Revolutionaries of the international system

The Shire 

In a week when President Bush has taken to describing the stakes in his confrontation with Iran as “World War III”, and Vice President Cheney warning Iran of “serious consequences” (one of the key phrases in the march to war against Iraq) if it “stays on its present course”, it’s worth reading Fareed Zakaria’s latest Newsweek column:

The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism.” For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

All true, and well said. But something in the construction of Zakaria’s sentences intrigues me. In the second paragraph he sets up a powerful argument based on a structure of parallelism: sentences 2 and 3 tell us about the size of Iran’s economy and its defense budget, and about that country’s propensity to invade others. Likewise, sentence 4 tells us about the size of the U.S. economy and its defense budget, while sentence 5… Oh wait. Sentence 5 talks about alliances against Iran. Zakaria has failed to complete the parallel construction with an observation of the United States’ propensity to invade others. Now, I won’t speculate as to why this might be — I frankly can’t imagine why the readers of Newsweek would find such an observation off-putting — but as a good Samaritan I can at least attempt to complete it for him.

Maybe “attempt” is too humble a word, for it’s really quite easy: “The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. It has not invaded a country since 2003.” Hmmm. It’s structurally perfect, but somehow it fails to help the reader properly compare the records of both the United States and Iran — after all, if in its entire history the United States invaded only Iraq, its score for the time period defined as late-18th-century-to-early 21st-century would be 1, which of course is only 1 worse than Iran’s score of zero. Knowing America’s true score is important, so let’s compare.

Iranian offensive actions against other countries since late 1700s (according to Zakaria):

  • None

American offensive actions against other countries since late 1700s (selected examples only, based on data posted by the U.S. Naval Historical Center and Reed & Wright’s U.S. Military Chronology):

  • 1806: Invasion of Mexico
  • 1810: Invasion of West Florida (Spanish territory)
  • 1812: Invasion of East Florida (Spanish territory)
  • 1812: Invasion of Canada (British territory)
  • 1813: Invasion of West Florida (Spanish territory)
  • 1816: Invasion of remainder of the Floridas
  • 1818: Seizure of the Oregon territory
  • 1854: Bombardment of Nicaragua
  • 1857: Seizure of Utah territory 
  • 1866: Raid into Mexico
  • 1866: Punitive attack on China
  • 1867: Partial occupation of Nicaragua
  • 1867: Punitive attack on Formosa
  • 1871: Punitive attack on Korea
  • 1893: Invasion of Hawaii
  • 1898: War against Spain
  • 1899: Invasion of the Philippine Islands
  • 1906: Invasion of Cuba
  • 1918: Invasion of Russia
  • 1926: Invasion of Nicaragua
  • 1961: Invasion of Cuba (by proxy) 
  • 1965: Invasion of Dominican Republic
  • 1970: Invasion of Cambodia
  • 1983: Invasion of Grenada
  • 1986: Bombardment of Libya
  • 1989: Invasion of Panama
  • 1998: Bombardment of Afghanistan and Sudan
  • 1999: Bombardment of Yugoslavia
  • 1993-2001: Bombardment of Iraq (various occasions)
  • 2001: Invasion of Afghanistan
  • 2003: Invasion of Iraq

As of this year, the score stands at United States: 31, Iran: zip. Given this record, the only thing Cheney should be able to accuse the Iranians of is geopolitical lethargy.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Affairs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s