Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Iran: let's get realistic for a minute

Stephen M. Walt is a professor of international relations at Harvard University and "Mr. Realist" when it comes to prescribing for U.S. foreign policy. In this context, a "realist" is someone who thinks the U.S. should act in its own interests -- none of this mushy "democratic promotion" or "human rights" stuff should enter into it, unless these benefit us.

It is worth listening when Walt calls the ongoing noise from Democrats as well as Republicans that treats Iran as a terrible threat as nothing but "hype." Here's why:

One of the more remarkable features about the endless drumbeat of alarm about Iran is that it pays virtually no attention to Iran's actual capabilities, and rests on all sorts of worst case assumptions about Iranian behavior. Consider the following facts, most of them courtesy of the 2010 edition of The Military Balance, published annually by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in London:

United States -- 13.8 trillion

Iran --$ 359 billion (U.S. GDP is roughly 38 times greater than Iran's)

Defense spending (2008):

U.S. -- $692 billion 

Iran -- $9.6 billion (U.S. defense budget is over 70 times larger than Iran)

Military personnel:
U.S.--1,580,255 active; 864,547 reserves (very well trained)

Iran-- 525,000 active; 350,000 reserves (poorly trained)

Combat aircraft:

U.S. -- 4,090 (includes USAF, USN, USMC and reserves)

Iran -- 312 (serviceability questionable)

Main battle tanks:
U.S. -- 6,251 (Army + Marine Corps)

Iran -- 1,613 (serviceability questionable)

U.S. -- 11 aircraft carriers, 99 principal surface combatants, 71 submarines, 160 patrol boats, plus large auxiliary fleet

Iran -- 6 principal surface combatants, 10 submarines, 146 patrol boats

Nuclear weapons:

U.S. -- 2,702 deployed, >6,000 in reserve

Iran -- Zero
Compared to the U.S. military, Iran has peashooters. That's just the facts. What are we supposed to be so scared about?

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