On budgeting and asymmetrical threats

posted at 12:15 pm on May 20, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Sunday night, Barack Obama minimized the threat that Iran posed to the United States, calling the country “tiny” and its budgeting for defense minimal. He made the point that Iran only spends 1% of the American defense budget, although that comes to a slightly higher percentage of GDP than the US at 3.5%. Take another listen to his argument:

“Iran, Cuba, Venezuela — these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. … You know, Iran, they spend 1/100th of what we spend on the military. I mean, if Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they would — they wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Yesterday, in response to this nonsense, I asked whether Obama knew how much al-Qaeda spent on its operations in comparison to the US. I did a little research and discovered that AQ spent less than 0.5% of Iran’s declared defense budget in the years when they successfully attacked American assets, including in 2001 — and at least a third of that money went to the Taliban:

Al Qaeda’s funds were dispersed just as quickly as they were brought in. The CIA estimated that prior to September 11, al Qaeda spent $30 million dollars annually, $10-$20 million of which went to the Taliban.

The amount of money makes little difference; it’s how one spends it that matters. For all of the trillions spent by both the Soviets and the Americans during the forty-plus years of the Cold War, not one civilian death resulted from an attack by either side. Osama spent $30 million in 2001 and killed 3,000 Americans in an asymmetrical conflict we refused to recognize until the towers fell.

Iran can spend $6 billion a year — their declared budget — for the same kind of asymmetrical warfare that Osama fights, and Iran has two proxy armies to conduct it in Hezbollah and Hamas. No one thinks that Iran could conduct a military invasion of the United States, but that isn’t the point. They can fund hundreds if not thousands of 9/11-style infiltration attacks, and if they can start producing nuclear weapons, they can level American cities without having the Revolutionary Guard leave Iranian turf. And right now, they’re using some of that money to kill more American soldiers in Iraq than the Soviets ever did in Germany.

That’s the serious threat, and while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conducts seminars on a world without the US, we can assume a very hostile intent from Iran. Anyone who can dismiss the threat of Iran out of hand because it’s “tiny” and doesn’t have the same defense budget as the US is someone who has spent the last fifteen years wearing blinders.


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“Japan is tiny… it’s like, as big as California.” -Barack Hussein O’Jesus, President of the USA, Dec. 1, 1941.

Akzed on May 20, 2008 at 12:21 PM

And we’re also spending a lot of our money on Europe’s defense, so they can spend their defense dollars on cradle to grave welfare.

rbj on May 20, 2008 at 12:24 PM

This chump scares me.

omnipotent on May 20, 2008 at 12:25 PM

Osama spent $30 million in 2001 and killed 3,000 Americans in an asymmetrical conflict we refused to recognize until the towers fell.

one critique, not only did they kill 3k Civilians in a cowardly way. They also put an estimated $1 Trillion hit to our economy. IMO, especially with the less FP knowledgeable Cons(Paleo’s) is that we should always make the point to link FP and Defense to Economic Policy. Not only in instances like this, but what would happen if Iran were to stop a significant portion of the global oil supply, Saddam before them…

jp on May 20, 2008 at 12:26 PM

So Obama is saying that as long as foreign threats do their damage on the cheap losing our tallest landmarks and sending our economy into a tailspin is a small price to pay.

Of course! The brilliance of hopechange! I see the light!

And here is some brilliant commentary in that same vein from a leftist blogger.

NotCoach on May 20, 2008 at 12:27 PM

“… if Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us … they wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Does this genius think Iran is gonna roll out their conventional army and try to take us on muzzle to muzzle? ppppfffttt And he wants to be the CinC.

Tony737 on May 20, 2008 at 12:27 PM

btw, Obama is repeating the same insanity that Ron Paul repeated and some Repubs. atleast gobbled it up.

http://chip91.wordpress.com/2007/10/14/ron-paul-says-we-just-need-a-few-submarines-to-defend-america/

During a recent Washington Post interview, Rep. Ron Paul said that “There’s nobody in this world that could possibly attack us today. I mean, we could defend this country with a few good submarines.” …….Ron Paul who has an R next to his name

good little Murray Rothbardian paul is, suicidally insane.

jp on May 20, 2008 at 12:29 PM

Just another sign that BO is not fit to be CinC because he has little clue on military strategy.

