Today’s geopolitical analysis. Let’s laugh while America’s wealth flows down the drain.

Spending:   An American geopolitical expert must be able to spout arrant nonsense with a straight face.  Bonus points for innumeracy.  Today we have a classic example for your entertainment.  Unfortunately it’s not funny, as we watch America’s wealth flow down the drain.

Money paragraph in “A secret weapon to save defense“, Marc Thiessen (Wikipedia bio), op-ed in the Washington Post, 8 August 2011 (Thiessen’s most famous line is that the CIA’s torture programs were “were not only effective, but lawful and morally just.”):

“The war on terror is far from over. We face potential conflicts with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and Somalia. And as we learned on Sept. 11, 2001, new threats can emerge suddenly to surprise us.”

A sure sign that we’re being conned is an argument without numbers.  Before we buy the incitements to fear of the Pentagon’s lackeys, let’s look at our spending vs. that of these fearsome foes (source:  Global Security; or see the SIPIRI database).  I’ve added Russia, China, and some (not all) of our allies.  Estimates of GDP and military spending vary (e.g., that of the US does not include much of our large expenditures on intelligence and nukes).  And military spending is, of course, only a crude index of military power.  But the proportions are so great as to make the conclusion unmistakable, despite these limitations of the data.

One question for Thiessen screams from this list:  how much is enough for defense?  Now for the numbers…

WORLD Gross Domestic Product Military Spending
State GDP rank military rank Military spending
as % GDP
WORLD $70,155,374,950,000 3.07% $2,157,172,000,000
China $8,818,000,000,000 3 4.30% 23 $380,000,000,000
Russia $2,116,000,000,000 8 3.90% 27 $  82,500,000,000
Total $10,934,000,000,000 $462,500,000,000
Iran $825,900,000,000 19 2.50% 60 $  20,647,500,000
Yemen insurgents pocket lint n/a tiny
Somalia gangs tiny n/a tiny
total $825,900,000,000 $  20,647,500,000
Korea, North $40,000,000,000 96 25.00% n/a $  10,000,000,000
Korea, South $1,362,000,000,000 13 2.70% 53 $  36,774,000,000
United States $14,120,000,000,000 2 5.20% 25 $741,200,000,000
United Kingdom $2,123,000,000,000 7 2.40% 63 $  50,952,000,000
 Israel  $206,900,000,000  51  7.30%  6  $15,103,700,000
Kuwait $137,700,000,000 59 5.30% 15 $    7,298,100,000
Pakistan $432,900,000,000 28 3.00% 46 $  12,987,000,000
Qatar $100,800,000,000 67 10.00% 2 $  10,080,000,000
Saudi Arabia $590,900,000,000 23 10.00% 3 $  59,090,000,000
Syria $100,800,000,000 68 5.90% 12 $    5,947,200,000
Turkey $879,900,000,000 17 5.30% 16 $  46,634,700,000
UAE $191,900,000,000 53 3.10% 42 $    5,948,900,000
Yemen $57,950,000,000 84 6.60% 7 $    3,824,700,000
total of allies $18,942,750,000,000 $959,066,300,000

Any comparisons depend on who fights who.  Thiessen’s assertion is daft that we need spend almost a trillion dollars per year to defend against rag-tag terrorists and two minor powers.  While potentially dangerous, he offers no reasons while far smaller expenditures cannot do the job.

Different constellations of alliances would be necessary against Russia or China.  But by any accounting we have large multiples of superiority in terms of spending.  And far larger advantages in military infrastructure and technology.

Not of that matters to our hawks.  Our enemies are always shadowy but terrifying so that any sums spent are inadequate — and no logic or evidence be necessary to justify the expenditure.  Loud shouting by hordes of the well-funded Pentagon supporters.  This is how the self-imposed burden of Empire will crush us.  A mad empire, one both unprofitable and that multiplies our enemies.

