The Carter Legacy

Thirty years after Jimmy Carter bounced onto the world stage as the leader of the Free World’s most powerful democracy, it is increasingly apparent that he still doesn’t know what went wrong. During his four years in the White House, the former President presided over the worst economic downturn since World War II establishing what has come to be known as “the misery index”, allowed a bunch of Iranian thugs to seize our embassy and citizens without serious consequences and supported dictators and despots around the world all the while proclaiming himself as the “human rights” president. During his tenure, he presided over a dramatic Soviet military buildup, the stagnation of the American armed forces (especially our intelligence capabilities), and a dramatic expansion of Soviet influence in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, southern Africa, and the Caribbean. In each of those countries and regions, his administration not only failed to prevent the undesired outcome, but was an active collaborator in the replacement of moderate autocrats friendly to American interests with autocrats considerably less so. Yet, bad as he was as a President, he continues to be far worse as an ex-president. A political neophyte when it came to conducting domestic and foreign affairs, Carter was and continues to be way out of his depth.

In Iran, Carter tried to appease the mullahs who held forty-four Americans hostages. In many ways, Iran represented the quintessential Carter Doctrine – accommodation and compromise in the face of adversity. Initially, the Carter administration went out of its way to support the new regime in Tehran by lifting a ban on the sale of arms and materiel and dusting off a 1954 presidential finding during the Eisenhower years reaffirming Washington’s commitment to defending Iran against Soviet or other threats, but when pleading for the release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds failed, his administration became paralyzed. What especially surprised Khomeini was that Carter and his aides, notably Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, rather than condemning the seizure and the treatment of the hostages as a barbaric act, appeared apologetic for unspecified mistakes supposedly committed by the United States and asked for forgiveness and magnanimity.

Amir Taheri recalls that this surprising show of weakness from Washington encouraged Khomeini and his Revolutionary Guards to come up with fresh demands almost each day. The episode soon led to a demand for the United States to capture and hand over the Shah for trial. When signals came that Washington might actually consider doing so, other demands were advanced. The United States was asked to apologize to Muslim peoples everywhere and, in effect, change its foreign policy to please the ayatollah.

As Americans were tying yellow ribbons around trees, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini disclosed that he had no fear of an American army marching on Tehran or bombing Iranian oil installations. “Our youth should be confident that America cannot do a damn thing,” Khomeini told his followers three days after the embassy takeover. “America is far too impotent to interfere in a military way here. If they could have interfered, they would have saved the Shah.” The ayatollah was right. Carter contented himself with imposing ineffectual diplomatic and economic sanctions that included an embargo on Iranian oil and a break in diplomatic relations.

Finally, after nearly five months of dithering, Carter attempted an ineffective rescue mission, but the pathetic Eagle Claw expedition had to be aborted on April 25, 1980 after two US aircraft collided in the Iranian desert. He rejected suggestions to invade Iran, or at the very least, to seek UN support, to stop the importation of Iranian oil, to freeze Iranian assets or bomb Iran’s major military assets or its main government buildings or even capture its oil facilities and other important targets. This, he feared, would lead to the hostages being killed – a distinct possibility but, over the long term, a decision that would have cost far fewer American lives in the coming decades.

Carter saw his decision as pragmatic and humane. Khomeini saw it as weakness (as have our enemies ever since). By dangling and then retracting the hope of releasing the hostages, Carter was perceived as weak and overmatched. In the end, Khomeini ordered the US flag to be painted at the entrance of airports, railway stations, ministries, factories, schools, hotels and bazaars so that the faithful could trample it under their feet every day – the ultimate insult. America had lost more than its prestige in the eyes of its enemies; it had lost its credibility. Over the next three decades, this perception of weakness and vulnerability would ultimately lead to the events of September 11, 2001.

And Carter’s approach to the Soviet Union was no different. He lectured Americans on the foolishness of their “fear of communism” and the Soviets responded by invading Afghanistan. In his book, “Living Faith”, Carter proudly recalls how he formulated his Soviet policy by sitting in the Oval Office studying “a big globe,” endeavoring to see the world “through Soviet eyes”. There, across the ocean, was the “beleaguered” Leonid Brezhnev, trapped “in a closed society, surrounded by frozen seas, powerfully armed enemies, and doubtful allies.” In a scathing 2002 review of the book, Gabriel Schoenfeld of Commentary writes that a primary Carter consideration when negotiating with the Soviet dictator was trying (as Carter put it) “to alleviate (Brezhnev’s) concerns.” The tyrants of the 20th century would have been thrilled had earlier US Presidents shown such “understanding”.

In one session, where Carter questioned the Soviets’ record on human rights, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko turned the tables and delivered a lecture on the Soviet Union’s free medical care, zero unemployment and absence of homelessness. “I couldn’t argue,” Mr. Carter admits. “We each had a definition of human rights and differences like this must be recognized and understood.” He obviously never read The Gulag Archipelago?

