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July 03, 2012

This Week In Threat-Mongering - The Iran Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

750734_origSo this year I again missed the Aspen Ideas Festival; and it's a bit of a shame. Had I gone I would have been deeply reassured (once again) about the extraordinarily safe global security environment in which the United States resides.

Case in point: this little nugget from Nicholas Burns -- a former under secretary of state for political affairs at State Department, U.S. ambassador to NATO and State Department spokesman. Burns is a pretty bright guy and highly respected. Still in a discussion with Jeff Goldberg, Burns was asked who the United States' number-one adversary in the world is, Burns's reply: "Iran."

Goldberg responded, "No doubt in your mind?" Burns said, "None."

Whew, now that is a relief! If Burns is correct that Iran is America's number one adversary in the world then truly the United States has little to worry about. Iran is a second rate military power, lacks an active nuclear program, is deeply isolated in the Middle East, has a poorly performing economy and has few allies or friends. In short, Iran is the hottest of hot messes.

Let's consider for example, Iran's military. Clearly is Iran is America's number one adversary it must mean they have a fearsome and dangerous armed forces . . . well, not exactly. This according to Tony Cordesman:

Iran is sometimes described as the “Hegemon of the Gulf,” but it is a comparatively weak conventional military power with limited modernization since the Iran–Iraq War. It depends heavily on weapons acquired by the shah. Most key equipment in its army, navy and air force are obsolete or relatively low quality imports. Iran now makes some weapons, but production rates are limited and Tehran often exaggerates about its weapons designs. Its forces are not organized or trained to project significant power across the Gulf. Its land forces are not structured to project power deep into a neighboring state like Iraq or to deal with U.S. air-to-ground capabilities.

Scary! Here's more from IISS on Iran's military capabilities. What about Iran's economy? Indeed, it's deeply ironic that at the same time Burns was sternly warning the gathered hoi polloi in Aspen about the threat from Iran comes this news from the New York Times:

Bedeviled by government mismanagement of the economy and international sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran is in the grip of spiraling inflation, which threatens to worsen with the imposition on Sunday of new international measures aimed at cutting Iran’s oil exports, its main source of income. With the local currency, the rial, having lost 50 percent of its value in the last year against other currencies, prices are rising fast — officially by 25 percent annually, but even more than that, economists say.

Distorted by inflation, Iran’s economy increasingly centers on speculation. In this evolving casino, the winners seize opportunities to make quick money on currency plays, while the losers watch their wealth and savings evaporate almost overnight.

At first glance Tehran, the political and economical engine of Iran, is the thriving metropolis it has long been, where in 2011 Porsche sold more cars than anywhere else in the Middle East. City parks are immaculately maintained, and streetlights are rarely broken. Supermarkets and stores brim with imported products, and homeless people are a rare sight on its streets.

But Iran’s diminishing ability to sell oil under sanctions, falling foreign currency reserves and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s erratic economic policies have combined to create an atmosphere in which citizens, banks, businesses and state institutions have started fending for themselves.

What's most interesting about Iran's economic woes is that it's only partially due to sanctions - the other factor is Iran's economic mismanagement. So we're dealing with a country that has a weak military, few capabilities for projecting power, a political leadership that is driving its economy into the ground and growing diplomatic isolation.

Again, if this is America's number one adversary . . . things are looking pretty good.

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