The central problem lies with the two men causing most of this ruckus President George W. Bush and President Ahmadinejad. Unlike previous Iranian leaders, Ahmadinejad is calling Bushs bluff. He knows America cannot afford to open up another front in the war on terror, and that his influence in the region could severely destabilize the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Without any credible threat of retaliation from the United States, Iran is free to develop its nuclear program. Nor is Bush doing himself any favors, since his response is still far too tainted by his cowboy diplomacy to generate any real enthusiasm in Iran or the rest of the world. Bush insists that the world divides into black and white, good guys and bad guys, and that anyone who says otherwise is weakening America.
This narrow-minded outlook has hurt us, and it will only continue to place the United States in vulnerable positions unless President Bush realizes that the world may be slightly more complicated than good versus evil. He first must understand that the Middle East is not a monolithic entity; there are conflicts there which have very little to do with America or with the Western hemisphere. The key to the Middle East is to approach situations with a sense of nuance, not shoot from the hip-style negotiations.
Yet another problem is constant underestimation of our enemies. There is a tendency within the administration and among the American public to see adversaries like Ahmadinejad as unhinged megalomaniacs ungoverned by reason. This mindset is extraordinarily dangerous, as it exemplifies American arrogance while at the same time failing to see the true danger in a situation.
One cannot become president of a country like Iran without possessing true intellect and cunning. Ahmadinejad is no fool, and his actions are neither random nor those of a lunatic. It is no accident that there was widespread suspicion of Iranian involvement in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, nor that he has begun to ally himself with other American favorites like President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Ahmadinejad is also calculating when it comes to leading his own country. Although many Iranians have grumbled about the lack of economic recovery and his increasing enforcement of Islamic laws, he has managed to frame the nuclear development debate as a national right. He repeatedly denies that his aim is developing a bomb, most recently at the United Nations last week. Whatever his purposes, it is clear that he has managed to win the support of his people. Moreover, there is a fear in the region that President Bushs imperialist agenda will not end with Iraq. A nuclear weapon is seen as an insurance policy against a United States invasion.
I am in no way saying that Iran has a right to a nuclear bomb. However, we must acknowledge the hypocrisy of one nation telling another they simply arent mature enough to handle nuclear power. The paternalistic attitude of the United States has never won us many supporters, and it is time for a change. Rather than treating other nations as irresponsible children, we must take this threat seriously and respond in kind.
The negotiations President Bush has started are a good first step, but the problems lie much deeper. There must be a fundamental change in attitude and policy, beginning with the president himself. Otherwise, America will continue to find itself reviled the world over, facing a growing number of threats from Iran and elsewhere.
Staff writer Maura De Chant is a senior from West Bend, Wis. She majors in history and in English.