Threat Hyperinflation at Centcom

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Buried in this New York Timesreport is a very revealing detail about the current head of Central Command, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, and his absurdly exaggerated view of Iranian power:

Military planners are also advancing the idea of deploying more American forces to the region without taking direct action against Iran. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, has pushed to send additional troops to the region, senior military officials said.

In meetings and in memos, the general has argued that the United States should view Iran as a great power or near-peer threat [bold mine-DL], much as the Trump administration’s formal national security strategy views China, Russia and North Korea.

McKenzie is an alarmist Iran hawk, and that is why he was so well-received when he delivered a speech to the extremely anti-Iranian and poorly-named Foundation for Defense of Democracies earlier this year. As Mark Perry observed earlier today, McKenzie has an incentive as head of Centcom to distort the threat from Iran to make it seem much more important than it really is:

One of the more ridiculous aspects of our Iran policy debate is the Iran hawks’ habit of acting as unwitting propagandists for the Iranian government. Iranian hard-liners have nothing on their American counterparts when it comes to overstating how powerful and influential the Iranian government is. While Iranian hard-liners might aspire to have greater regional influence than they do, our hard-liners take their imminent regional domination as a given. If Gen. McKenzie had his way, Iran would be viewed as an equal with some of the world’s major powers. Because the official national security strategy talks about the “return” of great power competition, I guess Iran hawks feel the need to pretend that Iran is a great power to justify the absurdly disproportionate amount of time and resources they want to devote to opposing them. This is nothing but threat hyperinflation, and it makes it practically impossible to take seriously anything else that the general has to say.

The reality is that Iran is a medium-sized regional power with limited means to project power and absolutely no ability to dominate the region. For a senior military officer to claim they are a “near-peer” of the United States is preposterous, and it shows how badly the obsession with Iran warps Americans’ perceptions.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.