Another example of “just making stuff up” by our geopolitical experts

CNN Allows Fantasy Novelist to Seriously Blame Iran for Afghanistan Chopper Shootdown“, Jememy Sapienza, AntiWar, 8 August 2011 — To our geopolitical experts, any tradegdy can serve to build the current narrative.  Opening:

Imperial cheerleaders have a habit of blaming Iran for everything bad that happens to a US occupation, so I have come to accept they will pull that boogeyman out any chance they get. And yet I was still surprised when CNN contributor and Bush regime mouthpiece Frances Townshend and Brad Thor, a political thriller novel author, started saying Iran was probably responsible for this weekend’s shootdown of a US chopper that killed 30 American military personnel, including members of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden.

Townshend is a former Homeland Security Adviser to President Bush and is still an adviser for DHS and the CIA, whatever her merits. But who is this Brad Thor character? He was never in the military, and claims with no official verification to have “shadowed” a Black ops team in Afghanistan to research a novel. He was a regular contributor on the show of retired Fox News nutbag bawler Glenn Beck, and is for some reason a member of the Heritage Foundation. He also claims — again with no official verification — to have been invited by Homeland Security to come up with imaginary terrorist scenarios.

For more information

For a full list of posts on this topic see the FM Reference Page America’s national defense strategy and military.

Especially note these posts about our geopolitical experts:

  1. Exum looks at Af-Pak campaign of the Long War, revealing more about ourselves than the foe, 7 June 2010
  2. The threat of insurgents using MANPADS is exaggerated (SOP for our experts), 31 July 2010
  3. Our geopolitical experts will destroy America, if we let them, 27 October 2010
  4. Our geopolitical experts see the world with the innocent eyes of children (that’s a bad thing), 14 March 2011
  5. A child-like credulity is required to be a US geopolitical expert, 25 April 2011
  6. We can learn an important lesson about ourselves from the “Three Cups of Tea” affair (part one), 26 April 2011
  7. The lessons about ourselves we can learn from the “Three Cups of Tea” affair (part two), 27 April 2011

7 thoughts on “Today’s geopolitical analysis. Let’s laugh while America’s wealth flows down the drain.

  1. Thanks for posting this, excellent point on the size of the military budget and our potential threats.

    One thing I noticed when reading the “AntiWar” article, though: While Thiessen may not be very credible and can objectively be called a hack, he’s probably correct in general about Iranian infiltration in Afghanistan. Iran has vital strategic interests in Afghanistan, their in-region intelligence capabilities have been proven to be truly without peer, plus large parts of the Afghan population speak a close variant of Farsi and have a Persian appearance, so Iran has a natural in.

    Sapienza’s statement later in the article, that:

    The US government has unsuccessfully proved that the Iranian government itself ever had anything to do with the supply of militia weapons in Iraq over the last several years. In fact, as Jason Ditz recently pointed out, Iran has a good relationship with the Iraqi government and would not likely seek to undermine it.

    …is actually incorrect. The nature of Iran’s involvement in Iraq has never really been in question, and recently even some of the mainstream media sources who strongly questioned the Pentagon narrative have been quietly ceding the point.
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    FM reply: I don’t believe the interests of Iran in Afghanistan are questioned by anyone in the debate; it’s geography. However, can you provide any citations to support your last point? It seems absurd given the close relationship, past and present, between Iran and the Arab Shiites running Iraq (with the participation of leaders from Iraq minorities). They seek to influence it, not undermine it.

  2. In 3 words: “Divide and conquer.” Iranian support for multiple rival Shiite factions, combined with their mostly latent irregular military assets, is one of the main ways that Iran keeps Iraq’s dominant power brokers dependent on it.

    Also, the main targets of Shia militias have always been Sunnis and Americans. So while a sizeable number of national policemen and Iraqi Army have also been dispatched by these groups, either due to squabbles between rivals or as part of the larger campaign to pressure the Americans, Iran’s support of their activities has really been quite pragmatic and logical rather than contradictory– if the Sunnis stay weak, and America butts out of the whole business, this will strengthen Iran’s hand, not weaken it.

