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“Superpower?”

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I don’t want to interrupt Jeffrey Goldberg’s hand-wringing, but this really stood out:

Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal.

Really? We’re calling Iran a regional superpower now? Here’s some quick data on Middle East defense spending:

Saudi Arabia: $33.1 billion
Israel: $12.1 billion
Turkey: $11.6 billion
Syria: $6.3 billion
Iran: $6.1 billion

Now, it’s obvious that defense spending isn’t the entire issue; I doubt that anyone would take seriously the idea that Saudi Arabia is militarily superior to Israel. Nevertheless, the term “superpower” rather conveys “super” “power”; it seems odd that a regional “superpower” such as Iran gets outspent by four other regional countries. Does this make Saudi Arabia a regional “superpower”? Maybe Goldberg means “superpower” in some way that doesn’t actually reference the superness of a country’s power? This would be odd, given that the term came into common usage when there were two “super” “powers”, each of whom dwarfed any other potential competitors in total defense spending. Perhaps the nuclear weapons are doing the work here, although that would also be odd since he clearly uses “with a nuclear arsenal” as a modifier to “superpower”. Or perhaps Jeffrey Goldberg just really isn’t all that thoughtful about the Middle East balance of power…

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