Are Iranians subhuman?

John McCain seems to think so. His party seems to agree with him. Feh.

John McCain “jokes” about bombing Iran, a country most of whose people have no political power. He then refuses to apologize:

When reporters asked if the joke was insensitive, McCain said: “Insensitive to what? The Iranians?”

This is in some ways more troublesome than the original comment. In McCain’s mind, if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an evil lunatic, then it’s fine to threaten “Iranians” generically, and absurd to imagine that offending them is a problem. (If you don’t think McCain’s remarks were a threat, turn it around and imagine a candidate for President of Iran singing a little ditty about bombing America.) That makes sense only if their nationality makes them not fully human.

But there’s something more disturbing than McCain’s willingness to treat Iranians as untermenschen: the fact that none of his Republican competitors has criticized him. They must think &#8212 and presumably they’re experts &#8212 that this sort of stuff appeals to Republican primary voters. I know it’s shrill and uncivil to call the Republican Party a collection of violence-intoxicated lunatics, but under these circumstances what’s the alternative?

Update The above has been rewritten to fix a mistake. I had heard McCain’s lyric as “bomb Tehran” (perhaps because that’s what the questioner suggested). Bombing cities (as opposed to military targets within cities) is a war crime. But on rehearing it seems that McCain is singing “bomb Iran.” As Eugene Volokh points out, that might refer to bombing military targets, which is lawful combat. So it’s not fair to say that McCain was joking about slaughtering random Iranian civilians.

But right now, we’re not at war with Iran, and McCain’s little joke was a gift to Ahmadinejad.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: