Jimmy Carter’s response to the humiliation of 1979-1980.
The motto: “Why Not the Best?” that Jimmy Carter chose for his campaign autobiography (1975) draws from the advice that he received from Admiral Hyman Rickover on the day that the latter hired him on to the navy’s atomic sub programme. An invitation to this programme was highly prized because it required extraordinary academic performance, reliable character and a flawless record at lower levels of naval service. Rickover’s implication was clear: that until entering this select company he could have got away with less than his best – most men did – but now only “the best” will do.
Jimmy Carter is still haunted by that interview: “I do not in that period remember his ever saying a complimentary word to me. The absence of a compliment was his comment.” (Jimmy Carter, Why Not The Best? (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1975, pp. 55-57.) Since then he has suffered cruel defeats (to put it mildly) and even today mention of his name draws mockery from opinion elites (reflecting the textbook consensus about his “failure”) and from hoi polloi generally (who remember him as “the peanut farmer” who over-reached himself to become President.)
Four hundred and forty-four days before his Presidency was due to end, a cohort of pious Muslim youths in faraway Tehran, Iran, acting with the admitted complicity of their fanatically Islamist new government, held captive fifty-two American citizens, including diplomatic personnel, in America’s Embassy. All through the year that followed, President Jimmy Carter agonized publicly as he sought to persuade the citizens of the United States that he was doing everything humanly possible to rescue America’s honour from a national humiliation unprecedented since the days of Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary pirates. The American people were not persuaded; and so Jimmy Carter was dismissed.
Some Post-Presidential Projects with global significance.
For more than a quarter-century Carter has struggled to turn majority opinion away from the hostile judgment pronounced against him in 1980. Many of the causes to which he has attached the prestige of a former-President are universally-regarded as philanthropic, in the very best sense. In this category we should put his organization of teams of philanthropists and scientists to eradicate diseases and promote literacy throughout the world. Through the Carter Center’s impartial and scientific monitoring of elections, Jimmy Carter has extended the privilege of democratic practice in many parts of the world. Likewise, through his close association with Habitat for Humanity, he has promoted opportunities for individual citizens to help others in ways that do not require the permission of governments or agreement on issues of faith or politics.
Carter’s public critique of the policies of his successors.
Greater controversy has followed from his voluntary service as a reconciler of political conflicts around the globe. He shows up regularly at press conferences in various hot-spots to announce that he has achieved a break-through in one-on-one diplomacy with the world’s worst tyrants and to call upon the government of the United States to turn its current policy around one-hundred-and-eighty degrees to accommodate this new and positive situation. With few exceptions, these escapades have simply made matters worse.
To take only one example: in the months that followed Saddam Hussein’s conquest of Kuwait (1990), Carter worked tirelessly to prevent the international action against Iraq that was sponsored at the UN by the United States and which eventually reversed that conquest. [Douglas Brinkley, The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Journey Beyond the White House (New York: Viking, 1998), pp. 224-226, 243-244.] Carter publicly accused the G.H.W. Bush Administration of inhumanity for refusing to follow up possibilities for peaceful negotiation; simultaneously, he wrote privately to the leaders of the major powers and urged them not to cooperate with the Bush-Baker initiatives but instead to hand over the matter to “an Arab League effort” which would bring about peace in the whole region by linking the solution of the Kuwait matter to the issue which is the source of all unhappiness among the Arabs — Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
The story behind these secret initiatives did not emerge for many years. When it did, some figures in the Administration of G.H.W. Bush concluded that Carter’s actions had verged on treason. Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense in that Bush Administration and later Vice-President under George W. Bush) said later: “For him to go behind our backs and ask world leaders to denounce our war policy was reprehensible, totally inappropriate, for a former President.” [Brinkley, 224-234.]
Carter believes that his own freelance foreign policy better reflects the good qualities of the American people than does that of any of his successors as President of the United States, whether Republican or Democrat. At the height of the Democratic Primary contest in the spring of 2008, he went off, on his own dime, to negotiate for a definitive Middle East peace with the leadership of Hamas and Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. The outcome was complete failure. He could not secure commitment to negotiation with Israel from these well-funded terrorist organizations, nor even their recognition of Israel’s right to exist; but there were photo-opportunities, during which Carter chose to belittle the whole company of Democratic politicians for their lack of imagination.
Carter’s conversations with the terrorist organizations did not changed his view that Israel was pre-eminently responsible for the failure to achieve peace in the Middle East. “I did the best I could on that,” was Carter’s bottom line. [“Carter Says Hamas Open to Peace Deal,” NYT/Reuters, April 21, 2008.]
Carter’s Anti-Israel Campaign.
Jimmy Carter’s courtship of Hamas in 2008 was consistent with the view about Israel that he had been promoting since he had left office and which is elaborated in his best-selling book, Palestine: Peace or Apartheid (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.) The book’s message is signaled in the title — a summation of the banner under which Israel’s enemies worldwide have gathered since Israel was denounced in August, 2001, at the UN Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (held at Durban, South Africa) for “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
The book appeared at the height of the 2008 election season, giving Carter opportunity to tell the press that, on the matter of Israel, “I think I represent the vast majority of Democrats in this country.” House Leader (soon to become House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi responded quickly: “With all due respect to former President Carter, he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.”
The book’s message is simple: that “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace in the Holy Land … Israel is conducting “a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence,” By a strange logical and moral inversion, the rock-throwing boys of the Intifada became for Carter embodiments of Gandhi’s preaching of non-violence. In an op/ed piece for The New York Times, he hails them as “instant heroes” exhibiting “an unprecedented commitment to their cause and a surprising threshold for absorbing pain…. They have pre-emptively attacked Israel’s most cherished characteristic: its moral fiber.” [Ibid., pp. 240-241, 246-247.] Later, as rockets poured out of Gaza and the Palestine Authority descended into the condition of near anarchy, Carter could only see victimization of innocents by Israel. Israel’s “siege of the Gaza Strip,” he said, is “a crime and an abomination.” The Palestinians of Gaza are “being starved to death” as a deliberate matter of policy by the government of Israel.”
The energy that Carter has directed to this defamation of Israel is exceeded only by his vilification of those Christians who publicly give their public support to Israel. A hysterical tone has overtaken Carter’s judgment upon Christian Zionists: “Their purpose,” he told an interviewer, in 2008, “is to wipe out all non-Jews out of the Holy Land so Christ can return and their ultimate commitment, is that all Jews would either be burned in fire or converted to Christianity. That’s the ultimate. It’s an extreme, and I think, ridiculous interpretation of the scriptures.”
An indictment along this line, amounting to a charge of genocidal intent, directed against any other identifiable constituency, would automatically be referred to the courts. Yet Carter maintains that his political judgments are always couched in disinterested love for truth and for his enemies.
For part two of this series, click here.