What the heck are Outposts of Tyranny?

Your war questions answered

Are you a depressed, underemployed masochist?

If so, then it's likely that you were home on the morning of Jan. 18 watching Secretary of State-in-waiting Condoleeza Rice's opening remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Note: The above assumption does not apply to depressed, underemployed masochists with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. They were watching Montana's Gubernatorial Inauguration, airing concurrently on C-Span 2.)

Whatever your condition, if you did watch America's hottest Rice dish talking to senators that morning, you probably heard her refer to Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe as Outposts of Tyranny. Though "Outposts of Tyranny" lacks the pith and pizazz of Bush's first-term classic, "Axis of Evil," its utterance by Rice sent much of the world media into a tizzy.

In short, the people who sit around and try to figure these things out are trying to figure out whether labeling countries "Outposts of Tyranny" is a prelude to military action the same way "Axis of Evil" signaled Bush's intention to topple Saddam Hussein.

In not-quite-as-short-but-still-pretty-short terms, I'll tell you why those six nations are considered Outposts of Tyranny and whether war against them is likely.

Cuba is an Outpost of Tyranny for three reasons. First, it's a one-party state that perpetually tramples human rights. Statements, gestures and facial expressions deemed insufficiently supportive of Fidel Castro are frequently greeted with job firings, arrests, beatings and even murder.

Secondly, the Castro regime is Communist. Historically, the U.S.'s willingness to make nice with human rights-abusing Latin American governing thugs depends on whether the thugs make nice with U.S. business interests. Commie don't play that.

Thirdly, U.S. anti-Castroism has a large domestic political constituency. As long as Florida is a swing state with lots of Cuban and Cuban-descended voters, both parties will find the time and energy to make long-winded declarations about how awful Cuba is. Talking about Cuba is nothing but a domestic political exercise signaling business as usual. We already embargo trade with them and occupy them militarily in violation of their sovereignty (see Guantanamo Bay).

Burma is an Outpost of Tyranny because its human rights record is so bad it makes Cuba look like a sunny Caribbean oasis. You know the sweet but grammatically objectionable expression, "Everybody has something that they're good at." Well, Burma is really good at producing child soldiers. Human Rights Watch says Burma has more child soldiers than any other country in the world. The authoritarian military gangsters that have run the country for 40 years lead a force that routinely inflicts rape, torture and slavery on their fellow Burmese. I wouldn't be surprised if the country's leaders high-five one another when Human Rights Watch issues a report on them.

But are we gonna invade them? Absolutely not. The only western leader who routinely focuses his energy on Burmese human rights is Bono. U2's 2001 Record of the Year Grammy winner "Walk On" was dedicated to Burma's democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Do I think we're gonna invade former Soviet republic and newly minted Outpost of Tyranny Belarus? I'm guessing not yet. President Alexander Lukashenko is a bastard and an election-rigger, but projecting our military influence so close to Moscow would not sit well with the Kremlin. We'll limit ourselves to helping out Belarus' democratic opposition with money and computers.

We're sure as hell not going to invade Zimbabwe, either. President Robert Mugabe's stupid thuggery has brought his country to the brink of starvation by confiscating land from white farmers. Additionally, 25 percent of the adult population has HIV/AIDS. Zimbabwe doesn't need an invasion. It needs to be hospitalized.

"But wait, Andisheh, the column's nearly over and you still haven't said anything about Iran and North Korea. Aren't they the most dangerous Outposts of Tyranny?"

They are the most dangerous Outposts of Tyranny - and the most likely to end up on the receiving end of American firepower. In fact, if some reports are to be believed, military action against Iran has already begun. Tune in next week.