Zombie Redshirt wrote:
The impression that the Cardassians weren't a major power comes from how easily the Klingons beat them in DS9 season 4. One assumes the Federation would be able to do this too. That they had to join the Dominion to be taken seriously militarily also lends weight to this. The Border War that look place before TNG grays things a bit but I like to think the Federation just didn't put all their effort into it and settled for a doctrine of containment rather than defeating them.
Plus there's one federation starship beating the snot out of them in the Wounded and Jellico believing the Enterprise could take on 12 Galors in Chain of Command.