It’s not how much you spend on your military. It’s how efficiently you use what you have. He has no clue that Iran can exert incredible leverage on the world economy by attacking oil tankers in the Straight of Hormuz with relatively cheap anti-ship missiles and gun boats.

Sure we can defend shipping but the threat of attacks, and the concomitant rise in shipping insurance rates, will halt most oil transportation.

SPCOlympics on May 20, 2008 at 12:33 PM

The amount of money makes little difference;

But it can make the difference on what can or can not be done.

upinak on May 20, 2008 at 12:35 PM

Anyone who can dismiss the threat of Iran out of hand because it’s “tiny” and doesn’t have the same defense budget as the US is someone who has spent the last fifteen years wearing blinders sitting in Rev. Wrights church.

dmann on May 20, 2008 at 12:36 PM

jp on May 20, 2008 at 12:29 PM

And you do not think Democrats, Independents, or Green parties also don’t have their nuts that think that?

You are smokin something, just not sure what it is.

upinak on May 20, 2008 at 12:39 PM

The only thing we have to fear is Barack’s spell.

mymanpotsandpans on May 20, 2008 at 12:39 PM

SPCOlympics on May 20, 2008 at 12:33 PM

That is a interesting observation there.

Since it has already been put into place via shipping to Alaska and Hawaii (yeah we have to eat too and are part of the Nation) we already pay huge shipping costs, but no just for the fuel to run the ships and barges… but insurance if it sinks or a storm makes it lose half it’s cargo.

B.H.O. has no clue on ANYTHING. Think about it and his 57 State, statement. I would love to know where these 7 other States are still!

upinak on May 20, 2008 at 12:44 PM

Ever notice how leftists run every issue through a moral equivalency meat grinder? To them there is no right and wrong in the world. Just sausage.

miles on May 20, 2008 at 12:45 PM

I can’t believe Americans are going to elect an anti-American president.

ronsfi on May 20, 2008 at 12:45 PM

A bullet is tiny, too.

It ain’t the size, it’s the aim, O-man.

An AIDS virus is smaller than a bear.

And Barack is a pea-brained, babbling schmuck.

profitsbeard on May 20, 2008 at 12:45 PM

Absolutely no clue about the threats we face. I can’t tell if it’s naivite or willful blindness, but the end result is the same. What part of “death to America” doesn’t he understand?

trubble on May 20, 2008 at 12:46 PM

The Audacity of Naive’

Kini on May 20, 2008 at 12:47 PM

“A dollar of gas is more expensive now than in 1978. It cost less than a dollar back then, and costs almost 4 now.”

- BHO, Moron and Community Organizer

benrand on May 20, 2008 at 12:48 PM

I’ll just file this under more of Obama yappin about things he doesn’t know about.

What we all know is you don’t need to be a huge country to cause damage, heck you don’t need to even be a country. One dirty bomb, One Gunman, or One Airplane is all they need, at a very low cost.

Rbastid on May 20, 2008 at 12:52 PM

Anyone who can dismiss the threat of Iran out of hand because it’s “tiny” and doesn’t have the same defense budget as the US is someone who has spent the last fifteen years wearing blinders.

The overall size of our military budget might be less important then, at least as it relates to the asymmetrical threat. Certain domestic security investments can yield a higher return against terrorist efforts than traditional military build up can.

dedalus on May 20, 2008 at 12:53 PM

I think this quote from Sec. Rice is particularly apropos:

Still, the threat of terrorism in today’s world is far worse than anyone could have imagined in 1985. Back then, no one really thought that 19 fanatics, armed only with box cutters and boarding passes, would one day be able to attack our country with the destructive power of an enemy state. These terrorists have now attacked our citizens and our allies on nearly every continent. They, unfortunately, only have to be right once. We have to be right all of the time.

