In the wake of the U.S.’s triumphant romp through Iraq, there is a yawning hole in the “axis of evil.” In the past, when the stakes were much greater, there have always been three nations in such “Darth Vader” coalitions. During World War I, the nations wearing the black hats were Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In World War II, we had Germany (again), Italy and Japan. So to continue to mimic the giants of old and provide a universe of nations to fight in a perpetual war for perpetual peace, the Bush administration needs to demonize, elevate and enshrine another despotic nation in its dream team of malcontents.

One administration official recently characterized Syria, Libya and Cuba as the “junior varsity” of evil. So will one of these bad boys be elevated to the varsity squad? With the administration’s recent white hot rhetoric against Syria—accusing that regime of producing chemical weapons, harboring terrorists and the defunct autocrats of Iraq, and, in general, being a “rogue” state—that country is probably pulling the best odds now in Las Vegas. But not so fast—don’t count out Moammar Qaddafi of Libya and Fidel Castro of Cuba. If Michael Jordan can make a comeback, so could they. Granted, the odds are greater for them, but they had years of experience on the varsity team before being sent down to the junior varsity.

Fidel Castro, with the support of the Soviet Union (the “Evil Empire”) and communist China, was a thorn in the side of the United States during the Cold War. With the collapse of Castro’s Soviet benefactor, he has been quieter in recent years. If he wants to get back in the game, he’ll have to rehabilitate his sagging military and revive his now dormant efforts to sponsor terrorism (like North Korea, Cuba remains on State Department’s politicized list of nations sponsoring terrorism even though its efforts in the last decade have been rather pathetic).

And remember Qaddafi of Libya? During the Reagan administration, the ruler of that small North African country was not only on the varsity squad of thugs—he was the star. The Reagan administration, primarily in order to justify pumping up the defense budget, made Qaddafi the essence of evil, but then eventually forgot about him. Reagan’s successor—Bush I—left him alone because Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Panama’s Manual Noreiga became the “dangerous” tinpot tyrants of that administration. Clinton, of course, continued harassing Hussein and Milosevic and substituted Haiti’s Raoul Cedras for the defrocked Noreiga in the club of third world goons that were wrongly compared to Hitler (a truly dangerous titan of doom who actually had formidable military and economic means and was trying to take over an entire region of economic and technological power). But Qaddafi is still around and could certainly come off the bench to fill the vacant spot.

In the long shot category, we have Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Although the two countries are not on America’s list of terrorist nations because they are “friends” (many of whom, over the years, have gone over to the other team), they have provoked the ire of hawks who have the ear of coach Bush II. Although the Saudis have buckets of oil and the Pakistanis are (sort of) helping the United States hunt for Osama bin Laden, those nations previously either directly or indirectly aided al Qaeda—a terrorist group that actually attacks the United States (unlike the terrorist groups supported by Saddam Hussein that never focused their attacks on the United States).

And what about al Qaeda for inclusion in the axis? The group has almost no chance of filling the empty spot on the “axis of evil” roster because it is actually a threat to the United States. Like Iraq, which has been cut from the squad, the other axis teammates—Iran and North Korea—are small, relatively poor nations with antiquated militaries that reside half way around the world from the United States. If left alone, they would pose little threat to the colossal American superpower. As the CIA said before Gulf War II, unless attacked, Iraq would probably not use its weapons of destruction against the United States or give them to terrorists. (In fact, Iraq did not even use them even in that extreme circumstance—conclusively demonstrating its insignificance as a threat.) The same is likely to be true for the other current members of the axis. In the worst case, even if Iran, North Korea or members of the junior varsity of “rogues” obtain a few nuclear weapons, they could be deterred from using them to attack the United States by the crushing world dominance of the massive American nuclear arsenal.

The very fact that al Qaeda is a genuine threat to the United States, and that the countries of the axis are not, means that the terrorist group will never make the team. In fact, the Bush administration needed the axis to divert public attention from the embarrassment of not finding Osama bin Laden and destroying al Qaeda. Because that reality still holds, the administration needs to quickly select a new draft pick to fill the big sneakers of Iraq in the hall of fame of the wicked.