Tuesday, April 25, 2023

MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan's bizarre apologia for Iranian militarism

Mehdi Hasan of MSNBC tweeted:

I bet most Americans don’t have a clue that Iran spends a third of what Israel spends on the military and less than a *tenth* of what Saudi Arabia spends. And yet the Iranians are continually presented as an scary military threat to both their neighbors and to us - to justify even more military spending. 🤦🏽‍♂️
He then links to a list of military spending for various countries based on SIPRI's database:

Middle East largest Military Spenders:
1- Saudi Arabia, $75 billion (5th globally)
2- Israel, $23.4 billion
3- Qatar, $15.4 billion 
4- Turkey, $10.6 billion
5- Algeria, $9.1 billion 
6- Kuwait, $8.2 billion
7- Iran, $6.8 billion
8- Oman, $5.8 billion

First of all, there is a seeming contradiction between the SIPRI figures listed here and on their website with how the World Bank interprets the SIPRI numbers. I cannot explain it, but according to the World Bank, Iran spends slightly more than Israel on the military this year:

Clearly, there is a lot of information missing here. The World Bank is not making up numbers out of thin air.

But that is a minor issue. SIPRI necessarily uses different methods to estimate its figures, and it says explicitly on its website:

In practice it is not possible to apply this definition for all countries, and in many cases SIPRI is confined to using the national data provided. Priority is then given to the choice of a uniform definition over time for each country in order to achieve consistency over time, rather than to adjusting the figures for single years according to a common definition. In the light of these difficulties, military expenditure data is most appropriately used for comparisons over time, and may be less suitable for close comparison between individual countries.   

Even that misses the point, though. 

Military spending has no relationship with how much of a threat a country is to the world.

North Korea's military budget is much smaller than Portugal's, according to another analysis of these databases. Does that make it less dangerous?

Developing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems is much, much less expensive than building a robust missile defense system that can shoot those nuclear-tipped missiles down. 

Iran directly funds international terror groups. I don't know whether those expenditures are considered "military" by SIPRI but they exist - both Iran and the recipients of their cash brag about this support. 

Iran directly pays for military installations in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. Isn't that a better definition of being a threat than military expense statistics that get filtered through an opaque process dependent on Iran telling the truth to begin with.

Iran is actively working on a military nuclear weapons program, and also on building missiles that could carry those bombs to not only Israel but much of Europe. 

And Iran directly threatens its opponents, literally every day. It threatens to flatten Tel Aviv. Its Hezbollah proxy threatens to attack Israeli chemical plants to poison millions. If a nation publicly threatens to destroy another nation militarily and to kill its civilians, that makes it a military threat by definition. 

Looking at contradictory military budget numbers is a bizarre metric to use when the nation itself makes direct threats.

Which brings up the question of why Hasan Mehdi feels that he has to write apologetics for the would be genocidal leaders of Iran?

Probably because he shares their desires.

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