Mr. Obama, perfection is not cheap. At least not in the real world.

SPCOlympics on May 20, 2008 at 12:57 PM

And you do not think Democrats, Independents, or Green parties also don’t have their nuts that think that?

You are smokin something, just not sure what it is.

upinak on May 20, 2008 at 12:39 PM

they do and its mainstream there, my point was that they are now saying some of the same talking points as he said the past year on the gop side. I’ve seen the fiscal con sell and desire of “America First” to be somewhat effective in brainwashing some of the gop here. I think we should take out the trash in the party first and that includes our nuts.

jp on May 20, 2008 at 1:07 PM

Ed makes an interesting point that Iran’s defense budget, although “tiny” compared to that of the United States, is a higher percentage of Iran’s GDP. Meaning that their GDP is abysmally low for a country with about a quarter of the population of the USA. Where would Iran be without oil, which they pump out of the ground and export, but don’t have the means to refine?

Does Iran’s “declared” defense budget include the effort to build nuclear weapons? If not, the real defense budget is a much higher share of GDP…

To borrow a phrase from the LBJ Administration, Iran has more guns than butter, which may be why Obama is trying to butter up the Iranians. From the depths of an Iranian bunker, MyMood ImaNutJob is listening to Obama and greedily grinning.

Steve Z on May 20, 2008 at 1:21 PM

I wrote yesterday that the Obama Threat Analytical Framework (I’ll just call it the OTAF, since I bet we’re going to spend the next 6 months reading about it) is at best outmoded. Looks more like it’s just flat busted.

Differences in resources available to allocate to traditional defense structures explain phenomena like, well, terrorism; force multipliers like fear and panic; things of that nature. If Obama doesn’t understand that, he’s stuck in the early 70s.

DrSteve on May 20, 2008 at 1:23 PM

Osama spent $30 million in 2001 and killed 3,000 Americans in an asymmetrical conflict we refused to recognize until the towers fell.

I’m a chump. I kept reading this sentence over and over thinking. “Obama killed 3,000 Americans? Let me read that again.”

shick on May 20, 2008 at 1:28 PM

For what it’s worth, Obama had a campaign commercial on Aljazerra – English here in Iraq today. It came on during one of their “Global Warming” specials.

What voters does he expect to convince over here I wonder? I’m pretty sure it’s not US forces!

JetBlast on May 20, 2008 at 1:28 PM

Anyone who can dismiss the threat of Iran out of hand because it’s “tiny” and doesn’t have the same defense budget as the US is someone who has spent the last fifteen years wearing blinders.

Replacing “blinders” with “a halo” would improve the accuracy of that statement as it applies to Obama.

scatbug on May 20, 2008 at 1:34 PM

Kini on May 20, 2008 at 12:47 PM

Or, The Audacity of His True Intent?

mimi1220 on May 20, 2008 at 1:40 PM

Hussein, would you squash a bedbug?

whitetop on May 20, 2008 at 1:52 PM

“someone who has spent the last fifteen years wearing blinders.”

More like the last 48 years.

AZCoyote on May 20, 2008 at 2:19 PM

A deadly viper is only a few pounds, compared to a 250 lb. man, not much of a threat…according to Obama.

right2bright on May 20, 2008 at 2:20 PM

Obama does seem to think that money is the gauge by which threats are estimated. This is consistent with Democrats most beloved “Throwing money at a problem.” If 20 million doesn’t fix it, apply more money.
So, if Iran isn’t spending much money, it isn’t a credible threat? Great! That means that President Obama would have to
raise the military budget! Woo Hoo! Nobody will DARE to touch us! We Win!

Doug on May 20, 2008 at 2:21 PM

The amount of money makes little difference; it’s how one spends it that matters.

But the entirety of the Democratic platform is that they NEED MORE of our MONEY – for everything and anything.

