Actions speak louder than words.
That’s the message Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson apparently was trying to convey when he suggested dropping a nuclear warhead in the Iranian desert to demonstrate American resolve in curtailing that nation’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
No, really, he did: Speaking during a forum at Yeshiva University in New York City, Adelson told the audience President Barack Obama’s attempts to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions were weak.
“There’s nothing to negotiate,” Adelson said. “What I would say is, ‘You see that desert out there? I want to show you something.’ You pick up your cellphone … and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK, let it go.’ So there’s an atomic weapon goes over ballistic missiles in the middle of the desert that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever. And then you say, ‘See? The next one is in the middle of Tehran.’
“So we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it and we will guarantee you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes.”
Adelson’s spokesman, Ron Reese, later told the Review-Journal’s Steve Tetreault that Adelson “was obviously not speaking literally,” and that he was “using hyperbole to make a point that … actions speak louder than words.”
Now, even if you put Adelson’s bombast up to his steadfast support for Israel and his obvious belief that the Obama administration has been insufficiently aggressive with Iran, the comment is disconcerting at best. Adelson is not just a regular person; according to OpenSecrets.org, he and his wife, Miriam, were the country’s top individual donors during the 2012 election cycle, with at least $92.7 million given to candidates and organizations nationwide. Adelson, who backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, was literally a checkbook away from the presidency!
Not only will Adelson’s remark come back to haunt him — Democrats will delight in asking Adelson beneficiaries if they, too, believe in first-strike demonstrations of American nuclear might as a negotiation tactic — but they could also play a role in global diplomacy, should an Adelson-backed candidate ever win the White House. “President’s top donor threatens murder of 8 million unless nuke program stops” is not a calming headline in the Middle East.
Also, even the smallest American nuclear weapon would cause environmental devastation far beyond a snake-and-scorpion infested Iranian desert, a fact Nevadans know from the above-ground tests conducted decades ago not far from Las Vegas.
Adelson is known for a lot of things, not all of them good: his antipathy toward organized labor, his litigiousness, his combative political views. Less well-known are his charitable endeavors: he flies wounded American service members to The Venetian for all-expenses-paid vacations; he supports the Adelson Medical Research Fund; and he has put $160 million toward Birthright Israel, a group that flies young Jewish people to the Holy Land to reconnect with their roots. Adelson’s family owns the largest newspaper in that country — Israel Today — although Adelson himself is not involved in its day-to-day management.
It was that love of Israel that obviously prompted his remarks at Yeshiva University — remarks that were interrupted by applause from the audience. Adelson and most residents of Israel are frightened by the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. In fact, we all should be. Fundamentalism does not mix well with fission and fusion weapons. And if we can keep anybody else from joining the small club of nuclear-armed nations, that would be a grand thing.
But we don’t do that by firing nuclear warning shots, which could easily start the war that Adelson and everybody else clearly want to avoid. Frustrating and incremental as they can be, negotiations — and not nukes — are how we’re going to maintain peace. Loose talk — even hyperbole — doesn’t help.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.