Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Saint Jimmy

One wonders why anyone would listen to a guy who was arguably the worst president of the 20th Century. But German magazine, Der Speigel, did and published his rantings in an interview with former president Jimmy Carter. Before wading through his comments one should remember what Jimmy Carter did for the country. He failed as a president in all sorts of ways. He produced the highest interest rates in the country, while driving up inflation and unemployment. So much for the Phillips Curve. He looked feckless internationally both during the origins of the war on terror and against the soviets. Cardigan sweaters were substituted for energy policy. His greatest skill was to schedule the use of the White House tennis courts. He simply did not understand how to do his job. His activities in the White House were complemented by a traqi-comic cast of characters who seemed to think they were still back on the farm.

There is plenty to raise issue with on this president. His happy talk early in the war in Iraq set the American people up to think that the war would be like Gulf 1 or Greneda. In reality, the president could have been more forthright about how tough this set of battles will be. One could also make a strong case that we could have concentrated our resources in other ways (in other countries or in trying to clean up Afghanistan before moving to Iraq. There are lots of arguments that could be made - but Carter's interview rolls back to his moral hectoring. He seems intent on restoring his reputation for his failed presidency by second guessing all of his successors. He has been especially virulent on his GOP successors.

Carter's biggest triumph in his presidency , the Camp David accords, have kept at least one nation out of the fray in the Middle East, but one wonders whether all of the hype could have been followed up in subsequent administrations. Or whether with some more effort Carter and his team could have produced more. Carter's record on the domestic scene and his record during his presidency in foreign affairs should yield some humility. But it does not. Carter parades with sanctimony but drips of vengence. His comments in the interview suggest that he has no understanding of virtues like charity, or God forbid that there might be alternative ways to achieve American objectives. Besides the killer rabbit, one of Carter's finest moments (and remember the mythology that he was a pretty smart guy - an engineer afterall) was during the campaign in 1976. At one point he argued that we should significantly increase taxes on all people in the country "above the median income." When he was informed that a person of median income had pretty modest resources - he replied (with a straight face) "I did not mean THAT median."

Carter and his types ignore the key role of Israel. Again Israel is not perfect, but they should be a key part of our strategy in the middle east. But here Saint Jimmy ignores a couple of key details. He forgets (or ignores) that Hezbollah has as an objective the destruction of Israel. Yet he talks in terms of moral equivalencies between the Isrealis and the Syrian/Iranians/Hezbollah. Of course, there is room for disagreement about how one sovereign nation deals with another and the campaign in Lebanon probably could have been run better. But does Carter believe that the UN would have responded evenly to the incursions that Hezbollah and its allies mounted without some form of Israeli response?

The interview meandered through the Middle East and this President's role in the war on terror. Carter, who appointed U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, the judge who wrote the incoherent opinion on the NSA program telephone intercept program, made the absurd argument that civil liberties are absolute. Most of what Carter said is what he has always said. As he did in his presidency he thinks talk and action are the same things. Cardigan sweaters do not create energy, and yakking mostly does not solve big problems. Force is a legitimate tool in foreign policy - it should be used with care but it is no less viable. Sure Mr. Carter has built some houses and made some other contributions to our society that are more valuable than the kinds of financial exploitation that Clinton has done from his retirement. But his real contribution over his post presidential period has been to support people like Hugo Chavez (and a couple of other two bit dictators).

The pointer to the interview is above - but it is really not worth reading.

No comments: