The late U.S. Rep. Andy Jacobs, D-Indiana, had a name for politicians who loved the idea of Americans fighting in wars without ever going themselves.
“Chicken hawks,” he called them.
Andy’s reluctance to send young Americans off to kill or be killed confused people. (I call him Andy because most people did and, yes, because we were friends.) Many people thought he was a pacifist.
Andy’s own battle experiences as a U.S. Marine in the Korean War – and the wounds he suffered there, wounds that caused him discomfort and pain through the last 60 years of his life – showed him the horror and suffering war brings.
He told me once America should go to war only when its citizens or its essential interests were threatened and only after all options for a peaceful resolution had been exhausted.
In that situation, Andy said – even when he was in his late 60s and still bearing the scars from an earlier war – he would go fight again.
But not before then.
And he made clear that our essential national interests did not include going to war just to show the rest of the world that we were the most powerful nation on earth or that our leaders were tough.
I’ve been thinking about Andy Jacobs an awful lot during this cacophony of debate over the nuclear arms deal with Iran.
Andy’s voice would cut through a lot of the noise right now.
As is usually the case when people are shouting past each other, both sides of the debate have at least a portion of the truth on their side.
Critics of the deal – which would delay Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power for at least a decade – argue the agreement does nothing to curtail Iran’s worst offenses.
It doesn’t limit the Iranian government’s troublemaking in the Mideast, which destabilizes the entire region. It doesn’t address Iran’s routine human rights violations. It doesn’t make Iran a good global citizen.
There is truth to those criticisms.
Iran has been a bad actor, particularly in the Mideast, where its activities range from aggravating to deadly. And this deal does little, if anything, to solve those problems.
Those critics, including many who never have seen combat up close, say we should continue to impress upon Iran that there will be harsh consequences for misbehavior, including war.
Supporters of the deal point out that those problems won’t be made any easier to handle if Iran is able to develop nuclear weapons. They argue that having the United States reject a deal to which Iran has agreed and that most of the rest of the developed world supports would be more destabilizing than anything Iran could do on its own.
There is truth to that, as well.
As is often the case, there also is an unspoken subtext to the debate, one that may be more important than the stated concerns.
What we’re really arguing about here – and what Israel’s hard-line government is concerned about – is the possibility that Iran may be readmitted to the family of nations. It’s about whether gradually allowing Iran to ease back into normal relations with the world’s other countries will have a reforming or moderating effect on that country or whether it will merely encourage that nation’s leaders to perform more atrocities.
That’s a hard question to answer.
One part of it, though, we do know. We have fought two wars in the Middle East in the past quarter-century. It is hard to argue that either of those wars stabilized the region – and it’s even harder to believe that a third one would be any different.
All we’ll do is get more people killed, some of them our fellow citizens, while we leave a troubled part of the world even worse than we found it.
That’s why I’ve been thinking so much these days about Andy Jacobs.
Whatever its flaws or limitations, this deal with Iran is an attempt to resolve differences without bloodshed, a first step toward advancing the cause of peace.
Andy would say we have to give peace every chance to succeed before we decide to fight.
He’s still right.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.