Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mr. Klutz is Nuts and How Not to Deal With Iran 

I've recently come across two stories I'd like to share with you. The first is part of a little book I've been reading to my second and third grade daughters and the other is a news story about the Iranian nuclear "negotiations."

The kids' book is Mr. Klutz Is Nuts!, second in the Weird School series. It's very entertaining and accessible and, as you'll see, also has some juicy geopolitical insights hidden inside. My daughters love it and would probably recommend it for most other kids.

The book's action is set in motion when young A.J. gets sent to the principal's office for hitting a girl with a tennis ball and for not bringing in a current events article for the third consecutive week. The principal, Mr. Klutz, digs into his own childhood experience and comes up with an ingenious method of motivating A.J. to do better -- giving him a candy bar. Of course Mr. Klutz orders A.J. not to tell the other students about this.

Is there anyone out there, including the second and third graders, who cannot already figure out what happens next? I think even my pre-schooler could nail this one.

Do we imagine A.J. returned to class and promptly began working on his assignment while maintaining a newly angelic level of behavior? Of course not. He went back to class and immediately pulled out his candy bar, unable to refrain from publicly crowing about the concessions he'd extracted from his new pal, Mr. Klutz.

"Wait a minute!" Andrea said, all angy and all. "You got sent to the principal's office for being bad, and instead of punishing you, he gave you a candy bar? That's not fair! I brought in three  current events and I didn't get a candy bar!"

"Maybe you should try not being so perfect all the time," [A.J.] said. "You can have my carrot sticks, Andrea."
A.J. even claimed that Mr. Klutz would give him more candy bars whenever A.J. wanted. The next chapter describes how A.J. teaches his friends to place tacks on the teacher's seat so they can get in trouble too.

The book spirals into weirder and loonier territory from there, but I'll leave the rest for you and your kids to discover for yourselves. Instead, I'll switch over to the second story I came across yesterday, regarding Iran:

World powers have compromised on a demand that Iran commit to a long-term moratorium on uranium enrichment and are asking only for suspension during talks on Tehran's nuclear program, diplomats said Wednesday.

In another concession, Iran would be allowed to carry out uranium conversion - a precursor to enrichment - if it agrees to multination talks, the diplomats said. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to divulge the contents of the offer made by six countries to Tehran on Tuesday, in a bid to defuse the Iranian nuclear standoff.

The Washington Post on Wednesday quoted European and American officials as saying that the offer presented to Iran "leaves open the possibility that Tehran will be able to enrich uranium on its own soil." [...]

The proposals, which have not been made public but include incentives and penalties, seek to persuade Iran to give up enriching uranium, which the West fears will be used to build atomic bombs. Tehran says its nuclear aims are civilian.
Has the Iranian leadership ever received such a tasty candy bar in return for its misbehavior? This is probably even sweeter to them than the hostage-era Iran-Contra arms deal -- after all, the hostages didn't bring them nukes.

These clever diplomatic officials have dug deep into their own experience, certain that the nuke-craving Ayatollahs will be motivated by the same thing clever diplomats are motivated by -- diplomatic candy, chocolate covered carrots. Sure, they hint at possible penalties, essentially marketing their beloved carrot as part of a larger package that includes some alleged future sticks, as if the whole thing is a miraculously wholesome snack of carrot sticks. But of course carrots and candy can always be eaten right away, while threats of sticks can be ignored with confidence and forwarded to the Chinese or Russian UN ambassadors for retroactive carrotization. No, the diplomats' basic strategy here is that if the Iranian leadership is merely given enough radioactive candy, it will motivate the Ayatollahs to change their terrorist-sponsoring, nuke-developing ways.

Is there anyone out there, including the second and third graders, who cannot already figure out what happens next? I think even my pre-schooler could nail this one.

Yeah, yeah, our sophisticated diplomats reassure us this isn't setting a bad precedent for the international community of terrorists and the countries who love them. After all, the offer is supposed to be a secret, even though it's already been leaked to just about every news source in existence for the edification of readers like us as well as the leaders of every government in the world that has a wish list and a sweet tooth.

Heck, now that my kids know the story of "Mr. Klutz is Nuts" I could probably even let them write the next chapter of world history and they wouldn't be too far off the mark:

Ok, so then Andrea -- I mean Turkey -- wants to know why THEY don't get a candy bar for not enriching Uranium too. And the diplomatic principals tell them they can't have one because they aren't yet on the verge of doing it. So then A.J. -- I mean Iran -- will have to show them how to do it; it's as easy as putting tacks on a chair really. And then Turkey can come back and say, "Ok, NOW we're on the verge of enriching Uranium, and so is Egypt and Jordan and Belgium and Mexico and Djibouti. We want our candy bar already!" So the diplomatic principals could still say, "But you guys are the good kids. You haven't been sponsoring terrorism for decades like Iran does, so we don't need to motivate you to behave nicely with your nukes like we do with them."
Even if the diplomats don't get it, I think the second and third graders in our audience are capable of figuring out the inevitable next steps in the story, which just spirals into weirder and loonier territory from there, but I'll leave the rest for you and your kids to discover for yourselves.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: