Forget the “troika of tyranny.” There’s an even stupider label that the Trump administration is using now to describe foreign adversaries:

Vice President Mike Pence has updated and expanded the “Axis of Evil.” The moniker for America’s biggest adversaries is now the “Wolf Pack of Rogue States.”

“Beyond our global competitors, the United States faces a wolf pack of rogue states,” Pence told U.S. ambassadors gathered in Washington on Wednesday for an annual conference. “No shared ideology or objective unites our competitors and adversaries except this one: They seek to overturn the international order that the United States has upheld for more that half a century.”

The rogue state concept is not a very useful one. It treats the opportunistic and self-seeking behavior of some states as proof of their hostility to “international order” while giving a pass to many others when they behave in much the same way. When U.S. officials berate certain states for behaving “roguishly,” what they usually mean is that these are governments that don’t fall in line behind Washington’s preferences. States aligned with the U.S. that commit gross violations of international law are never classified as “rogues,” and instead our government whitewashes their destructive and destabilizing behavior or even tries to spin it as something desirable. When U.S. officials start talking about Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Israel as rogue states, then we might be able to start taking their professions of concern for international order seriously. The rogue state label also allows U.S. officials to lump these states together into incoherent groups defined solely by their past and current enmity with the U.S. If the “rogue” states Pence refers to were really like a “wolf pack,” that would imply that they have a great deal in common with one another, but he explicitly denies that in his description of what they supposedly want.

The one thing that the five states Pence lists really do have in common is that they are all much weaker states that pose little or no threat to the United States. Their ability to “overturn the international order” is practically nil, and it isn’t even certain that most of them desire that outcome. If North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are our main adversaries, we are as secure as can be and we have very little to worry about.

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