Gary Hart on Bombing Iran

By James Fallows

I am biased in favor of Gary Hart. I met him when researching my book National Defense back at the dawn of the Reagan Administration. At the time, as a first-term Senator in his early 40s, he was a genuine pioneer in pushing the concept of "defense reform" -- the then-radical idea that we should judge our military policies on grounds more complicated than "spend more" versus "spend less." Defense reform is a radical idea still, but that's another topic. Hart took the crucial step of assembling and supporting a team of people to work on this idea -- starting with his own staff assistant, William S. Lind, who connected him (and me) to the circle of thinkers around the late Air Force Col. John Boyd.

Presidential campaigns have come and gone since then; so have "hot" and stylish ideas in policy; and of course America's military involvement outside its borders has only increased. But through those decades Hart has kept writing books and articles about military strategy and its connection to long-term American interests and values. This drum-roll is in service of two points.

First, this entry by Hart today on his "Matters of Principle" blog, in which he lays out a few of the realities we might want to reflect upon before opening up another active-war front. The item begins:

Before bombing Iran, as many now seem to want to do, here are some questions that require answers and considerable public debate:

1. Bombing a sovereign nation is a de facto declaration of war. Our Constitution requires the Congress, not the President, to declare war. Simply because we have launched a number of wars without a Congressional declaration does not mean the Constitutional requirement has been suspended;

2. Such an attack will have economic consequences for us. The Iranians most likely would blockade the Strait of Hormuz, thus reducing the shipment of Persian Gulf oil-almost one-quarter of our imports-and dramatically increasing world oil prices. This would have a powerfully negative affect on our already fragile economy;

He has five items on his list. The whole thing is worth reading, and considering an honorary part of our ongoing "Israel, Iran, and the Bomb" online debate. By the way, I mentioned earlier that I wanted to dissociate myself completely from Elliott Abrams's first entry in this series, a kind of taunting dare to Barack Obama that he should start a war to boost his poll ratings. I feel the same way about Abrams's second entry, which asserts that a cautionary article about an Israeli strike is flawed because of its "real point, which is to blame Israel for everything. Everything." This reductionist reasoning gets us nowhere. Nowhere.

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Second, Gary Hart's memoir has just come out. It is called The Thunder and the Sunshine, and if you are interested in politics and policy, you will find it absorbing and instructive. Hart has a lot to say about the 1972 presidential campaign, in which he was George McGovern's campaign manager; and his own efforts in the Senate on defense reform and other topics; and his runs for the presidency in 1984 and 1988; and his efforts to advance the same policies once out of office. This last notably includes his co-chairmanship of the Hart-Rudman Commission, famous for its attempt to warn the new George W. Bush Administration early in 2001 about the risk of an Al Qaeda attack -- and not being able to get the attention of anyone in the White House.

By Beltway standards Hart will be considered tight-lipped and unyielding for barely mentioning the Donna Rice brouhaha that ended his 1988 campaign. But I thought the book was "personal" and revealing in much more interesting ways, especially about Hart's strictly religious upbringing -- and about his refashioning of his post-political life. I hadn't realized that he had actually gone back to finish the UK equivalent of PhD at Oxford. As the years go on, I have more and more respect for people who just keep doing what they can on subjects that matter to them. Here are two illustrations of Gary Hart doing just that.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/08/gary-hart-on-bombing-iran/61942/