The New York Times gets unhinged today over Venezuela’s reported increase in military spending last year. As usual, you have to read Simon Romero’s story carefully to figure out what’s really going on.
First of all, the spending increase estimates come from the Pentagon, which severed military relations with Venezuela a couple years back. So the numbers come from Bush Administration “intelligence.” Yeesh. I mean we know they’re super-duper careful at analyzing things like arms purchases, WMD and yellowcake, so they’ve got to be accurate and not exaggerated or politicized on this one, right? But let’s assume for the sake of argument that they are spot on.
Romero says that the Venezuela’s military spending was “up 12.5 percent in 2006.” Fascinatingly, that’s almost exactly equal to last years 12% increase in GDP. So as a percentage of the overall economy—you know, the way you actually measure the size of a military—Venezuela’s budget hasn’t really increased much at all.
But here’s where it goes from schlock reporting to outright crazy-panic: Romero writes that Venezuela’s spending puts it “ahead of other major purchasers in international arms markets like Pakistan and Iran.” You know, because those are the countries you are supposed to think about when you get nervous about the state of the world. Of course, when you make a relevant comparison, like to other Latin American countries, Venezuela’s spending (as a percent of GDP) remains lower than Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia (!), Uruguay, Brazil and Peru. The VIO has done a couple of nice charts on this.
Of course, this was a Big New York Times Story, so the content, mistakes and all, are going to dominate the Venezuela discussion, like forever. And of course the New York Times syndicates crap like this and sends it to smaller papers around the country. Already today, there is a telling version of the story in Vermont’s tiny Barre Montpelier Times Argus. It’s got a spiffy new headline (“Venezuela arms spending highest in Latin America”), which is simply false, but the funny part is that they forgot to delete the NYT’s “trimming” notes, which explain to local editors what to cut when pressed for space. Take a look at the recommend trims: Leave in all the panic, fellas, but feel free to delete any of the context.