Jimmy Carter's Legacy of Failure Continues
Jimmy Carter, the former president who never met a terrorist or a dictator he didn't like, is up to his old tricks again. In light of Carter's plans to meet with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Syria this week, it seemed a good time to dust off a 2006 SFGate column of mine, the title of which says it all:
Jimmy Carter's Legacy of Failure
Wednesday, December 12, 2006
It seems that everywhere one looks lately, former President Jimmy Carter is hawking his new book, "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid." The inflammatory title has not won Carter any new fans from the pro-Israel side of the equation. But for those who buy into the history of the Middle East conflict that's been promulgated through years of anti-Israel propaganda, Carter's use of the term "apartheid" is a confirmation of all they hold dear.
The attempt to associate Israel with apartheid era South Africa has indeed been a popular and effective tactic in the arsenal of anti-Israel talking points. It matters little that the charge is untrue. One simply has to insert the word "apartheid" into the discussion and the damage is done.
Carter himself admits toward the end of his book that his use of the term "apartheid" was not meant literally and that the situation in Israel "is unlike that in South Africa -- not racism, but the acquisition of land." In response to criticism of his choice of words, Carter told the Los Angeles Times that he was trying to call attention to what he sees as the "economic form" of apartheid afflicting the Palestinian territories. During an interview with Judy Woodruff of "The News Hour" on PBS, Carter reiterated that he only used "apartheid" in his title to "provoke discussion." When an author concedes that his chosen title is inaccurate, it calls into question the entire premise of his book.
There are those who have called Carter's entire book into question, including friend and colleague Dr. Kenneth W. Stein. A well-known Middle East scholar, and until recently a fellow of Emory University's Carter Center, Stein resigned his position because of strenuous objections to the content of Carter's book. In an e-mail message regarding his resignation, Stein described the book as "replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments."
The copied materials involve two maps from former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross' book "The Missing Peace." In an appearance on Fox News, Ross confirmed that the maps originated with his book, and he objected not only to the lack of attribution but also to Carter's inaccurate presentation of the historical facts involved.
Similarly, attorney Alan Dershowitz, in a scathing review, writes that "Mr. Carter's book is so filled with simple mistakes of fact and deliberate omissions that were it a brief filed in a court of law, it would be struck and its author sanctioned for misleading the court."
Top-ranking Democrats have also disavowed Carter's work. Both Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi issued statements on Carter's book, distancing themselves and the Democratic Party from his divisive rhetoric. Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., an African American, condemned Carter's inappropriate use of the term "apartheid" in his title, labeling it "offensive."
Intimations of Anti-Semitism
Carter's contention in the book, and one that he recently discussed with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, is that a "minority of Israelis have refused to swap land for peace." This is laughable, considering the repeated examples of Israeli governments doing just that. Successive administrations, whether under Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon or now Ehud Olmert (who's practically falling all over himself to give away Israeli land), have offered or given up territory, only to be met with increased aggression. Recent examples include the ongoing violence in Gaza following Israel's disengagement plan and the war in Lebanon six long years after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon.
One has to wonder if Carter's single-minded obsession with Israel as the root of the problems in the world -- not to mention the stubbornly one-sided view of the Middle East conflict to which he has a history of subscribing -- has any anti-Semitic underpinnings. Such is the suspicion among many of Carter's harshest critics. In fact, during a recent appearance by Carter on C-SPAN's "Book TV," a caller accused him of being an "anti-Semite" and a "bigot," to which Carter reacted with denial.
But this was hardly the first time that intimations of anti-Semitism have tainted Carter's career. In an article titled "Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem," Jason Maoz, senior editor at Jewish Press, reveals that "during a March 1980 meeting with his senior political advisers, Carter, discussing his fading reelection prospects and his sinking approval rating in the Jewish community, snapped, 'If I get back in, I'm going to [expletive] the Jews.'" Maoz also references the 1976 presidential campaign during which Carter, fearing that his opponent Senator Henry ("Scoop") Jackson had the Jewish vote in the Democratic primaries locked up, "instructed his staff not to issue any more statements on the Middle East. 'Jackson has all the Jews anyway … we get the Christians.'"
Strengthening Israel's Enemies
Carter's history of involvement with the Middle East conflict is no less troublesome. It was Carter who brokered the first in a series of largely ineffective and in the long run incredibly damaging Arab-Israeli peace treaties. Far from pushing peace, such agreements have only strengthened the disdain toward Israel from its Arab neighbors and led to further violence.
