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Triangulation of One’s Enemies

Triangulation of One’s Enemies

Turkey has been getting endowment after endowment lately in the “axis” front.

First it was the disgraced former Trump advisor Steve Bannon including Turkey in his version of the axis which he figured would be China, Iran and Turkey; and shortly after that, we heard the recently elevated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman graciously incorporating Turkey into his own axis-framework along with Iran and Islamic terrorists (which obviously refers to the Muslim Brotherhood, when you consider that the speech was given in Egypt, not to mention Erdogan’s apparent sympathy for the group).

The term “axis” has historically been used to refer to a triangle of foes -probably because a formation of enemies with more than three sides would sound too complicated and probably crazy. G.W. Bush was the first to come up with an “Axis of Evil” in 2002 that included Iran and Iraq, with North Korea added in for good measure. There was no mention of USA’s lesser enemies, i.e. Libya, Cuba and Syria because, well, a hexagon of evil just wouldn’t sound as sinister and too many names could potentially confuse people.

Or take the case of Israel Defense Minister Mofaz’s 2006 “Axis of Terror” which originally comprised of Iran and Syria. The phrase didn’t catch enough traction however, until it was amended to include Hamas-run Palestinian Government during Israel’s UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman’s speech a few months later. When the trinity was complete, the world listened.

The same year, Eritrea, having learned their lesson, established their own triangle when they declared three of their neighboring countries acting not very friendly towards them as “Axis of Belligerence.” President Afewerki was careful to name three and only three countries: Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen. Djibouti -its historical foe, was excluded.

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The reason you may not have heard of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’s axis which was also made up in 2006,  is primarily because it had seven, yes seven countries in it, but also because it was named an “axis of good”.  Chavez appointed seven Latin American countries with left leaning governments in his good axis: Nicaragua, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador -and since this was a good axis, he figured he could also include his own country in there, too. Chavez, an equal-opportunity axis-er, did not stop there and decided to put out an evil axis out there as well. Naming every country he disliked would be exhausting, so he called it “the evil axis of Washington and its allies”.

Chavez’s aggression in naming axes left and right was not going to go unanswered of course. Venezuela was promptly implicated in an “Axis of Diesel” along with Iran and Russia in 2008 by The Economist magazine, obviously one of Washington’s allies Hugo Chavez couldn’t be bothered to name.

Then, in 2012, William C Martel, a geo-strategist and author, took it upon himself to identify two axes with three countries each. He called them “Authoritarian Axes” and divided the six countries he had chosen along another -this time: hierarchical- axis. His Major Axis had China, Iran and Russia while the Minor Axis had North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. It was all well and dandy for a while, but when Hugo Chavez died in 2013, Martel was forced to remove Venezuela from his further writings. And this caused a major backslash for his ideas and he drew criticism from several different angles. The rebuttals focused not only on Martel’s lack of proof for the collusions he suggested, but also on him not being able to fill the void left by Venezuela, rendering the Minor Axis in a less-than-a-triangular situation.

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The lesson: if you are going to announce a new Axis (of Evil) make sure you include precisely three members, and if possible, make one of them as vague and ambiguous as you can so you can replace it if the situation calls for it. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has shown an extraordinary amount of poise and diligence when he included the phrase: Islamic terrorists rather than naming any specific organization or alliance. In the current climate, anyone in the Middle East can change sides and become allies with anyone else, and in case Egypt makes its peace with the Muslim Brotherhood, The Crown Prince will still be able to claim his Axis, since there’s no shortage of “Islamic terrorists” around.

About The Author

Ali Maturidi

Veteran in conflict zones.


  1. Harry Foundalis

    Dear Mr. Maturidi, the term “axis” was used to refer to the coalition between Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and subsequently Japan, in the 2nd World War. I don’t know if the *origin* of the term is there, but the whole world knows this. Attributing the first use to G. W. Bush shows a complete ignorance of history. Shame. By the way, an “axis” doesn’t have to have three sides, as you seem to believe. An axis, geometrically speaking, is a straight line. That’s why it was used for the Germany – Italy case in WWII.

    • Ali Maturidi

      Dear Mr. Foundalis,

      Thank you for your comment. I know well the origination of the phrase “Axis”, but WW2 was out of the scope of this tongue-in-cheek piece, and that’s why I didn’t include it.
      The reason I took GW Bush’s 2002 coining of the term is that it was the first time “Axis of Evil” made headlines.

      I also know well the literal definition of Axis, in contrast to the use (and the public understanding) of the phrase. As I’ve mentioned above, the intention here is not to re-define the term but to ironically comment on how we have grown to visualize the phrase “axis” as a triple-headed (&mostly imaginery) alliance of “others”.

      As a writer, it is my duty to make sure that the point and the intention comes across, and I apologize if I have failed to do so here.
      All the best,


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