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Jewish Journal

‘Our Worst Ex-President’

by Brad A. Greenberg

December 20, 2007 | 11:43 pm

Among the top 10 quotes of 2007, according to the Yale Book of Quotations, via Mother Jones, former President Jimmy Carter’s comment to my friend the Bible Belt Blogger came in at No. 10.

“I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.”

I can’t say I disagree about President Bush, and neither would these people. But, to many Jews, especially these ones, ain’t nobody been a worse former president than James Earl Carter.

This story from February continues to dominate the top of Commentary‘s online archive. It talks about Carter’s unexpected political ascendancy, his continued geopolitical meddling and his problem with Israel.

Carter’s frequent pronouncements on issues of the day and his free-lance diplomacy—have had a much sharper edge. He has injected himself into several foreign crises, sometimes with the grudging acquiescence of existing U.S. administrations but sometimes in open defiance of them.

One remarkable instance grew out of Carter’s strong opposition to the use of force to reverse the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Not satisfied with issuing a torrent of statements and articles, he dispatched a letter to the heads of state of members of the United Nations Security Council and several other governments urging them to oppose the American request for UN authorization of military action. In this letter, writes Carter’s admiring biographer Douglas Brinkley, he urged these influential world leaders to abandon U.S. leadership and instead give “unequivocal support to an Arab League effort, without any restraints on their agenda.” If this were allowed to occur, Carter believed, an Arab solution would not only force Iraq to leave Kuwait but at long last also force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

The U.S. government under President George H.W. Bush learned of Carter’s missive only from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada. Brent Scowcroft, Bush’s National Security Adviser, called it “unbelievable” that Carter would “ask . . . the other members of the Council to vote against his own country. . . . f there was ever a violation of the Logan Act prohibiting diplomacy by private citizens, this was it.” Later, Carter justified his action by noting that he had sent the letter to President Bush, too—as if this disposed of Scowcroft’s point. And even that was only a half-truth. As Brinkley reports, the copy to Bush was dated a day after the letter was sent to the others.

Despite Carter’s appeal, the Security Council voted 12-2 to authorize military action, with only Cuba and Yemen taking Carter’s side. But this was not the end of the ex-President’s efforts. Just days before the announced deadline for Iraq to withdrawal from Kuwait, Carter wrote to the rulers of America’s three most important Arab allies in the crisis—Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia—imploring them to break with Washington: “I urge you to call publicly for a delay in the use of force while Arab leaders seek a peaceful solution to the crisis. You may have to forgo approval from the White House, but you will find the French, Soviets, and others fully supportive.” This time, he did not share a copy of his appeal with his own government even after the fact.

Why, one may ask, was Carter so adamant on the point of “an Arab solution”? After all, the so-called “Carter doctrine,” which he had laid down in his 1980 State of the Union address in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, explicitly threatened war in circumstances similar to those created by Saddam’s naked aggression in the Persian Gulf. What, then, led him to take a different tack in this instance? Brinkley’s gloss supplies a possible answer. It appears that Carter saw the fruits of Saddam’s aggression as providing valuable leverage against Israel that he did not want to see squandered. Why he might have been thinking in such terms is a subject to which we shall return.

When the article does return to Israel, it offers point-by-point grievances with Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”’ Here’s one:

It is not only Arafat whose pacifism Carter credits. Now that the PLO has been upstaged by Hamas, he finds peaceful intentions in that quarter, too—even in the face of Hamas denials that it adheres to any such view. Reporting credulously that “Hamas would modify its rejection of Israel if there is a negotiated agreement that Palestinians can approve,” he has urged Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to forge a coalition government with this terrorist organization that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Hamas, Carter writes, has “meticulously observed a cease-fire commitment,” and “since August of 2004 [it] has not committed a single act of terrorism that cost an Israeli life.”

This was, of course, before Hamas militants rebooted their daily rocket attacks on the town of Sderot and the surrounding Kibbutzim.

Ever since his presidency, there has been a wide gap between Carter’s estimation of himself and the esteem in which other Americans hold him. This has manifestly embittered him. For all his talk of “love,” the driving motives behind his post-presidential ventures seem, in fact, to be bitterness together with narcissism (as it happens, two prime ingredients of a martyr complex). But he has worked hard to earn the reputation he enjoys. In contravention of the elementary responsibilities of loyalty for one in his position, he has denigrated American policies and leaders in his public and private discussions in foreign lands. He has undertaken personal diplomacy to thwart the policies of the men elected to succeed him. And in doing so he has, at least in the case of North Korea, actively damaged our security.

At home, Carter’s criticisms of the policies of his successors are offered up with reckless abandon. For example, when the Patriot Act and related measures curtailed the rights of defendants accused of terrorism, Carter editorialized that “in many nations, defenders of human rights were the first to feel the consequences.” The charge was simply a concoction, and not a single example was offered to substantiate it. In this manner, Carter has made himself a willing hook on which foreigners can hang their anti-American feelings. When he was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, the chairman of the committee allowed that the award “should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. It’s a kick in the leg to all who follow the same line as the United States.”

Carter’s special rancor toward Israel remains to some degree mysterious, as such sentiments often are, but it is likely we have not heard the last of it. As the protests and criticisms of him continue, he may well sink deeper into his sense of angry martyrdom, following the path recently trod by academics like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who fancy themselves victims of the very Jewish conspiracies they set out to expose. It is sad that a President whose cardinal accomplishment was a peace accord between Israel and one of its neighbors should have devolved into such a seething enemy of Israel. It will be sadder still if this same man, whose other achievement was to elevate the cause of human rights, ends his career by helping to make anti-Semitism acceptable once again in American discourse.

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