Doesn’t matter that states that spend less per pupil in public schools outperform those that spend the most, everytime. It’s what you do with it that counts. Teaching liberal crap just dumbs down America more, so “the man” can force feed them more propaganda.

kirkill on May 20, 2008 at 2:25 PM

Even pure defense is expensive. We have to protect the entire country, coast to coast. History has shown that offense is less expensive than defense.

Killing them before they can attack is the cheapest form of insurance available.

MarkTheGreat on May 20, 2008 at 2:26 PM

Geeez this is embarrassing. Laughable.

This is what you get when you try and elect a community organizer president. He is clearly out of his depth and should stick to the shallow end of the pool.

Where to begin….

It is typically not a good idea to do ad hoc threat analysis based on the sole criteria of geography, demographics, or annual defense expenditures. You can start there, but Obama starts and stops there. Laughable.

Obviously the Dali-Bama has never heard of asymmetrical warfare and fails to imagine a world in which traditional global actors must interact with non state actors or actors whose policy aims are less dependent upon the traditional game theory matrix.

Obama uses the MAD doctrine interchangeably between the USSR and Iran, Venezuela etc….Just stupid analysis. It is a straw man. Who in the Hell would think to compare Iran or Venezuela or even China (at the time he mentions Nixon’s overtures to China) had the capacity to destroy the USA?

Lastly, he seems to think that the President is the only person allowed to talk across the hall to the opposition. We talk and engage a whole host of nations on a wide array of levels.

Amatuer hour is now officially open. Half price beer and free popcorn.

moxie_neanderthal on May 20, 2008 at 2:28 PM

I mean, if Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they would — they wouldn’t stand a chance.”

So, what’s an Obama to do??? WHAT wouldn’t Iran stand a chance against? Is he gonna NUKE ‘em?Those nukes we won’t have because he wants to get rid of them? It won’t be an official action of Iran, it will be from one of its many bought and paid for surrogates. So what then? A strong jawboning? Really MEAN negotiations? Maybe a really scathing verbal lashing??? In which case, Obama should let his wife do the talking.
He’s a useless, weak moron.

marybel on May 20, 2008 at 2:34 PM

Capt Ed: don’t forget this as well; with the Marines and others that Iran killed in its Beirut Bombing campaign back in ’83; Iran holds the distinction of being responsible for MORE US Military deaths (Lebanon & Iraq and others??); than the Soviet Union and China and Cuba and North Korea!

So much for them being a “tiny” threat, because they only spend 1% of what we do!

Your argument is, it doesn’t matter how much they spend, but HOW they spend it; Well said!

Wish someone would point out to Obamoron all the DEATHS of Americans, Iran has been responsible for; but I guess that’s too much to ask?

R/dale

Dale in Atlanta on May 20, 2008 at 2:37 PM

Al Qaeda spent less money for 9/11/01 than Obama gets in campaign contributions in one month.

ForNow on May 20, 2008 at 2:41 PM

Correction. Al Qaeda spent less money in 2001 than Obama gets in campaign contributions in one month.

ForNow on May 20, 2008 at 2:43 PM

Sen. Obama, what weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?

benrand on May 20, 2008 at 2:43 PM

I mean, if Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they would — they wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Precisely. And it is thaks to our military spending and one of the greatest things to happen in our country – the military industrial complex.

Grafted on May 20, 2008 at 2:44 PM

Vapid comments from a paper thin guy.

Obama’s logic is flawed on so many levels.

Here are a few quick ref. notes regarding the idiocy of Obama’s comments relative to geographic size, populations and % of GDP spent on defense relative to perceived threat potential.

Based on The United States’ Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.

Japan spends about 1% of GDP on defense but in total dollars spent, is around 5th globally.

Last year Iran officially spent about 300 million more than Mexico on defense and eased into the 25th position as measured in total dollar defense spending.

moxie_neanderthal on May 20, 2008 at 2:45 PM

I can’t believe Americans are going to elect an anti-American president.

ronsfi on May 20, 2008 at 12:45 PM

But, but Juan McPlantationShamnesty! I’m gonna vote for Bob Barr, who, er, also opposes enforcement-based immigration policy. And has been married 3 times, because, er, McCain’s only been married twice.