Carter was fully aware that human-rights abuses were more prevalent in the Soviet bloc than in authoritarian third-world countries, yet he avoided criticism of Communist abuses because he was afraid of offending the Kremlin. In his personal diary, he wrote: “It’s important that he [Brezhnev] understand the commitment I have is to human rights…and that it is not an antagonistic attitude of mine toward the Soviet Union.” What Carter failed to “understand” – and probably still does not – is that dictators and despots are not motivated by altruistic attitudes. There is nothing for us to “understand” other than the need for American foreign policy to reflect antagonism towards dictatorships that abuse human rights to remain in power.

As the “human rights president,” Carter recalled that Yugoslavia’s Marshall Tito was “a man who believed in human rights” and saluted the dictator as “a great and courageous leader” who had led his people and protected their freedom.” He reserved similar remarks for Romania’s (now deposed Communist) dictator Nicholai Ceaucescu. In December 1977, Polish Communist boss Edward Giereck was ushered into the Oval Office. According to the White House transcript of the meeting, he told Gierek, “Our concept of human rights is preserved (read: safe) in Poland. Carter actually “expressed appreciation for Poland’s support for the Helsinki Agreement and its commitment to human rights” despite the fact that, one month earlier, the Polish secret police had attacked thousands of workers protesting food price increases. Hundreds were arrested, imprisoned and savagely beaten.

Peter Schweizer, writing in the National Review, has been especially critical of Carter in his efforts to seek the aid of America’s enemies to support his positions at home. Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin recounts in his memoirs how, in the waning days of the 1980 campaign, the Carter White House dispatched Armand Hammer to the Soviet embassy. Explaining to the Soviet Ambassador that Carter was “clearly alarmed” at the prospect of losing to Reagan, Hammer asked for help – Could the Kremlin expand Jewish emigration to bolster Carter’s standing in the polls? “Carter won’t forget that service if he is elected,” Hammer told Dobrynin. According to Georgii Kornienko, first deputy foreign minister at the time, something similar took place in 1976, when Carter sent Averell Harriman to Moscow. Harriman sought to assure the Soviets that Carter would be “easier to deal with” than Ford, clearly inviting Moscow to do what it could through public diplomacy to help his campaign. And in January 1984, Dobrynin recounts an incident when the former president dropped by his residence for a private meeting. Carter was concerned about Reagan’s defense build-up and went on to explain that Moscow would be better off with someone else in the White House. If Reagan won, he warned, “There would not be a single agreement on arms control, especially on nuclear arms, as long as Reagan remained in power.” Is it any wonder that this man’s presidency ended in disaster?

Which brings us to Carter’s life after his Presidency.

As Jay Nordlinger notes in the National Review Online (October, 2002), “Carter has long enjoyed a reputation as a Middle East sage, owing, of course, to his role in the Camp David accords. But what exactly was his role? Nordlinger points out that Sadat and Begin had worked out most of their deal prior to approaching Washington. Why did they contact the White House? Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus of Princeton University put it succinctly, “Well, obviously, they needed someone to pay the bill, and who but the United States could fulfill that function?” Truth is, no one quite realizes just how passionately anti-Israel Carter was (and probably still is – which explains his anti-Israel remarks on the recent Israeli-Hezbollah war). William Safire has reported and Cyrus Vance has acknowledged that, if Carter had had a second term, he would have “sold Israel down the river.”

Unbelievably, Carter even volunteered to be Arafat’s speechwriter and go-fer, crafting “palatable messages” for Arafat’s Western audiences and convincing the Saudis to continue funding Arafat after the Palestinians sided with Iraq against the United States in the first Gulf War. In The Unfinished Presidency, Douglas Brinkley, Carter’s biographer and analyst writes, “There was no world leader Jimmy Carter was more eager to know than Yassir Arafat.” The former president “felt certain affinities with the Palestinian: a tendency toward hyperactivity and a workaholic disposition with unremitting sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, decade after decade.” “The brutality, the corruption, the deceit and the human rights abuses to which Arafat and his PLO subjected the Palestinian people were, at best peripheral, and at worst, the fault of the Israelis. At their first meeting – in 1990 – Carter boasted of his toughness toward Israel, assuring Arafat at one point, “…you should not be concerned that I am biased. I am much more harsh with the Israelis.” Arafat, for his part, railed against the Reagan administration. Rosalynn Carter, taking notes for her husband, interjected, “You don’t have to convince us!” Brinkley records that this “elicited gales of laughter all round.” Carter himself, according to Brinkley, “agreed that the Reagan administration was not renowned as promise keepers” – an interesting observation to be shared with an arch-terrorist.

Not since Teddy Roosevelt has an ex-President acted with such unorthodox lack of restraint and decorum for a sitting President. Jonah Goldberg, in his May, 2002 article in the National Review, notes that while the first President Bush was trying to orchestrate an international coalition to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, Carter wrote a letter to the UN Security Council – including Mitterrand’s France and Communist China – asking its members to stymie Bush’s efforts. Nor was this event unique.