    This article from the Guardian: Qassem Suleimani: the Iranian general ‘secretly running’ Iraq — “Martin Chulov reports on the elusive Iranian with so much Iraqi influence that Baghdadis believe he is controlling the country”.
    has some more information. Reasonable people could disagree on whether or not Chulov’s collection of anecdotes adds up to a convincing case, but the gist of his article is consistent with what alot of people with deep involvement and extensive information on the Iraq situation have been saying amongst themselves all along.
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    FM reply: I suspect you have adopted an odd definition of “undermine” in order to support some conservative talking point. That Guardian article describes Iran as supporting Iraq’s government, in which it is a powerful influence. That is the exact opposite of the usual sense of “undermine”. Other than the weird conclusion, I agree with the rest of your comment.

  3. Well, Sapienza said that (1) the Iranians have not supplied weapons to the militias in Iraq, because (2) if they did, this would undermine the Iraqi government. Statement 2 could be correct or incorrect depending on how you qualify it. Supporting multiple rival militias does undermine the Iraqi regime’s independence, but not its existence so long as Iran is there to sort things out for them.
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    FM reply: No, he did not state that syllogism. You’re misrepresenting what he said. The closest he said to that is quite different:

    “We’re back to believing Iran, fighting its own extremely violent US-backed Sunni terrorist attacks on its own turf, would support another Sunni extremist movement in a neighboring country”

    The situation in brief:
    * The US government has not proven that Iran’s government is providing weapons to militia in Iraq.
    * Even if proven, that would not prove that Iran seeks to undermine Iraq’s government, any more than guns from the US in Mexcio show that.
    * Some of the militia in Iraq are supporters of Iraq’s government (this was more so in the past, before the Army spun up to speed).

    Try using quotes to support your theories. Otherwise it is too easy to make such errors (as I learned through painful experience). Precision (sometimes pedantic) is valued here. The Internet provides many venues for people to blow smoke at one another without interference.

  4. Well, just for clarity, when Sapienza wrote “Sunni extremist movement” he meant the Taliban in Afghanistan. Separately, Sapienza also denied that Iran had ever supplied weapons to “Shi’ite extremists” in Iraq. The simplest objection I can find to this second assertion is that we have not yet heard a plausible alternative theory for the origin of Explosively Formed Penetrators, simple but elegant roadside explosive devices, capable of blowing a hole through the side armor of an M1 Abrams tank, which made their world debut in Iraq just a few years ago.

    Also, “undermine” was Sapienza’s word, not mine, I didn’t really intend to contend it, so its fine with me if we leave it to the side.

    The problem I have encountered in discussions of Iraq, more so than a lack fo citations, is a lack of good citable sources. Very few people who were not in Iraq have any clear picture of what actually happened there, and the real story has been very poorly disseminated back home. Lots of people have formed very strong opinions on the topic, without suspecting that their logic is undermined by facts that they don’t have easy access to.

    Sapienza, for instance, seems to conflate supporting militias with undermining the Iraqi government– which we both know is not necessarily the case. Even your own dichotomy between the new Iraqi Army and the Shia militias fails to take into account important complexities. Where do you think the better-equipped units in this new army and national police force got most of their soldiers and officers? Where do you think many of the ministers in the current Iraqi government got their political start?

    I don’t have a ready reading list for this like you have for many of your favorite topics, but maybe now I will develop one. Off the top of my head, I remember that the New York Times’ At War blog had some good indpendent perspectives back in the day.
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    FM reply: I have no idea what you are attempting to say, other than that your misstatements were not misstatements (probably based on reliance on unreliable sources).

    “The problem I have encountered in discussions of Iraq, more so than a lack fo citations, is a lack of good citable sources.”

    Only if you define “good citable sources” as those who support incorrect assertions. Otherwise that is an extremely false statement.