Yeah.

funky chicken on May 20, 2008 at 2:57 PM

For what it’s worth, Obama had a campaign commercial on Aljazerra – English here in Iraq today. It came on during one of their “Global Warming” specials.

What voters does he expect to convince over here I wonder? I’m pretty sure it’s not US forces!

JetBlast on May 20, 2008 at 1:28 PM

Hey, a guy’s gotta raise petrodollars somehow.

funky chicken on May 20, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Replacing “blinders” with “a halo” would improve the accuracy of that statement as it applies to Obama.

scatbug on May 20, 2008 at 1:34 PM

He wears his halo low, around his eyes. He needs to lower it a little more the cover his mouth.

Nosferightu on May 20, 2008 at 3:13 PM

It’s their aspirations, stupid!

Maquis on May 20, 2008 at 3:38 PM

Hmmm…. I can’t help but wonder which candidate Iran wants to see become the next President.

Logic on May 20, 2008 at 3:42 PM

For all of the trillions spent by both the Soviets and the Americans during the forty-plus years of the Cold War, not one civilian death resulted from an attack by either side.

Hmmm. You forgot JFK… ;)

Seixon on May 20, 2008 at 3:51 PM

Unfortunately, what this truly shows is how ‘ignorant’ people are (Liberals, of course). Ignorance is our most expensive commodity and it appears that we spend a lot on it just like Congress. Liberalism sucks to the max.

geminicontender on May 20, 2008 at 3:55 PM

Hey, did Obama call Iran such a “tiny” country? Wow, what guts!! I dont think Bush or McCain would have the nerve to call Ahmadinejad’s homeland “tiny”. Obama threw down the gauntlet. He showed them who’s boss. What’s next…. “cute”, “itty bitty”? Obama is such a hawk!!

[End Sarc.]

AverageJoe on May 20, 2008 at 4:22 PM

Our enemies are tiny compared to us, says Obama. There’s no need to worry. And yet he and his fellow Libs were quick to declare our defeat in Iraq, despite our overwhelming military budget.
This guy is way out of his depth.

btw what was Timothy McVeigh’s budget? Or Ted Bundy’s? Much less than the state, federal and local law enforcement agencies.

infidel65 on May 20, 2008 at 4:26 PM

where is the 60 second youtube of Barack’s commercial bragging about the severity of cuts he will make in defense spending??

I haven’t seen that since last year.

EJDolbow on May 20, 2008 at 5:13 PM

This man must work for the enemies of the US.

http://mpinkeyes.wordpress.com/2008/02/24/video-barack-obamas-scary-national-defense-policy/

EJDolbow on May 20, 2008 at 5:15 PM

Obama does not understand the threat of a terrorist state handing off WMD’s to terrorists for the use of attacking us..(That would absolve Iran from blame)

He isn’t fit to be Commander-in-Chief, at this time.

Chakra Hammer on May 20, 2008 at 5:15 PM

btw what was Timothy McVeigh’s budget? Or Ted Bundy’s? Much less than the state, federal and local law enforcement agencies.

infidel65 on May 20, 2008 at 4:26 PM

What was William Ayres budget?

Chakra Hammer on May 20, 2008 at 5:16 PM

He is going to cut Billions of dollars spent defending this country and spend TRILLIONS more giving money to fat and lazy americans who won’t do for themselves.

At that rate America should be ripe for invasion in a few short years.

EJDolbow on May 20, 2008 at 5:18 PM

Norm from Tucson called into the Limbaugh show and made the perfect point: Obama does not lead. Obama is not a leader. Obama is led by those around him.

It’s true. Obama is completely malleable. He is Michelle’s Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Barker (circus) Barack
Gumby (you only thought I said Hussein)
Obama(choose me and like magic I’ll make YOU change)

maverick muse on May 20, 2008 at 5:20 PM

Hinderaker at Power Line asked the truly relevant question yesterday:

Can someone explain why it is, exactly, that Barack Obama is not a laughingstock?

