On budgeting and asymmetrical threats

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.