Jimmy Redux

Atlanta Jewish Times

Carter may repeat his tall tales about Israel, but they’re still not true and they still don’t matter.

Is Jimmy Carter up to his old tricks? Last month on the shows of Larry King, Wolf Blitzer and Joe Scarborough, he seemed a new ex-president, hawking a new book on his work with the Carter Center. He's a book-a-year man now, and as any author can tell you, that kind of quantity isn't good for quality.

He seems cheerful yet chastened, trying to rehabilitate his image and that of the Carter Center, with no desire for more of the fight he faced last year. These three interviews dealt only a little with Israel. They were mostly light in tone, friendly – in King's case, worshipful – and focused on the Carter Center's good works.

Make no mistake: Some of those works are good. Jewish audiences ask me why I call Carter a good man despite his vicious attacks on Israel and its supporters. Well, hundreds of thousands of Africans are not blind and millions around the world don't have yard-long worms crawling out through painful sores in part because of him.

But in foreign policy he has always shown stunningly poor judgment, and the Carter Center has never detached itself from his views.

His harebrained international schemes go way back. As president, he declared we should fight fire not with fire, but water, and this Neville Chamberlain-like attitude defined his presidency and his life. Actually, he fought fire with sugar water; he rarely met a dictator he couldn't praise.

Shortly before the shah of Iran was overthrown by Islamists, President Carter toasted him, calling Iran an "island of stability" because of "the love which your people give you" – this to one of the world's most hated rulers.

In the October interviews Carter still bragged of putting 75 American diplomats in Iran, omitting that they were kidnapped by terrorists and that 52 of them were held hostage for 444 days.

The shah toast was one among many. As president, Carter called Yugoslavian dictator Josep Tito "a man who believes in human rights" and "has led his people and protected their freedom." After Tito, Yugoslavia was primed for civil war.

Visiting Poland, Carter toasted its "enlightened leaders" – Stalinists all – and said, "Our concept of human rights is preserved in Poland … much better than other European nations with which I am familiar." Carter's familiarity with Europe left something to be desired; fortunately, the heroes -including Pope John Paul II – who created a new Poland knew better.

Of Nicolae Ceaucescu, the savage Communist autocrat of Romania, Carter said: "Our goals are the same. … We believe in enhancing human rights."

When Ronald Reagan – Winston Churchill to Carter's Chamberlain – brought the Communist dictators down, the world learned how vicious and brutal were the people Carter had adored.

His foreign bungling continued after his presidency. He posed with Nicaraguan strongman Daniel Ortega, who now repudiates almost everything he stood for when Carter fawned on him.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait on the first President Bush's watch, Carter began systematically undermining U.S. government policy, something ex-presidents of both parties have avoided for excellent reasons.

In speeches and articles, he attacked America's bid for U.N. authorization to fight Saddam Hussein. He wrote to the heads of Security Council nations, urging them to reject the United States and give "unequivocal support to an Arab League effort," which would not only solve the Kuwait problem, but "at long last also force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories."

Only Cuba and Yemen voted his way.

Brent Scowcroft, then the national security adviser, called Carter's letter "unbelievable. … If there was ever a violation of the Logan Act, prohibiting diplomacy by private citizens, this was it."

But there was more. Just days before the war, Carter wrote to the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, urging them to abandon their American ally. Some would call that treason. But these countries and others followed the U.S. lead; 34 nations conducted one of the most successful military operations in modern history.

This was but one milestone in Carter's effort to undermine our nation's foreign policy under Republican and Democratic presidents. He visited Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and garnered the despot's praise for having "understood the situation in our country" and for predicting that American military intervention could do no good. Intervention worked, and if it had occurred earlier, many more innocent people would have been saved from Milosevic's genocidal campaign.

It was in North Korea that he most undermined President Clinton. Kim Il-sung, Stalin's hand-picked tyrant, hosted Carter, who called it "tragic" that the International Atomic Energy Agency had (accurately) reported that North Korea was violating its nuclear nonproliferation commitments.

Carter found the North Korean people open, friendly and supportive of Kim's cruel regime. This was surreal; Kim is known to history as one of the 20th century's worst human rights violators.

Carter cut a private deal with Kim, called a news conference and bragged, "That killed the sanctions resolution." Clinton felt forced to acquiesce. The result was fine – for North Korea. It shut down its public nuclear weapons program and started a secret one, ultimately testing nuclear bombs and long-range missiles.

We now know the North Koreans were building Syria's nuclear capability too. Meanwhile, on Oct. 30, 2006, a report by Elie Wiesel, Vaclav Havel and the former prime minister of Norway stated that North Korea's actions against its own people "fall clearly within the definition of 'crimes against humanity.' "

In the end, new sanctions and aggressive diplomacy made the North Koreans cooperate, and we may actually get a non-nuclear Korea, no thanks to Carter.

I won't repeat what we all know about the damage he has done in the Middle East. After many resignations, the Carter Center Board of Councilors and its Middle East policy programs are almost Jew-free.

But Carter doesn't matter, and he knows it – a fitting punishment for naïve meddling in one foreign problem after another.

Tony Blair, twice the statesman Carter ever was, is the internationally recognized Middle East peacemaker. He matters. Condi Rice matters. Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas matter. The international community's nearly universal rejection of Carter's friends in Hamas-run Gaza matters, as does its embrace of Abbas' moderate Palestinian Authority, the heart of the future Palestinian state. The cooperation of Jordan and other Arab nations with Israel's renewed efforts to make peace matters. Israel's release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and hundreds of millions of dollars to Abbas' government matters. Jimmy Carter matters not at all.

He keeps sniping from the sidelines, mouthing bizarre assertions: that his book on Palestine is "totally accurate"; that "nobody has challenged its major claims"; and that there has been "not one day of peace negotiations in seven years." Let me translate: There has not been one day of peace negotiations involving ME!

In the wide-ranging Wolf Blitzer interview, he denied that there is genocide in Darfur, denied (after admitting ignorance) that the Syrian facility struck by Israel was nuclear-weapons-bound, and again denied any mistakes in his book about Israel.

In the Carter Center's disease programs, he took the advice of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention heroes like William Foege and Donald Hopkins. In foreign affairs he has followed his own flawed judgment, casting caution and sometimes loyalty to the winds.

Fight fire with water? Sure, but the worst fires are forest and grass fires, and sometimes those have to be fought with fire too. Carter wields a spray can of syrup while forest fires rage. "Peace in our time!" he keeps saying in one way or another, waving paper assurances from despots as reliable as Hitler. Think of him as a soldier in the fight against disease who also happens to be a foreign policy fool.