Cliff May

You may be thinking: “Ahmadinejad and his mullah masters wouldn’t dare! They must know the destruction we’d rain on them in response.” First, those who believe — as, for example, Islamist suicide-bombers do — that death in a war against infidels leads to martyrdom and heavenly rewards cannot be deterred. For them, as Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis has observed, “mutually assured destruction in not a deterrent — it is an inducement.”

Second, if such an attack were launched from a ship off the U.S. coast — and that ship were, say, registered in Liberia and crewed by Hezbollah terrorists from Lebanon — assigning blame conclusively would be no simple matter.

So what can be done? It would help if Iran were to be prevented — by whatever means — from acquiring nuclear weapons. Failing that, the EMP threat surely adds to the arguments in favor of missile defense.

It is not impossible for the U.S. to have a system in place that would destroy missiles after launch and before they reach their targets. Critics say we don’t yet have the technology to guarantee that missile defense would work. But if the choice is between a 70-percent chance of stopping a nuclear-tipped missile and a 0-percent chance, which would you prefer? And further research and development on missile defense systems — including land-based, sea-based, and space-based components — can better the odds over time.

In 1983, Islamist terrorists used a truck and explosives to slaughter 241 U.S. Marines in their barracks in Beirut. In 1993, Islamists terrorists used a truck and explosives in an attempt to bring down the World Trade Center in New York.

The terrorists learned from those experiences — America’s political leaders did not. They failed to imagine or prepare for what the terrorists might do next — what the terrorists did do on September 11, 2001.

Given this history, you might think we would never make such a mistake again. But Sen. Barack Obama has said that, if he is elected president, he will cut off all missile-defense funding. Think of that what you will.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.