GOP Megadonor’s ‘Nuke Iran’ Comments Highlight Links To Influential Think Tank

Sheldon Adelson CREDIT: AP
Sheldon Adelson CREDIT: AP

Republican Party mega-donor and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson caused quite a storm this week after it was reported that he suggested that the United States use nuclear weapons to get the Iranians to end their nuclear program.


Adelson said the U.S. should set off a nuke in a nearby desert and “[t]hen you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran” if the U.S. doesn’t get what it wants from Iran.

While it’s well-known how many tens of millions of dollars Adelson and his wife spent — and ultimately wasted — on GOP candidates and groups in the 2012 election cycle, what’s not so high-profile are his donations to right-wing causes and think-tanks that he appears to hope will advance his agenda.

One such think tank is the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. According to reporter Eli Clifton, writing in Salon earlier this year, Adelson gave FDD $1.5 million up until 2011 and was the group’s third largest donor. FDD was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and has, according to Clifton, “risen since its 2001 founding to become Washington’s premiere hawkish think tank.”

Currently and in the years since its founding, FDD has been pushing an aggressive posture toward the Islamic Republic. Here’s a small sample of what some if its “Iran Experts” have been saying:

  • Jonathan Schanzer is the Vice President of Research at FDD and here’s what he had to say back in 2008 about negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program: “The notion of a productive meeting with Iranian leaders is fantasy.” If the U.S. can’t talk to Iran about its nuclear program, how can it prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon?
  • Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Senor Fellow at FDD, has one possible solution. “I think the risks to us and others from a nuclear-armed clerical regime are too great and that we should make every effort, including repeated military strikes, to thwart the clerics’ quest for the bomb,” he wrote back in 2006. In fact, Gerecht has been calling for a militaristic posture toward Iran so much, he’s apparently got his mother worried. “[I] counted up the other day: I’ve written about 25,000 words about bombing Iran. Even my mom thinks I’ve gone too far,” Gerecht said in 2010.
  • Mark Dubowitz is FDD’s Iran sanctions guy and his writings appear regularly in outlets like the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard. If you’re wondering why Dubowitz so strongly advocates tough sanctions on Iran, it’s not because he thinks it will lead to any long standing agreement. “The sanctions are working by putting pressure on the regime, although they have not secured their objective and may never do so — putting an end to Iran’s nuclear program. The best way is to work towards changing the regime. Any deal cut with this regime will be violated,” he said in 2011. CAP’s Matt Duss observed that this line of thinking “confirms Iran’s suspicions” that “nuke sanctions [are] just a cover for regime change.”
  • Michael Ledeen is a “Freedom Scholar” in FDD’s Iran group and his views, to put it mildly, are probably the most outside the mainstream among his colleagues. On Iran, Ledeen’s baseline starts from his belief that “the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda over the years has been so close that it is difficult today not to conclude that Iran was involved in the 9/11 attacks.”

Given that Adelson has given FDD so much money, NPR’s Andy Carvin asked Dubowitz and Gerecht at an event what they thought of Adelson’s comment about nuking Iran. While Dubowitz apparently deflected the question, Gerecht added that nuking Iran “wouldn’t be my first suggestion.”


“A number of people squirmed when I asked about Adelson. No one likes to comment on their funders, I guess,” Carvin later tweeted.

But while it’s understandable FDD officials would want to distance themselves from Adelson’s dangerous rhetoric (and his $1.5 million donation), it seems there’s a reason why the Casino mogul gives his money to FDD: all parties involved don’t appear to be all that interested in a genuine deal on Iran’s nuclear program, instead preferring either military action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon or regime change, however they believe that can come about.

Indeed, “[a]ccording to a 2008 New Yorker article by Connie Bruck,” Clifton wrote, “Adelson declined to lend his support to one Iranian anti-regime activist because, in the words of an intrelocutor, ‘he doesn’t want to attack Iran.’”


Ryan Costello of the National Iranian American Council has more on Adelson and FDD.


Duss writes in a piece for the American Prospect: “it’s worth taking a closer look at Adelson’s agenda, and the organizations and programs that he funds in order to advance it. Adelson has shown that he’s willing to pull his support even from conservative organizations like AIPAC that aren’t holding as hard a line as he would prefer. The question is whether the guy who wants to nuke Iran thinks he’s getting his money’s worth.”