Friday, June 22, 2007

Jimmy Carter Is Not Great, (With Apologies to Christopher Hitchens)

Former US President Jimmy Carter’s latest attack from foreign soil against the Bush administration was made this week in Ireland, where he proclaimed falsely, in addition to stupidly, that the Bush administration’s “refusal to accept the 2006 election victory of Hamas was ‘criminal.’” ("Carter: Stop favoring Fatah over Hamas").

Exercising the universal party perk enjoyed by all Democrats, Carter was free to make allegations of criminal wrongdoing without bothering about the customary meaning of the term “criminal,” which is that someone broke a law. Nowadays if you're a Democrat, anything you don't like in politics ipso facto qualifies as a “crime.” (You know how this works. AG Gonzales fires 8 at-will attorneys, so that’s a crime; Scooter Libby remembers a conversation with Tim Russert differently than Russert does, so that’s a crime; the US Congress authorizes the President to go to war in Iraq, and when he does so, that’s a crime.)

Strangely enough, Egypt has undertaken the exact same kind of isolating efforts against Hamas that the Bush administration did, to the point of calling a regional summit for next week (a summit to include Israel, no less), attempting to boost Mahmoud Abbas, and isolate Hamas, for substantially the same reasons:

“More than seeking peace with Israel, Egypt and other U.S. Arab allies are seeking to prevent the new power of Islamic radicals in Gaza from strengthening fundamentalists on their own soil. They also fear Gaza will become a stronghold for Iranian influence on their doorsteps." (“Egypt fights militancy at home with summit to isolate Hamas”),

We will wait to see if Carter extends his indictment of criminality to Egypt. Perhaps he can accuse Egypt, as he accused Tony Blair, of being "loyal, blind, apparently subservient" to the United States. ("Abominable. Blind. Subservient. Ex-President Carter lambasts Blair for support").

The US action that Carter denounces as “criminal” was that

“Far from encouraging Hamas's move into parliamentary politics…the US and Israel, with European Union acquiescence, has sought to subvert the outcome” of that election “by shunning Hamas and helping Abbas to keep the reins of political and military power.”

Carter’s comments ignore completely the intervening event that swung the US, Israel, the EU, and now even Egypt, into feverish efforts to prop up Fatah, namely, Hamas’s armed coup of last week, a coup that was followed immediately by Hamas’s cold-blooded executions of many of their political foes, and establishment of an Islamic state in Gaza. Even Carter, were he man enough to grapple with actual facts rather than his delusional worldview, should be able to recognize that shooting Fatah fighters in their legs is not a traditional parliamentary procedure--even in the Middle East.

Nor does Hamas's violence say much for the genuineness of Hamas’s desire to “move into parliamentary politics,” if they would exploit their superior arms, discipline, and cunning to vanquish their own partners in the now-dissolved unity government.

Carter conflates the US’s perfectly consistent foreign-policy decision after the 2006 elections--to deny support and aid to a known terrorist entity--with this week’s post-coup response to try to salvage Abbas’s government as the lesser of the two evils with whom, sooner or later, Israel and the rest of us are going to have to try to deal.

Only an act of (criminal?) obtuseness by Carter could prevent him betraying any awareness of Hamas’s own belligerent decision to violently seize one-party control and “subvert the outcome” of last year’s parliamentary election by means of a bloody coup. Carter has always been able to render invisible what he didn't want to see.

That, or he continues to show how he scorns mere earthly evidences in favor of the Inner Light that has always guided him.

Carter’s dangerousness is not that he holds a strict moral vision to which he always strives to measure up, but that he holds a strict moral vision that he thinks he reached long ago--reached it easily, in fact-- and has been impatiently missionizing the rest of us ever since.

Carter’s presidency was typified by this puritanical refusal to besmirch his immaculate self through any truckling with political uncleanness, preferring to scold the rest of the world from the high vantage point of his “absolute” commitment to “human rights.” To those who remember the Carter years, they weren't distinguished by any actual advance of human rights, and in fact saw them in serious retreat. But he was always true to the principles of his superior moral agenda, even if it was a disaster for the country and the world.