Recently, in an interview with the London Sunday Telegraph, Carter mocked Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lack of leadership and timid subservience to George W. Bush in dealing with Iraq and the worldwide threat of Islamic terrorism. At one point, he told Haitian dictator Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, he was “ashamed of what my country has done to your country,” and conducted talks with men like Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, and North Korea’s Kim II Sung both of whom, he writes, “have at times been misunderstood, ridiculed, and totally condemned by the American public.” Part of the reason is “their names are foreign, not Anglo-Saxon,” he observes. In 1994, Carter brokered an Agreed Framework between the Clinton administration and North Korea that contained vague provisos and omitted any serious sanctions should North Korea develop nuclear weapons in violation of the Agreement (which it did). When the Clinton administration tried to impose sanctions, Carter argued that it was “likely” to provoke a war because, as Schoenfeld recalls, the North Korean people “could not accept the branding…of their revered, almost worshipped, president (then Kim Il Sung) as a criminal.”

This knack for coddling dictators and blessing their elections showed itself in the famous 1990 election in Nicaragua, where he openly hungered for a Sandinista victory as a way of discrediting the Reagan-Bush support for the Contras. While consistently downplaying reports of Sandinista pre-election thuggery and voter intimidation, Carter returned to the US bitterly disappointed that his Sandinista friends had been rejected by the Nicaraguans.

In May 2002, his quest for greater understanding led the former President to Cuba for a well publicized meeting with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Joel Mowbray, referring to the Carter visit noted: “Carter lavishe(d) praise on Cuba’s “superb systems of health care and universal education,” but the human rights president neglected to discuss the 3,000 political prisoners in Castro’s jails.

Two years later, in August 2004, despite widespread reports of irregularities, evidence of fraud and murders committed by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez’s brown-shirted street gangs, Carter certified the widely condemned referendum which suggested that Chavez had won when, in fact, exit polls found that 59% of Venezuelans opposed Chavez.

Nor did his efforts to undermine US foreign policy stop there. A day after the terrorist group Hamas emerged victorious in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006, Carter urged the international community to support the terrorist government and provide financial assistance to it in direct contravention to the policies of the current administration that require Hamas to renounce its stated intention to destroy Israel as a condition for the restoration of normal diplomatic and economic relations. “At least they aren’t corrupt,” Carter said of the terrorist organization. Right. They’re just ordinary mass murderers waiting for their chance to finish what the Holocaust began.

And two months later, Carter announced he had made a personal promise to ambassadors from Egypt, Pakistan and Cuba that he would fight to undermine US opposition to the new UN Human Rights Commission (that was opposed by the United States) because it would continue to allow nations known to abuse human rights to serve on it. (In May 2001, a group of nations led by despots and dictators voted the United States off the UN Human Rights Commission choosing instead the Sudan!)…and in a recent interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel, he expressed concern that Arab hatred of the United States will continue to grow given the Bush administration’s support for what he called Israel’s “unjustified attack” on Lebanese civilians. What he was really saying was that the United States should cut off support for Israel because Israel had the audacity to defend itself. Never mind that Hezbollah exists to destroy Israel, acts as an Iranian surrogate in America’s larger war against Islamic fascism, kidnapped Israeli soldiers, indiscriminately bombed Israel’s civilian population, has indoctrinated over 2,000 children barely ten years old to become suicide bombers, used Lebanese civilians as human shields, controls southern Lebanon and represents the prototype of post-modern warfare that Iran intends to use against US and Western interests across the Middle East. In the eyes of the Carter Doctrine, this is all the fault of Israel.

The tragedy is that, after thirty years of being on the world stage, our former President still doesn’t get it. Gabriel Schoenfeld, in his review, notes that the philosophy of the Carter Center (according to Carter himself) is to “encourage the use of dialogue to resolve disputes – which runs against the American grain…We tend to see conflicts in terms of friend-enemy, angel-devil, and this is one of the major impediments to world peace.” No wonder Khomeini mocked the man. That is exactly how the Islamic fascists see the world – Dar al Islam vs. Dar al Harb – the world of Islam (peace through submission to Islam) vs. the world of the infidels (the abode of war for those who reject such submission). What Carter sees as moral righteousness, our enemies see as naivety. What Carter sees as understanding and compromise, our enemies see as weakness and an opportunity to advance their interests at Western expense.

So what conclusions are we to draw? There are times when it becomes necessary to confront an enemy, not with words, psychoanalysis and empathy, but through force, determination and conviction. We would be wiser and safer if we understood that some of our enemies do not necessarily share our values or our goals anymore than they share our history and our culture. “Building bridges of understanding” with the communist dictators of yesterday or the secular dictators and religious Islamo-fascists of today only makes a mockery of the American democratic system and threatens the civilized world. As Steven Hayward wrote in FrontPageMagazine recently, Carter “has never been content to let his four years of ruinous rule be his last public deed.” One thing is certain – the Nobel Peace Prize Committee disgraced itself in 2002 when it rewarded Jimmy Carter for his misplaced moral righteousness while its chairman denounced the President of the United States for taking a stand against tyranny.

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