Carter's claim to fame in the peace process arena was the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty signed at Camp David by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. While the alleged peace between Egypt and Israel has held up to this day, increased hostility in Egypt toward Israel and Jews has been the true legacy. At some point, one has to come to the logical conclusion that a peace treaty that inspires hatred is not worth the paper it's printed on.
Instead, Carter received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his efforts in the Middle East, among other locales. Such efforts continue with Carter's apparent fondness for Hamas, the terrorist group turned government, which, he insists, will become a "non-violent organization" despite all indications to the contrary. Before that, it was his cozy relationship with Palestinian dictator Yasser Arafat.
Friend to Dictators
Indeed, it seems there are very few dictators in the world to whose defense Carter has not rallied -- Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, former Yugoslav strongman Marshal Josef Tito, former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former Pakistani General Zia ul-Haq, former North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung and now his son Kim Jong Il, to name a few.
Carter's eagerness to appease the former Soviet Union and his opposition to his successor President Ronald Reagan's uncompromising approach (which has been widely credited with helping bring down the "evil empire") also speak to his lack of understanding when it comes to the nature of totalitarian regimes. Then there's Carter's propensity for certifying obviously compromised elections in places such as Venezuela and Haiti.
Carter's failed approach to foreign policy has indeed put America in a perilous position in the world. If we look at some of the major challenges facing the United States today, we can thank Jimmy Carter for getting us off on the wrong foot. Whether it's the Middle East, Iran or North Korea, Carter's track record as president is nothing to brag about and his career as ex-president has been even worse.
Author Steven F. Hayward, who has labeled Carter the "worst ex-president" certainly thinks so. In his book, "The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-President Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry," Hayward runs down the ways in which America continues to reap the legacy of Carter's missteps, both during his presidential term and after.
When it comes to the belligerence of North Korea, Carter's past involvement has done considerable damage. In the early 1990s, Carter traveled to North Korea on another of his "peacekeeping missions" and brokered a deal with dictator Kim Il Sung. He did so without the blessing of the Clinton administration, although, at the behest of then-Vice President Al Gore, President Clinton later agreed to adopt Carter's deal. The United States ended up providing aid, oil and, incredibly, material for building light-water nuclear reactors to the North Koreans in exchange for their abandoning their nuclear weapons program. The problem is they didn't abandon their nuclear weapons program; they just said they did. And in 2002, they admitted as much. Still, to this day, Carter claims that his approach was a success and that it was President Bush's inclusion of North Korea in the famous "axis of evil" speech that led to current leader Kim Jong Il's hostility toward America.
The fruits of Carter's history with Iran are even more rotten. Carter's abandonment of the shah in 1977-78 helped lead to the Islamic revolution (and the murder or imprisonment of many of the Iranian leftists who had supported overthrowing the shah), the emboldening of the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan and the rise of radical Islam worldwide. His botched approach to the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 inspired Islamic terrorists all over the world, culminating in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The threat of nuclear war emanating from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can be seen as another offshoot of Carter's ineffective policies. Predictably, Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, his former national security adviser, are now pushing for "direct talks" with Iran. But considering the abject failure of U.N.-brokered negotiations (supported by the Bush administration) thus far, it is difficult to imagine how U.S.-led negotiations would fare any better.
Wherever U.S. interests have been imperiled and a temporary "peace" could be bought at the expense of long-term security, Carter has always been on board. The late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan summed it up when he said of Carter in 1980, "Unable to distinguish between our friends and our enemies, he has essentially adopted our enemies' view of the world."
Meddler and Failure
Another of Jimmy Carter's dubious legacies has been the now common habit of former presidents meddling in current politics. Carter has made many an enemy among both Republican and Democratic administrations by undermining their foreign policies via the Carter Center. As Chris Suellentrop put it in an article for Slate magazine, Carter has "difficulties coming to grips with the fact that he … [is] not president."
Despite the overwhelming evidence of failure, Carter has become something of a sacred cow to many liberals, who often express outrage when their hero is criticized. But no one who inserts himself into the public sphere is above criticism. And how quickly Carter's fans forget the malaise that gripped the nation under his presidency.
My own childhood memories of the time consist mostly of long lines snaking around gas stations due to the embargo on Iranian oil, not to mention a general feeling in the country of want and hopelessness. Carter may have inherited a recession, but his presidency did little to improve the weak economy. This was among the reasons that he lost re-election to Ronald Reagan in 1980. Yet somehow Carter's presidency is still held up by some as a shining example for the current leadership to follow.
Woe unto Israel now that Carter's book has entered the pantheon of propaganda.
And woe unto America if Jimmy Carter is our guiding light.