Thursday, May 17, 2007

Leach: Watch Iran

Jim Leach Interview: Academia, Moralistic Politics, and Iran; Declines Comment on World Bank Post

Jim Leach (Photo: Princeton University)

Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach says the potential for war with Iran is not getting the attention it merits. In a phone interview Thursday, Leach said:

The largely unfollowed issue is whether there will be another war with Iran, and what is the role of Congress. The likelihood is there will not be a pre-emptive strike, but whether the possibility that there will be one is 5% or 45%… those are not trivial.

The former congressman has most recently been in the Iowa news due to this week’s unanimous House passage of a bill renaming the Davenport federal courthouse in his honor. The bill was introduced by Congressmen Bruce Braley and the man who defeated Leach last year, Dave Loebsack. “I’m very appreciative of my former colleagues for doing this,” said Leach; “it was a very decent thing for Representatives Braley and Loebsack to do.” The bill has now moved to the Senate, where Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin are joint sponsors and overwhelming passage is also likely.

Since leaving the House, Leach has accepted a teaching position with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, his alma mater. As we spoke, Leach was traveling to Chicago for a lecture at the Federal Reserve. Monday he is speaking at Princeton on “Moralistic Politics.”

Certain issues can be compromised, while on others it’s next to impossible. The challenge is mutual respect. For example on the issue of choice, very few compromises are acceptable. Yet we need to remember that there are deeply moral people on each side. Some of these issues have been around a long time, and it’s not exclusively a Republican thing. It can be a Democratic thing too. Some liberals will assume that the only solution to a given problem is increasing funding for a social program, and that to restrain that funding is somehow “immoral.”

Leach applied this construct of moralistic politics to his thoughts on the Iraq War.

In one sense it’s a judgment call, is this war wise or unwise. In another sense there’s the "just war” doctrine that’s deeply embedded in Judeo-Christian tradition Deeply moral people can reach different conclusions and we still have to respect that.

I’ve never doubted that this year there would be a compromise that would involve funding with criteria - that’s been in the cards from the beginning. The Democrats have criticized the war but don’t want the accountability for leaving. There are Constitutional procedures in how you start wars, but very few in how you end them. The assumption was that Congress had the power of the purse strings and that was the way you could end. The funding will be tempered this year with benchmarks that are non-binding, and those can become active and have meaning as the next Congress may withhold funding.

Leach declined comment on mention of his name for the World Bank presidency; we spoke just minutes before current head Paul Wolfowitz announced his resignation. Leach was also mentioned for the job while he was still in Congress at the time Wolfowitz was appointed. He seems happy with his new career:

My wife and I have enjoyed being in an academic community. We prefer living there rather than in a political community.

In his first semester, Leach, who was a Foreign Service officer before his 1976 election to Congress, is teaching a graduate course on Chinese and American foreign policy. His teaching may expand to upper-class undergraduates this fall. In addition, he has given various lectures on other subjects. Leach said he is writing a book on leadership that will include some examples from his congressional years. Progress has been slow during the semester but Leach hopes to focus more on the book over the summer.

Asked how often he returns to Iowa, Leach said he had visited Kalona and spoke at a Mennonite Church just this week. When I expressed surprise that I hadn’t heard about the event, Leach said, “well, I don’t do press releases.”

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