamas terrorists is heard in every siren blaring across Israel.”
Senator Tim Scott: “The truth is though, Joe Biden funded these attacks on Israel. America's weakness is blood in the water for bad actors, but this is worse than that. We didn’t just invite this aggression, we paid for it. Iran is the biggest funder of Hamas. This is the Biden $6 billion ransom payment at work.”
BONUS: Fact-check from Fox News (!):