We can all remember, to some extent, those trying times in high school, when we worried about what we wore and who we sat with at lunch and next to in class all in an effort to fit in. Though these times seem trivial, they were vital to our development and absolutely crucial to us at the time. Today, the U.S. and Russia find themselves as two students in an average public school: the U.S. is the great all-around student-athlete, while Russia is socially awkward and has never quite fit in with the cool kids. The U.S. and Russia share classes and have the same lunch period, but the U.S. always seems to be the center of attention, while Russia is constantly left on the outside looking in.
In a typical day, the U.S. will find itself the main subject of attention (good or bad) in class, often gaining the attention of other boys and girls who constantly want to hang out with the U.S. Though the U.S. is known to occasionally party too hard or not play nice with others, its overall relationship with everyone is good. The U.S. will probably need some help from the nerds to make sure that it can pass its sixth-period physics class, but come lunch time, the U.S. will once again be at the head of the table soaking in all of the attention. So what does this mean for Russia?
As the new kid in school, Russia isn't particularly sociable through clubs. Finding popularity will be difficult. Russia does know a few friends from the table in the back left of the cafeteria, Cuba and Venezuela, but they can only relate on a few issues. The truth is, Russia really wants to join the "cool" table where the U.S. and European Union hang out. Most of the time it has found itself frustrated that it cannot relate to or support conversation on what's new on iTunes or nuclear disarmament. Awhile ago, Russia was able to quickly talk with the U.S. maybe working out with the school's football team, the NATOs, but then the U.S. became distracted as the cheerleaders, Afghanistan and Iraq , came into the cafeteria. They're always causing a stir. Russia cannot understand why the U.S. continually sets up social networks to take in more friends, while socially-awkward Russia has trouble making friends at all. Cuba and Venezuela often cannot hang out on the weekends and don't get invited to cool parties anyway, so Russia continually needs to find a way to gain the attention of the cool table.
Last week, the U.S. came into school with a completely new look: new haircut, shoes, and a great new jacket. France and the United Kingdom blushed at their lockers as the U.S. walked down the hallway. Even some of the bullies in school, Iran and North Korea, seemed a bit more amicable as the U.S. walked into first-period homeroom. What really angered Russia was that in third-period history class, the U.S. was working in a group with Ukraine and Georgia on a new project due by the end of the week. Russia couldn't stand that Ukraine and Georgia, who used to sit at the back left table with Russia in the cafeteria, were getting so friendly with the U.S. and might get invited to try out for the football team. Right as class started, Russia stood up and cursed at Georgia and Ukraine and ran out of the classroom. The U.S. did not understand why Russia was so frustrated.
The school's administration knows that it is vital that the students get along, both in and outside of class. This one small incident in class should not lead to anything greater, but we all know how events in high school can have a snowball effect. To prevent this, the school is talking about setting up more group and social events, like the after-school dance this week, but is still worried that the students will continue to remain at odds with each other. There hasn't been a fight at the school in some time, but the principal still remembers when rival gangs continually threatened each other outside on baseball field.
Russia will find out that pushing around the underclassmen is not the way to get a date to the prom. It's simply immature. As it approaches graduation, Russia has to decide whether it wants to go to a top-tier university or stay at the local community college.
David M. Capezza is a consultant at the Center for a New American Security. Brian M. Burton is a research assistant at the Center for a New American Security. Neither have anything against community college.