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Access to Evil

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As the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, it banked to turn back over the Pacific. Less than a minute later, the pilots on board watched as a ball of flames – thousands of times hotter than the surface of the sun – reached more than six miles into the sky. Copilot Robert Lewis reached for the logbook to record the details of what had occurred. Instead, he wrote “My God. What have we done?”

This month, the world marked sixty years of the atomic age. But as the Washington Post shows today, one of the consequences of having so much of our armed forces tied down in Iraq is that the two other poles of the “axis of evil” – North Korea and Iran – have been free to accelerate their nuclear programs with impunity.

Let’s not forget that President Bush’s own State Department has reported that Iran is one of the world's “most active state sponsors of terrorism.” And North Korea – a closed, desperate dictatorship that has exported weapons technology to Pakistan and whose long-range missiles can reach the western United States – has likely produced four to six bombs worth of uranium in the past four years.

They are pushing ahead in a world where Osama bin Laden has gone out of his way to obtain a fatwah from a Saudi cleric that justifies using a nuclear weapon to murder millions of American “infidels.” And, in a revelation that received all too little coverage, this past February, CIA Director Porter Goss announced that al Qaeda might already be in possession of radioactive material.

Consumed by Iraq – a country that did not have significant ties to al Qaeda and did not possess nuclear technology – this Administration has let a much greater threat gather. Less than half of Russia’s nuclear weapons have been secured from theft – and we need to make reversing that a priority. Iran and North Korea need to change course – with carrots if possible and sticks if necessary. And we need to get off the sidelines and lead the world in the creation of a new alliance of free nations that will confront the threat of terrorism and nuclear danger.

We know the alternative. Graham Allison, my former colleague and leader at the Belfer Center at Harvard, has laid it out in detail. Go to www.nuclearterror.org/blastmaps.html and type in your zip code. Just don’t do it before you’re about to go to bed.

Unfortunately, while no one on either the left or the right is consistently making this point, the scary fact is this: it is all too possible that history will remember the Bush Administration not for being too aggressive in going after weapons of mass destruction, but for not being aggressive enough.

Imagine the day after: “My God. What didn't we do?”