September 15, 2004


When my students do course evaluations, the overwhelming suggestion they offer me is to be tougher on them. They think I'm too nice and encourage me to put boot to ass when it's needed. I'm getting better about being strict -- it's something I work on all the time -- because I know that I'm not doing them any favors by letting them walk all over me.

I thought about that today when I read this article on the difference between how the US and the EU want to deal with Iran. The US wants to put boot to ass, while the EU wants a vague timeframe and an evalutation from ElBaradei. Iran is going to turn out like some of my students, the ones who come up with every excuse and lie under the sun for why they need extensions and special treatment. And the EU is going to fall for it, like I did when I first started teaching.

Believing the best in people is good. Believing the best in people when they've given you no reason to trust them is dangerous, especially when nukes are involved.

Posted by Sarah at September 15, 2004 11:29 AM

The EU is falling for nothing. They are well aware of what is going on, and what Iran's tactics are meant to accomplish. The EU is looking for balance of power vs the US. They view the world with a lone superpower as highly dangerous and they desperately want to see someone balance that out, no matter who.

Thats why they support our enemies. Very nuanced.

Posted by: John at September 15, 2004 12:00 PM


What you said about classroom discipline reminds me of David Boxenhorn's "Kind to the Cruel" post:

Use that boot. Being strict does not mean you'll slip into sadism. You know where to draw the line.


Europe has a long colonial history with the Middle East and its leaders believe they have a better understanding of the region than young, inexperienced America. Therefore they know better than these crazy cowboys. Or so some say. True or not, that's just an excuse for what you just explained.

Posted by: Amritas at September 15, 2004 12:21 PM

John, one more thing: Your comment reminds Americans not to underestimate Europe. Thanks. Cheap anti-Euro putdowns distract us from the fact that the Euroelites do know what they're doing. They are not idealists. I think they see themselves as the pragmatists and the Americans as the naive, possibly insane idealists - with sick ideals.

Posted by: Amritas at September 15, 2004 12:24 PM

Marc, you are absoltely right. They have always viewed us a that way--and we are. The difference is that we are pragmatic idealists! In their eyes, that makes us insane.

Posted by: Mike at September 15, 2004 12:56 PM

It's not a question of getting tough, no matter how good that might make some people feel. It's a question of doing what works.

Prior to George Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech the IAEA had inspectors in Iran and North Korea, the Koreans "dirty" reactors had been shut down, monitoring equipment was in place and their nuclear weapons program was suspended.

Since Bush decided to "put boot to ass" as you put it the Koreans have kicked the inspectors out, dismantled the monitoring equipment, fired up the reactors and put the weapons program into high gear. The Iranians too have increased their activities.

Sometimes booting someone's ass just pisses them off to the point where they won't ever cooperate.

It's interesting that you make the analogy between your position as a teacher and America's position in the world. That kind of paternalistic American arrogance is actually a big part of the problem.

Posted by: A Hermit at September 15, 2004 04:30 PM

I think the lesson learned from all this is that if you can threaten a big enough counterpunch, say with nuclear weapons, the USA will leave you alone.

Most countries probably think that Iraqs only mistake was in giving up it's nuclear program before they could develop it into a sufficiant deterent to counter Americas overwhelming conventional superiority.

The administrations actions have unleashed a rush to build nuclear capability quickly in Iran and in North Korea. Being bogged down in Iraq, where ironically there were no WMD, we can do nothing about the areas of real concern.

Posted by: dc at September 15, 2004 05:04 PM

So many talking points, bog down, no wmds -- they only distract from one word, bojoinka. Look it up. Google it. I'm sure the Iranians understand that the one "Big Bang" is the bomb. They've always wanted it, just like the North Koreans, but the North Koreans was given it by Ms. Albright during the Clinton administration, but as she claims, the North Koreans, "Cheated." How can we trust our enemies with following through on a promise? The scary thing is, our enemies do follow through on theirs--bojoinka.

Posted by: Moor at September 15, 2004 08:54 PM

Contrary to your opinion on the state of N. Korea's nuclear program Hermit, the boot was put to their ass because they were continuing the programs despite having entered agreements to cease. They did not pick up their work where they left off, they never left off. Which is why Bush has changed our policy towards them. Clinton tried to buy them off with money and oil, it didn't work. Why should we continue to send them money and oil if they do not hold up their end of the bargain?

Posted by: John at September 16, 2004 07:59 AM

So, exactly how has the Bush administration changed the policy? Not just that they've abandoned the 'agreed framework'- what have they done to put boot to ass?
Also, the situation is North Korea has, in fact, become worse. The North Koreans were violating the AF by enriching uranium (as was the US- really, the whole thing never got off of the ground other than the initial stages of mothballing their plutonium and us sending fuel oil. the second stage- us helping to build a safe reactor that wouldn't produce weapons-grade material never went anywhere).
But since the "axis of evil" speech, they have broken the seals on their plutonium stocks, thus accelerating the problem from a 2-3 year window to a 6-12 month window.

Which, IMO, isn't a huge deal. OTOH, talking tough but not having a stick to swing at a nuclear North Korea hasn't been anything but counterproductive. And the repurcussions of talking tough are still with us; the Bush admin continues to refuse to find a substantive policy, for fear that an effective substantiive policy would require a backdown from their earlier 'boot to ass' rhetoric.

The real moral here is 'never threaten to put boot to ass if you cannot, or will not, do the job.'

Also, Im very much with Hermit- using an analogy from a custodial/teaching relationship about "tough love" to analyse international relations is a bad, bad idea. I could offer counteranalogies about giving kids room to make their mistakes rather than micromanaging them- but that would be just as stupid. The two relationships have virtually nothing in common.


Posted by: Carleton Wu at September 16, 2004 08:02 PM

"The real moral here is 'never threaten to put boot to ass if you cannot, or will not, do the job.'"

How do you square this statement with the UN's refusal to do anything about Saddam. Bush has changed the 'do nothing but talk' syndrome that led to the problems we had now. The UN's whole problem is that it does nothing by default, and only does anything when pushed by the US.

N. Korea is pursuing their own agenda and refuse to negotiate with the world, they only want to blackmail the US once again. Bush is not playing that game and was not the one who abandoned the 'agreed framework' until it was shown to be a farce by N. Korea's actions. He has shown that he will take action where it is needed, and right now Korea is not the biggest problem we have.

Posted by: John at September 17, 2004 02:06 AM