Home/Daniel Larison/Yes, Iran Is a Much Smaller Threat Than the USSR

Yes, Iran Is a Much Smaller Threat Than the USSR

Thomas Sowell writes:

From the beginning, Barack Obama has tried to downplay the threat of a nuclear Iran. At one time he said dismissively that Iran was just “a small country.”

In fact, Iran is physically larger than Japan, and its current population is slightly larger than what the population of Japan was when the Japanese dealt a devastating blow to the United States with its attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

A nuclear Iran can do a lot more damage to Israel than the Japanese did to the United States. Moreover, it is well on its way to being able to produce more than the two bombs that were enough to force Japan to surrender in 1945.

First of all, Iran can’t do more damage to Israel, because Israel has a far more powerful military and a nuclear deterrent that would discourage Iran from launching a major assault on Israel. Japanese foreign policy in the 1930s and 1940s was aimed at massive territorial expansion to secure natural resources and establish itself as one of the great powers. Iran’s ambitions for regional influence are far more modest, and it is nowhere near as powerful or dangerous as imperial Japan was. Iran hasn’t yet started building any nuclear weapons, and even if it did it wouldn’t use them against Israel, since the Iranian government knows that this would invite devastating nuclear retaliation. Even if Iran might be entertaining the idea of going the same route as imperial Japan, Japan’s total defeat in WWII would be a compelling argument against doing so.

Obama’s reference to Iran as a “tiny country” was made as part of a comparison of Iran and other minor nuisance states to the USSR. The point that Obama was making then, which apparently can’t be emphasized enough, is that the threat from Iran and these other states is minuscule compared to the Soviet threat. Obama said:

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.

This is such a commonplace, uncontroversial observation that there’s almost nothing more to say about it. Of course the threat from Iran is much smaller than the one posed by the USSR. For that matter, the threat from Iran is much smaller than the one posed by imperial Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. Iran is not an expansionist empire or a superpower, its military is far weaker than that of the U.S., and it aspires to be nothing more than a regional power.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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