Ted Koppel returned from a recent visit to Tehran where, he reports, he was the subject of a credit card scam. Oddly, he came back eager to be deceived by the Iranian government too. He proposes on the NY Times op-ed pages on 2 October that the U.S. stop trying to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Instead, he says, we should tell the Iranian mullahs that if a “dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee, or some other nuclear device detonates in Baltimore or Wichita, if Israel or Egypt or Saudi Arabia should fall victim to a ‘nuclear accident,’…the U.S. will not search around for the perpetrator. The return address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran.”
The idea is silly and dangerous. Most citizens of Milwaukee, Baltimore and Wichita would rather be protected against such an event than used as human deterrents. Moreover, the deterrent value of such a threat is dubious. What if other groups—like al-Qaeda—come to possess weapons of mass destruction, and use them? Should U.S. policy hold Iranian citizens responsible for what al-Qaeda does? Would it be just at all to incinerate Iranians who have little control over their rulers’ foreign policy? Would religious fanatics like Ahmadinejad, who like the idea of martyrdom, be deterred by Koppel’s threat—or might they actually be encouraged? Applying this hang-them-all approach to common criminals, would Koppel also urge police to allow criminals to kill and rob, but remind them “we have your address and will blow up your apartment building if a crime occurs that matches your m.o.?”
Trying to stop the Iranian mullahs from developing or using nuclear weapons by promising that the U.S. government would bomb Iran without seeking to identify the attacker if a weapon of mass destruction were used against Americans is unjust, destructive of effective foreign policy, and meaningless to rulers who see death in a holy war as a good thing. The mullahs may have been amused by Koppel’s suggestion, but probably not people in Milwaukee, Baltimore and Wichita.
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