  5. Well, if you spent a few years of your life trying to get your head inside the Iraqi worldview, then you might see why 90% of what is written about Iraq (on both “sides” of the American domestic debate) simply misses the point. One of the biggest problems is that almost nothing that is happening there fits well into the mental categories we’ve grown up with as Americans. People talk nonsense without suspecting it.
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    FM reply: Unless you can state some basis for these confident assertions, they’re just chaff in the discussion. Note that much has been written about the Iraq War by experts in relevant fields, which both meet your criteria and renders erroneous your statement about the “lack of good citable sources.”

  6. How Iran Used Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) To Influence Events In Iraq, Joel Wing, at his blog “Musings On Iraq”, 11 Jly 2011

    Here is an article with an ample bibliography from a level-headed, respectable independent voice.

    Denials of Iran’s activity in Iraq have always hinged on either (a) the US military having no idea what is actually happening in its battle space or (2) pervasively and systematically lying about it. For some people in safe at home in America, the ONLY possible reason anyone would talk about Iranian weapons would be to justify an invasion, and that therefore any such accusations MUST be false. Those closer to the situation tend to have more nuanced views. Events in Iraq take place outside lines drawn by our petty political squabbles. There is no contradiction in thinking that a military assault on Iran is a terrible idea, while also accepting the objective fact of Iran’s less-than-benign interference in Iraqi affairs.

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    FM reply: It’s sad to see how credulous most Americans remain given the documented intensity of US info ops building support for our wars, on top of the well-documented pattern of lies by government officials since WWII.

    This article cites no evidence that I can see from a quick read. His “bibliography” appears to consist of news articles citing Coalition and Iraq officials making claims (some of which have been proven false, the rest without supporting evidence). I cannot imagine why you would give credence on such a matter to assertions without evidence) by a “high school teacher in Oakland, CA.” (from his profile)

    US and UK officials have been laying this story to the credulous for years. The early rebuttals still apply, such as this (a good journalist, he cites evidence): “Iraq’s Superbombs: Home Made?“, Noah Schatman, Wired, 26 February 2007 — “Where are Iraq’s superbombs coming from, really?” Opening:

    The Pentagon is claiming — again — the the Iranian government supplied the deadly “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs).  But the more you study these devices — which use an explosive charge to a convert disc-shaped metal ‘lens’ into a high-velocity slug capable of smashing through thick armor at an extended range –- the more likely they seem to be home-made in Iraq.

    BTW — If Iran wanted to hurt the US efforts in Iraq, why bother with IEDs. They could have provided MANPADS. As the US did to hurt the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. That would have been a serious blow to US operations. For see my posts here and here.

  7. Noah Shachtman quoted a couple of newspaper articles, added his own off-the-top-of-his-head analysis, and wrote a very short article giving his opinion. So it should not come as a surprise that he completely misses the point, as do you.

    Think of this– airy armchair journalism, driven wholly by the demands of domestic politics, cannot trump what actual soldiers and intelligence collectors see in their areas of operation day in, day out. These people on the ground, their eyes are not deceiving them. 99% of what they see never makes it into a newspaper article.

    Newspaper headlines provide a selective, episodic view of a phenomenon. But understanding a phenomenon, especially an unfamiliar one, requires the opposite: an immersive, holistic view. This is the view that Joel Wing has tried to cultivate through years of following the conflict– reading countless newspaper articles, digging deeper into the less-popular information sources, constantly analyzing until the whole picture makes sense in his mind. (By the way, not exactly a Pentagon patsy.)

    You and Noah think that the Iraq war fits into your favorite domestic US pattern, the military-industrial complex, and because you judge yourselves experts on that pattern, you think you can understand Iraq completely. Your are wrong. Iraq is its own pattern. Please forgive me for offering you the benefit of heterodox information. You were clearly never interested.
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    FM reply: The burden of proof is on you, the one making the claims about Iran and IEDs. Your seris of comments provides not the slightest shred of evidence. This comment in particular is just chaff, empty assertions. Even weaker than the previous one that cited a high school history teacher as an authority on our wars.

    Views like yours are the result of a decade-long program of information operations by our government (see section 2 here for links). Sad to see how gullible we have become.

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