By Ed Koch
I met with President Obama on Sept. 21, 2011, after I supported Bob Turner, a Republican who won the congressional seat vacated by Anthony Weiner.
That seat had been held by a Democrat for nearly a hundred years in prior elections and was the congressional district with the largest Jewish population in the country.
I urged the residents of the district to vote for Turner and thereby send a message to the president that he was taking the Jewish community for granted. Turner, a Roman Catholic and a German-American, won against a Democratic Jewish candidate by a margin of 8 percent.
When I met with the president, I expressed the anxieties of the Jewish community with respect to his administration’s treatment of Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and most importantly, with respect to the security needs of that small state surrounded by Arab countries at war with it.
The president got the message and by deed and language undertook to remedy the situation, and he did. He prevented the Palestinian Authority from gaining entry to the United Nations as a state, and he has championed Israel in his speeches at the U.N.
The intelligence and military cooperation between the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) and U.S. armed forces has never been better. There are, in fact, large-scale military exercises being held right now in Israel with U.S. military forces.
During the last year, I have urged the president to make clear to Iran that were it to attack Israel, it would be deemed an attack upon the U.S. In the debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in Florida this week, when the moderator, Bob Schieffer, asked, “Would either of you – and you’ll have two minutes, and President Obama, you have the first go at this one – would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States which, of course, is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan.
“And if you made such a declaration, would not that deter Iran? It’s certainly deterred the Soviet Union for a long time when we made that – we made – we made that promise to our allies. Mr. President?”
The responses of the two candidates were virtually the same. Obama said, “And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.” Romney said, “When I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.”
Following is a larger extract of their statements:
OBAMA: “First of all, Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency. And . . .
SCHIEFFER: So you’re saying we’ve already made that declaration?
OBAMA: I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history.
In fact, this week we’ll be carrying out the largest military exercise with Israel in history, this very week. But to the issue of Iran, as long as I’m president of the United States Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I made that clear when I came into office.
OBAMA: We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.
And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security, and it is a threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.
Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. And for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to non-state actors, that’s unacceptable. And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.
So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.
The disagreement I have with Governor Romney is that, during the course of this campaign, he’s often talked as if we should take premature military action. I think that would be a mistake, because when I’ve sent young men and women into harm’s way, I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort.
SCHIEFFER: Two minutes.
ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I want to underscore the same point the president made which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel.
And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily. That’s number one.
Number two, with regards to Iran and the threat of Iran, there’s no question but that a nuclear Iran, a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable to America. It presents a threat not only to our friends but ultimately a threat to us to have Iran have nuclear material, nuclear weapons that could be used against us or used to be threatening to us.
ROMNEY: It is also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I called for five years ago, when I was in Israel, speaking at the Herzliya Conference.
I laid out seven steps, crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do, to have crippling sanctions. I would have put them in place earlier. But it’s good that we have them.
Number two, something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil, can’t come into our ports. I imagine the E.U. would agree with us as well. Not only ships couldn’t, but I’d say companies that are moving their oil can’t, people who are trading in their oil can’t. I would tighten those sanctions further. Secondly, I’d take on diplomatic isolation efforts.
I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world. The same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.
We need to increase pressure time, and time again on Iran because anything other than a solution to this, which says – which stops this – this nuclear folly of theirs, is unacceptable to America. And of course, a military action is the last resort. It is something one would only consider if all of the other avenues had been tried to their full extent.”
I think it would be very helpful if the president issues a public statement that the U.S. will respond militarily against Iran, if that country launches an attack upon Israel.
The formal publication of the statement would deter Iran from launching an attack. I have made clear in prior commentaries that on all domestic issues, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, healthcare, abortion, food stamps, tax reform, including taxing the top 2 percent of taxpayers more, I support the positions of President Obama and the Democratic Party, and I believe the Republican positions and those of Mitt Romney to be anathema and harmful to the social fabric and economy of the U.S.
Whatever I can do to help re-elect President Obama and provide him with a majority in both houses of Congress so as to end the gridlock in Washington, D.C., I will do. I urge all other voters to do the same.
Edward Koch was the 105th mayor of New York City for three terms, from 1978 to 1989. He previously served for nine years as a congressman.