While most of the civilized world is taking grim satisfaction from the news about the latest Iranian nuclear scientist to turn up dead, predictably, the hard left is outraged. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald is particularly upset because he recalls that when Glenn Reynolds wrote in 2007 to urge the Bush administration to strike out at the Iranians in this fashion, the suggestion was widely denounced–at least on the left. But though Greenwald is unhappy about the fact that Americans view the possibility their government or its allies are taking out those behind Tehran’s nuclear program, he isn’t shy about labeling it as terrorism. As far as he is concerned, if the U.S. or Israel are behind the killings, then both are “terrorist states” and President Obama may be a “a terrorist, a state sponsor of terrorism or, at the very least, a supporter of terrorism.”
But you need a particular form of moral myopia not to see that heading off a potential second Holocaust in the form of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel or the nuclear blackmail of the rest of the Middle East is not a form of terrorism. Anyone who believes Iran should be allowed to proceed toward the building of a nuclear bomb has either lost their moral compass or is so steeped in the belief that American and Israeli interests are inherently unjustified they have reversed the moral equation in this case. Rather than the alleged U.S. and Israeli covert operators being called terrorists, it is the Iranian scientists who are the criminals. They must be stopped before they kill.
As far as Greenwald is concerned, the fact that we are not currently at war with Iran renders any attacks on those aiding its effort to build a nuclear weapon illegal, if not outright terrorism. It may be that international law may not necessarily deem preemptive strikes to halt an illegal action — such as Iran’s nuclear efforts — as strictly legal. But the question here is whether it is within President Obama’s power under the Constitution to defend the United States and its allies to order operations that would avert a dangerous and possibly catastrophic development such as putting nuclear weapons into the hands of Iran’s ayatollahs. The argument that the United States must sit back and wait to see if the Iranians succeed in achieving their nuclear ambitions ignores the fact that Iran is a rogue state whose own support of international terrorism has placed it outside the law.
Just as we commonly state that democracy is not a suicide pact, neither is international law. States can and must act, sometimes preemptively, to defend their interests as well as the lives of their citizens. The most immoral thing either Barack Obama or Benjamin Netanyahu could do would be to abide by Greenwald’s notion of the legal niceties rather than to act to stop the Islamist state. It is far from clear covert activities such as assassinations of Iranian scientists or computer viruses will be enough to halt the threat. But the alternatives — either acquiescing to a nuclear Iran or contemplating massive military action — are far less palatable and will certainly result in far more bloodshed. Therefore, the targeted killings of those engaged in the development of this terrible threat is the least destructive option open to either the U.S. or Israel.