September 30, 2012

At last, the legality of an attack on Iran has entered the debate thanks to the excellent column by Jeffrey H. Smith and John B. Bellinger III [“Is it legal to hit Iran?,” Washington Forum, Sept. 28]. The United States has long claimed to seek a world ruled by law; the authors reminded us that preventive wars raise serious legal issues.

A second neglected question is the morality of an attack. The United States launched a preventive war in 2003, resulting in 5,000 U.S. deaths and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties. Are we really going to do this again, only 10 years later? No one knows the consequences of an attack on Iran, particularly what would happen when above-ground facilities housing uranium and uranium hexafluoride gas are destroyed. Most likely, an attack would kill thousands of Iranians and hundreds of Americans. At worst, the attack could lead to a new continuing war in the Middle East with unknowable, but certainly tragic, consequences. How dare we contemplate such an action? Has the United States lost its moral compass, as well as its respect for international law?

The one good thing about this situation is that it points out the utter uselessness of nuclear weapons. Israel has a robust and survivable nuclear deterrent. And, yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not believe Israel could deter an Iran with even one nuclear weapon. If Israel’s nuclear weapons can’t deter Iran, of what possible use are they, other than to encourage others to seek similarly useless, but dangerous, capabilities? Call me perplexed.

Barry Blechman, Washington

The writer is the co-founder of the Stimson Center.