A new poll shows that Americans today are more afraid of Iran than they were of the USSR in 1985, a peak of the Cold War. Worth a read.
So why do Americans see Iran today as a threat on par with the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s? In a Foreign Affairs piece arguing that the U.S. is safer than either Americans or U.S. policymakers think, Zenko and Michael Cohen suggest three reasons:The disparity between foreign threats and domestic threat-mongering results from a confluence of factors. The most obvious and important is electoral politics. Hyping dangers serves the interests of both political parties.
Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests. The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government — defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.
There is also a pernicious feedback loop at work. Because of the chronic exaggeration of the threats facing the United States, Washington overemphasizes military approaches to problems (including many that could best be solved by nonmilitary means). The militarization of foreign policy leads, in turn, to further dark warnings about the potentially harmful effects of any effort to rebalance U.S. national security spending or trim the massive military budget-warnings that are inevitably bolstered by more threat exaggeration.