David Frum: Would you help write the "axis of evil" speech again?

David Frum served as a speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush, and helped write Bush's famous "Axis of Evil" State of the Union address in 2002. "My role was small," Frum told Big Think. "He made the choice to say it and it may have been reckless."
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TRANSCRIPT

David Frum: Just to say something about my role--this is a sentence that you do not very often hear from people in Washington--but it's really important not to exaggerate how important I was in the scheme of things.

And I think one of the big ways in fact history gets miswritten [sic] is, people inevitably who talk about these things always end up overstating what their own role was.

Now, my own role was so very small that even if I overstated it, I'll still be able to be considerably modest about it.

So with that caveat, when the president [George W. Bush] delivered the axis of evil speech, it was not because I told him to do it, or it was not because any speechwriter told him to do it. We worked for him, he gives us the broad outlines of what he wants to say and we then help him to say it as effectively, as memorably, as persuasively as we can.

And if you broadly disagree with what he's going, then it's your job to go, but it's not your job not to deliver it; that's his administration.

It never occurred to me, however, when the president made the decision to speak so strongly, in particular about the Iranian piece, was a surprise to me-- I didn't think he would do it, but when he made that decision to go ahead and do it, and actually name Iran as one of the countries he was concerned about, it never occurred to me that you would use such strong language without having a clear plan in mind about what you intended to do.

And I would agree, to use strong language where you don’t have a strong plan is always a reckless mistake. And when you look back on what our policy toward Iran has been over the past half a dozen years [i.e. 2002 to 2008], it probably was a mistake to speak so forceably, because the United States looks ineffective.  We we said in 2002 that an Iranian nuclear weapon was absolutely unacceptable, and here we are in 2008 pretty close to a decision to accept it. And that looks-- that's humiliating. We should have avoided one, we should have chosen different words or matched our policy to our words.

 

Recorded on: May 5 2008