A few days back I posted a blog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurence-j-kotlikoff/time-for-congress-to-auth_b_1267038.html) entitled "Time for Congress to Authorize Force Against Iran." In the blog I said six things. First, I pointed out that three administrations have said that Iran can not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. Second, it appears (although I have no inside knowledge) that Iran is within a year of obtaining a nuclear weapon. Third, economic sanctions, although they have gotten much tougher of late, are not likely to work within a year. Fourth, the president has said we are working in "lock step" with Israel on this problem, which means that if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear weapons production sites, the U.S. will be held jointly responsible. Fifth, we should not let Israel fight our battles or make our security decisions. And sixth, the president should request and Congress should pass a resolution permitting the president to use all necessary force to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons production facilities.
A total of 151 of you commented, mostly pretty negatively, about my blog. The readership of The Huffington Post is much more left-leaning than the readership of Bloomberg, where I've been a columnist until recently. I suspended my column to run for president.
When I write for Bloomberg something that appears to offend the right, I receive comments like many of those I received here, spiced with a number of personal insults. In this case, the comments have included statements that I'm a traitor, a chicken hawk, a war monger, and an academic who is far too quick to risk the lives of Americans, but who would not risk his own life for our country. Most of the comments also presumed that I think that our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam were acceptable uses of American force.
Since none of you know much about me, a lot of what was written presumed a lot of things that aren't true. In particular, many commentators to the referenced blog presumed I'm a far right-winger, just as many commentators to many of my Bloomberg columns presumed I'm a far left-winger.
Here's the truth. I'm an independent. I think people with extreme views are extremists. I worked for a Republican President, but mostly voted for Democrats in the general elections. I don't think very highly of politicians. I think they have spent six decades making a generally terrible mess of both domestic and foreign policy and that we can no longer afford their flawed leadership given that it caters to the extremes of the two parties.
As for nation building, I think Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam were terrible, tragic, immoral, and ill-conceived mistakes. When I was in college, I organized my own anti-war protest group called PAKUP -- Parents and Kids United for Peace. I knew then, as did millions of young Americans of my generation, that national building in Vietnam was never going to succeed -- that its costs were far beyond what our country was willing to pay and that staying in Vietnam, year after year, at a terrible toll to young Americans and Vietnamese civilians, was completely indefensible and was done by our political leaders primarily for one reason -- to save face.
I feel that intervening on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan was not much different to intervening in Vietnam. Once we got onto the ground, it became too politically costly to withdraw. We also quickly became responsible for a large civilian population's protection.
In both cases, we would have been much better served to use Special Forces, exclusively, to determine if Saddam Hussein was, indeed, obtaining a nuclear weapon and, if so, to take him as well as the weapons out, and to go after Osama bin Laden.
So I'm not a war monger. Far from it. And the fact that I didn't serve in the military does not make me a traitor or a chicken hawk. I had a college deferment and the draft ended when I graduated. My lottery number was low. Had the draft not ended, I would have been drafted and would have served.
I very deeply respect all the current and former members of the armed forces for their service to our country -- service that goes very far beyond what the rest of us do or are asked to do for our country.
I've written all this with the hope that the 151 commentators will read this and consider again my position on Iran. My position on Iran is emerging. I've told you what I think so far and how I think Congress should act. But I'm not privy to the latest intelligence estimates of how long it will take Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. If we have several years to use ever tougher economic sanctions to persuade Iran to comply, that's one thing. If we only have one year, that's very different.
I agree with President Obama, President Bush, and President Clinton that Iran can not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. This is a country that considers us its mortal enemy and whose leadership comprises extreme fanatics who cannot be entrusted with these extremely dangerous weapons.
Yes, calling the Iranian leadership "fanatics" is a judgment call. But it's my judgment as well as that of our current and prior two presidents and of virtually all leaders of the developed world. I think it's the judgement of most Americans.
Ahmadinejad is the person we are primarily dealing with.
I, for one, do not want to see America's children live most or all of their lives under a nuclear threat poised by Mr. Ahmadinejad and his likely successors.
If, in fact, the evidence is very strong that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and will get them very soon, we have, it seems to me, no alternative but to take Iran's production facilities out militarily.
And, if we are at this juncture or very close to it, Congress has a responsibility to vote for the use of force in confronting Iran. This would not be a declaration of war, but it would be an authorization by Congress to the president that he has Congress' backing, not in starting a ground war in Iran, but in taking selective/limited, but potentially ongoing measures to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons production facilities and capacities.
In recent days, Iran has signaled a willingness to resume negotiations on its nuclear weapons program. But it has also, just today, cut off oil exports to Britain and France (in anticipation of their pending oil-purchase embargo) and moved naval forces into the Persian Gulf.
In short, economic sanctions are getting Iran's attention, but it may not be ready to play ball. A resolution by Congress would make it much clearer to Iran that they have no option but to end their nuclear weapons program. Once Iran truly understands this, it may make the moves needed to end this crisis in a way that does not entail the loss of life on either side.