I mean, seriously, this wasn’t just a misstatement, he actually spent a couple of minutes explaining his reasoning, and his reasoning gave us astonishingly clear data proving that Obama does not understand history AT ALL. His head is completely empty. He’s less perceptive than the guys I hung out with in college. He knows NOTHING.

philwynk on May 20, 2008 at 5:33 PM

If someone’s covered this already, I apologize. Haven’t read the thread yet.

I’m pissed.

I saw obambi on FNC a little while ago and he kept repeating that it has been Bush’s failed policies in the last 8 years that is directly responsible for iran getting stronger.

I wonder why no one is hammering this freshman idiot on the fact that the EU3 tried negotiations with iran for 3 friggin’ years, (you know, Bush changed his diplomacy stance and encouraged our allies to step up in a multilateral fashion to address the situation… something lefties were screaming about because of our ‘unilateral’ decision to go to war with saddam), with the only result being iran getting even more defiant and closer to having a nuclear weapon?

Does obambi actually believe that he’s going to make more progress than the EU3?

And the things he says he’ll do… They’re exactly the same thing as we’ve been doing all along, even though he insists his ‘strategy’ is something new. It’s maddening.

This guy is dangerously naive. He must be defeated in November. He will be a complete disaster for the U.S. and the already shakey safety and security of the entire world.

techno_barbarian on May 20, 2008 at 5:46 PM

I’ll bet BO’s “potential common interests” with Iran are many.

jgapinoy on May 20, 2008 at 5:57 PM

Obama has perfected the art of “just words” spin.

onlineanalyst on May 20, 2008 at 7:35 PM

The key words that the Dems use, regardless of the issue, are “Bush failed policy”. Thus, any Google reference bringing that incantation to the fore is supposed to be interpreted as fact.

A winning strategy is to turn the phrase back on the Dems and on Obama in particular; ie., “Obama’s failed policy” based on faulty historical knowledge, flawed understanding of economics, cluelessness on defense and intelligence matters, etc. Then follow through with the details of what makes his “policy” — whatever it is from day to day– flawed and dangerous.

Obama lies with statistics and bamboozles his base.

onlineanalyst on May 20, 2008 at 7:52 PM

I hate the term “asymmetric warfare.” It’s nothing more than a “sexy” word used by conventional thinking people to describe a type of war that is thought different, yet really is not. All war is asymmetrical. Unless one wishes to lose, you have to consider the terrain (in terms of people, organizations, and the physical), composition and disposition of the enemy, time available, and perform a cost-benefit analysis of the target itself in terms of the accessibility of the target, how easily the enemy can recover, and the physical and psychological impact of an operation. These considerations, as are OCOKA, METT-TC, ASCOPE, and the principles of war, are all used during so-called “conventional” and “unconventional” warfare. As Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” You measure up your opponent then shoot for the weak points however you can.
It’s obvious that Obama sees warfare in terms of arithmetic, rather than an art and science. It’s ironic that this discussion revolves around Iran and the West. Leonidas had far fewer troops, whom the Iranian King, Xerxes, figured he could easily destroy with his 150,000-250,000 troops. History tells us the Persians won a Pyhrric victory. War is not that simple when you consider things such as, in the case of Thermopylae, terrain and the training of the enemy. For a more modern example, look at how the Afghans, with clandestine American aid, defeated a better trained, better equipped Soviet Army. Why? Better use of terrain, greater aid of the population in terms of logistics and intelligence, etc. How about Operation Restore Hope? Though we killed far more than they did, we left without victory. Why? How? It’s obvious Obama does not understand such things.
It’s amazing that a prospective leader of the free world would not understand such basic concepts of warfare.

Send_Me on May 20, 2008 at 9:12 PM

Ed, since I’m in the mood to pick nits, you wrote the following.

For all of the trillions spent by both the Soviets and the Americans during the forty-plus years of the Cold War, not one civilian death resulted from an attack by either side.

That ignores Korean Airlines flights 007 and 902 which totaled 271 dead between them.

Fritz J. on May 21, 2008 at 9:30 AM