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Archive for Tuesday, July 11, 2006

High-school thinking explains global politics

July 11, 2006

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For those Americans who can't understand the potentially self-destructive behavior of Iran, North Korea and the Palestinians, try thinking about the world as high school.

There are the cool kids, the popular ones with good grades and generally with money and status, who are the athletes, cheerleaders and yearbook editors. They are the ones going to the good colleges with bright futures.

Then, there are the alienated kids. They don't do well in school, have bad habits and reek of frustration that no one respects them. These kids sometimes get violent toward perceived enemies, even when common sense tells even them they are cruising for a bruising.

Well, if the industrialized world and those nations aspiring to join that group - much like the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who strives to succeed - are the "in crowd," guess what that makes Iran, North Korea and the Palestinians?

They are acting like adolescent losers, and not just because their leaders are neophytes in dealing with the rest of the world.

Iran faces almost unified world pressure to drop its nuclear program. Much like the teenager who claims not to be doing drugs but shows up at school stoned, its protestations only lend credence to the allegations it is pursuing more than nuclear power plants.

Iran is daring the rest of the world to call its bluff. Its leaders believe the country's oil reserves and possible ability, through military action, to turn off the energy spigot from other Middle-Eastern countries means the popular kids won't take the disagreement out into the parking lot.

But the Iranians have to know that if the West calls their bluff - and remember, the usually action-averse Europeans even seem to be onboard for this rumble - they could be seriously hurt.

And, that doesn't include possible unilateral military action by the Israelis, who presumably would never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.

At this stage, the Western powers are only threatening U.N. sanctions that could seriously reduce Iran's standard-of-living. And, of course, there is always the threat of U.S. force down the road, with or without European help, as a last resort.

So, why is Iran refusing to make a deal?

Then, there are the North Koreans, who may possess a few nuclear weapons. They recently tested a long-range nuclear missile that, if it had performed as hoped, could reach parts of the United States.

The United States and every other nation in the world that matters - including China, the big guy and the closest thing North Korea has to a friend in its neighborhood - told the North Koreans not to launch.

The missile failed a minute into the flight, but nonetheless, the United States labeled its launch a "provocation" and no doubt will become even more steadfast in its efforts to punish what it considers an outlaw regime.

Why then would North Korea, which can hardly feed its own people, even begin to go down that road?

Finally, there are the Palestinians, who earlier this year elected a new government controlled by Hamas, a terrorist group that has made the destruction of Israel its stated objective. When a Palestinian border raid took an Israeli soldier hostage, Israel began a series of military strikes to force his release.

Although Palestinian terrorists have been successful in occasional raids and suicide attacks, Palestinian military power - even with Syrian allies - pales next to Israel's. And their economy is in shambles.

But the Palestinians, like the Iranians and North Koreans, remain undeterred.

The reason, simply put, is that events - many of their own doing, others triggered by enemies - have conspired to force these nations to the point where they feel they have nothing to lose.

That is a dangerous situation, not just for the three nations, but the rest of the world.

Kind of like the alienated high school student who brings a gun to school to make a statement. It isn't rational, but those things happen to adolescents, sometimes with dire consequences.

- Peter A. Brown is the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and a former editorial columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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