Sometimes it’s fun to imagine oneself in outer space observing the people of this planet, most of them just trying to get along as their leaders pursue grandiose dreams collide with other ambitions. Moves and counter-moves are like a complicated international game of chess, with the added danger of possibly incinerating a portion of the planet.

Iran seems to have been daringly provocative lately. It shot down a U.S. drone and has been accused of blowing holes in oil tankers. Why do such risky things? They surely expected a violent response — and almost had one. President Donald Trump called it off last minute, saying that killing an estimated 150 people was not proportionate to loss of an unmanned drone. Iranians responded they could have shot down an airplane, but chose a drone. It’s good to hear each side say they don’t want all-out war.

What then? Iranians obviously didn’t mind losing some people and perhaps thought provoking a disproportionate response would encourage Europeans to oppose the U.S. and its biting sanctions; however, Trump recently increased them. Who can predict the next move in this game?

 Iran’s leadership seems guided by the belief that Islam and Sharia law should rule their immediate region, the Middle East, and ultimately the world. Tiny but powerful Israel, backed by the US, is a nasty impediment to that aim, which is why they want nuclear weapons to wipe it off the face of the earth. Neighbors, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and many smaller countries, don’t particularly like Israel, but are not eager for Iran to carry out that plan.

Shifting north, Vladimir Putin viewed the disintegration of the Soviet Union as the worst calamity ever. He is not only keeping a tight rein on Russians, but seems to want to regain control of some Eastern European countries. Worst case-scenario for him would be an uprising of masses of people longing to be free. He saw it almost happen in the Middle East with the “Arab Spring”. It particularly terrified him to witness the way Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was brutally murdered. Ever since, he has worked to discredit democracies, cleverly using social media to sow dissension in leading countries like the U.K. and US. Sad to say, by successfully magnifying existing conflicts, he has contributed to the virtual standstill of these two great countries, consumed by political infighting.

Moving to another disruptive dictator, Kim Jong Un,of North Korea, what did he want? He hardly expected to conquer nearby territory — unless South Korea, heavily protected by the U.S. Perhaps he mainly desired to be a respected force in the world. Korea has been a country generally looked down on by others in the Far East. Since attracting worldwide attention with threatening nuclear weapons, he has met with Trump and traveled to Russia for talks with Putin; recently Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Pyongyang for a visit, which has to be the pinnacle of recognition in the Far East. 

Kim Jong Un said he’s contemplating the interesting letter received from President Trump prior to next weekend’s gathering of G-20 powers in Japan. Kim is not in the G-20, but possibly they will meet. Could Trump have said something like: “You’ve had nearly two years of hobnobbing with world leaders; now it’s time to gain further respect by focusing on developing your country to make it an economic power?” 

China wants to gradually ease sanctions on North Korea, which might be wise if accompanied by requirements of peaceful behavior. The U.S. asks for total destruction of his nuclear missile program. As proud as Kim is of it and considering the prestige it has given him, he’ll be unlikely to agree; perhaps he could be eased into the “club” having nuclear weapons without using them.

Lastly, a totally opposite authoritative teaching:  “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must be a servant.” Among leaders memorable for sacrificial leadership promoting freedom and human rights are Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Most of them paid with their lives. Our church is studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed for efforts against the Nazis. Apart from these heroes, are countless “nobodies” quietly helping others.  Any of us can do that.

Verna, who lives in Kerrville, worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, which took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.

 

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