Glengarry Glenn Greenwald

At Salon, the award-winning liberal pundit and “former Constitutional and civil rights litigator” Glenn Greenwald attacks my previous post, “Lessons About Iran from Hitler,” in the usual manner of litigators and land salesmen: distract the jury from the substance of the matter by seizing upon an irrelevant detail and portraying it out of context. The McGuffin in Mr. Greenwald’s courtroom mummery is Iran’s military budget, which “Mr. Goldman is flagging as proof of Iran’s aggressive intentions: ‘Iran is planning to double its defense budget even though its currency is collapsing,'” he warns. Mr. Greenwald then adapts the celebrated Alec Baldwin monologue that opens Glenngarry Glen Ross (“That watch costs more than your car!”) to show that Iran’s military spending is negligible next to America’s:

That Ahmadinejad claims that Iran will increase its military budget for next year by 127% was widely reported this week. For a variety of reasons relating to Iran’s economic difficulties, that plan is quite infeasible — typical Ahmadinejad blustering — but let’s assume for the moment that it will actually happen. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Military Expenditure Database, Iran’s total annual military spending is $7 billion; an increase of 127% would take it to $15.8 billion — also known as: less than 2% of total U.S. military spending (which was $698 billion for fiscal year 2010).

An entirely different question occupied my post, which Mr. Greenwald says disrupted the tranquility of his Saturday morning:  “Will sanctions persuade Iran to stop building nuclear weapons?” I concluded that “it is more likely that the Obama administration’s graduated sanctions will accelerate Tehran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” The absolute size of Iran’s military spending is irrelevant to this calculation; the point, rather, is that the sanctions give Iran’s government a near-term advantage: “Iran is planning to double its defense budget even though its currency is collapsing. These are related events: in the medium term, the free-fall of Iran’s rial constitutes a transfer of wealth to the government from what remains of Iran’s private sector.” Over time, of course, the advantage turns into an economic disaster, which narrows Iran’s window of opportunity and thus creates an objective incentive to acquire “game-changing” nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.

Mr. Greenwald derides the “ludicrous claims about the Grave Iranian Threat” from the Obama administration, among other sources, and cannot bring himself to discuss the efficacy of sanctions, given that he considers the threat to be “ludicrous” to begin with. He would rather talk about something else, in the manner of litigators and land salesmen. The trouble is in that part of the world, first prize is, you get to compete for first prize once again; second prize is, you’re dead. To adopt another tagline: Why take chances?