Nearly five years after President Bush introduced the concept of an "axis of evil" comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the administration has reached a crisis point with each nation: North Korea has claimed it conducted its first nuclear test, Iran refuses to halt its uranium-enrichment program, and Iraq appears to be tipping into a civil war 3 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Each problem appears to feed on the others, making the stakes higher and requiring Bush and his advisers to make difficult calculations, analysts and U.S. officials said. The deteriorating situation in Iraq has undermined U.S. diplomatic credibility and limited the administration's military options, making rogue countries increasingly confident that they can act without serious consequences. Iran, meanwhile, will be watching closely the diplomatic fallout from North Korea's apparent test as a clue to how far it might go with its own nuclear program.
It doesn't get better from there.