No, this isn't about the Super Bowl. It's about something much less important. (Or so it increasingly seems.)
Charles Krauthammer waxes strategic in the Washington Post:
Which is why the fate of the Assad regime [in Syria] is geopolitically crucial. ... But strategic opportunity compounds the urgency. With its archipelago of clients anchored by Syria, Iran is today the greatest regional threat — to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states terrified of Iranian nuclear hegemony; to traditional regimes menaced by Iranian jihadist subversion; to Israel, which the Islamic Republic has pledged to annihilate; to America and the West, whom the mullahs have vowed to drive from the region.
No surprise that the Arab League, many of whose members are no tenderhearted humanitarians, is pressing hard for Assad’s departure. His fall would deprive Iran of an intra-Arab staging area and sever its corridor to the Mediterranean. Syria would return to the Sunni fold. Hezbollah, Tehran’s agent in Lebanon, could be next, withering on the vine without Syrian support and Iranian materiel. And Hamas would revert to Egyptian patronage.
At the end of this causal chain, Iran, shorn of key allies and already reeling from economic sanctions over its nuclear program, would be thrown back on its heels. ... It’s not just the Sunni Arabs lining up against Assad. Turkey, after a recent flirtation with a Syrian-Iranian-Turkish entente, has turned firmly against Assad, seeing an opportunity to extend its influence, as in Ottoman days, as protector/master of the Sunni Arabs. The alignment of forces suggests a unique opportunity for the West to help finish the job. ... Force the issue. Draw bright lines. Make clear American solidarity with the Arab League against a hegemonic Iran and its tottering Syrian client.
Krauthammer is an amazing man. He graduated on time with his class at Harvard Medical School despite being paralyzed for life during his studies.
As you'll recall, a decade ago, Krauthammer was banging the war drums for overthrowing the anti-Iranian Sunni Arab regime in Iraq. We invaded Iraq and handed the country over to Shi'ites whose leaders had gone into exile in Iran. So, Krauthammer has helped empower Iranian hegemony, which is why I guess we should listen to him now on the need to fight Iranian hegemony.
But, here's a question: Exactly, how harmed are you by the extension of Iranian influence over Iraq that Krauthammer helped bring about? Let me make clear I'm not talking about the trillions of dollars wasted invading Iraq and all the dead and crippled. I'm just asking here about the outcome: many of Iran's favorite Iraqis coming to power in Iraq. Obviously, in the Great Game it's an absurd and humiliating own goal for America.
But, what are the tangible harms to Americans of greater Iranian influence? I really don't know. Are we paying more at the pump for gas? Have the Iranians used the power that Krauthammer helped hand them to corner the global pistachio nut market?
If greater Iranian influence is as big a disaster for Americans as Krauthammer makes it sound in this column, then surely Krauthammer would have been fired from his gig at the Washington Post. Instead, everybody in Washington acts like Krauthammer just got his Super Bowl prediction wrong. No biggie.
Maybe they are right.
In the real world, more and more decisionmakers in other countries are just kind of checking out of this whole Great Game thing. Consider Iran. In Krauthammer's fevered imagination, Iran is a dynamic hegemon, but according to the CIA World Factbook, Iran is 62nd in the world in terms of military spending as percentage of GDP at 2.50 percent as of 2006.
Yes, but, what is Iranian military spending at today, you ask? I dunno. Why not? Because the CIA has barely updated its entire list in about a half of a decade. For example, according to the CIA's listing, the United States is 23rd in the world at 4.06 percent for "2005 est."
Presumably, somebody at Langley has a number for the U.S. that's less than seven years old (I hope), but there just doesn't seem to be much demand from the public or the press for fresher figures.
There are, as far as I can tell, no military spending moneyballers poring over this table to discover crucial trends. Fewer and fewer people care about the Great Game. Of those who do, an ever-increasing fraction live within the home delivery circulation zone of the Washington Post.
If you were an Iranian subscriber to the Post who works at Iran's "Interests Section" inside the Pakistani embassy in Washington, what would be your considered judgment? What would you report home to Tehran after reading the Post day after day? I think you'd end up saying: "We can't compete with the Krauthammers. They are better than us at putting together words. Therefore we can't guarantee that the ruling class in Washington won't work itself into another frenzy like it did in 2003 and do something stupid. So, we'd better get ourselves a few nukes as a deterrent."
Map from Juan Cole.