Steve Sailer, from the American Conservative, has joined the ongoing effort to wish the United States' Iran problem away. Sailer writes:
That Iran's GDP is about 1/20th of ours, that their installed base of post-1978 aircraft and tanks is paltry, that they have virtually no offensive capability to seize territory where the local population doesn't support them, and that they have been spending a no higher percentage of their limited GDP on their military than we spend (and possibly less), suggests Iran is not a major threat to conquer the Middle East. This is as if bored New York sportswriters, following, say, a collapse by the large market Boston Red Sox, got into a frenzy over the long term threat to Yankee dominance posed by the small-market Kansas City Royals. Well, it wouldn't happen on the sports pages, because baseball fans know the numbers and the pundits would get laughed at by their own readers.
There's a lot to disagree with in this; let's begin with his baseball analogy.
Forget about the KC Royals. Iran is more like the Oakland Athletics. As Michael Lewis explained in Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Oakland's GM Billy Beane manages a minuscule budget compared to, say, the Yankees. Yet, he has succeeded in creating a winning franchise. Sure, Oakland poses no long-term threat to the Steinbrenner empire, but they certainly pose problems in the short term, partly because of shrewd decisions by management but also because they're in a weak division.
On to Iran: That Iran is no match for the United States in a conventional war does not mean that the threat they pose is being overblown. With their piffling military budget, Iran funds Hezbollah, a terrorist organ that, prior to 9/11, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group on the planet. Iran also funds Shiite death squads in Iraq and their regional policy consists of encouraging destabilization and sectarian warfare. Iran is proof that it is a lot easier (and cheaper) to create a mess than to clean it up.
Second, that Iran's GDP is insignificant compared to the United States shouldn't obscure us from the fact that a nuclear bomb is the great equalizer, and that Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology greatly magnifies the threat that their military budget would otherwise pose if restricted to conventional weapons.