That’s what enabled him to sell out the Shah, (and along with him Iran, and what little was left of America’s post-Vietnam honor), and yet remain completely unable to understand the Ayatollah Khomenini and his fanatical Islamic revolution. He thought he could work with Muslims, sensing in the Iranian fanatics a similar 100% commitment to Higher Things.

In a 2004 article in the New York Post, ("America Can’t Do a Thing”), Amir Taheri described how even Khomeini couldn't believe Carter’s impotence in the wake of Iran's seizing of our embassy personnel:

According to his late son Ahmad, who had been asked to coordinate with the embassy-raiders, the ayatollah feared "thunder and lightning" from Washington. But what came, instead, was a series of bland statements by Carter and his aides pleading for the release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds.

Carter's envoy to the United Nations, a certain Andrew Young, described Khomeini as "a 20th-century saint," and begged the ayatollah to show "magnanimity and compassion."

Carter went further by sending a letter to Khomeini.

Written in longhand, it was an appeal from "one believer to a man of God."

Carter really thought he was on Khomeini’s wavelength, just one spiritual powerhouse to another.

Comments Taheri: “Carter's syrupy prose must have amused Khomeini, who preferred a minimalist style with such phrases as "we shall cut off America's hands."

And Carter's sense of his own rightness hasn't ever wavered from his last day in office until now. If anything, he has grown more certain of his message, of his absolute moral power, of his prophetic mission, even while growing more and more bitter at being outshined by such clear moral inferiors as Ronald Reagan and the hated George W. Bush.

It is this unteachable moral certainty, mixed with gall, that explains the petulant absurdities that come forth, as Christopher Hitchens has trenchantly observed, “Almost always, when former President Jimmy Carter opens his big, smug mouth.” (“Peanut envy”).

As a matter of fact, Hitchens’s recent attacks on religious belief makes use of Jimmy Carter as a handy exhibit--too handy, by far. To be sure I still have more in common with Carter’s religious views than Hitchens’s nasty atheism, but the latter really puts his finger on how Carter’s self-righteous certainties make him so shameless in his public comments. Describing how Carter not only messed things up in Iran, Iraq, and just about every place else in the ‘70s, while at the same time digging us into many of the same holes we're still in, Hitchens says:

If I had done such a thing, I would take very good care to be modest when discussions of Middle Eastern crises came up. But here's the thing about self-righteous, born-again demagogues: Nothing they ever do, or did, can be attributed to anything but the very highest motives.

Here is a man who, in his latest book on the Israel-Palestine crisis, has found the elusive key to the problem. The mistake of Israel, he tells us (and tells us that he told the Israeli leadership) is to have moved away from God and the prophets and toward secularism. If you ever feel like a good laugh, just tell yourself that things would improve if only the Israeli government would be more Orthodox. Jimmy Carter will then turn his vacantly pious glare on you, as if to say that you just don't understand what it is to have a personal savior.

If Hitchens had limited his infidel attacks to Carter and other similarly puffed-up jackasses, one could almost sympathize with his antipathy to any god who would send such sorry examples through the Earth as his prophets. Unfortunately, no doubt a bit carried away himself with the sound of his own English, Hitchens feels he has to attack even Mother Teresa.

At any rate, since Carter got himself de-selected by a fed-up electorate in 1980, he has continued pressing on the upward way to his personal Zion, in his own mind at any rate, achieving status as probably the second-holiest, and first most obnoxious, of the mystics of the Christian Left, following closely behind Bill Moyers. (Moyers’s wins out thanks to the miraculous gall he showed by going, practically straight from working as LBJ’s press secretary during Vietnam to permanent fixturedom at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he has been indoctrinating PBS viewers ever since. calls him the “conscience of American journalism.” (“The Salon Interview: Bill Moyers”) Gag me!)

Bush is going to get a mountain of criticism for throwing support behind Abbas and Fatah as “moderates,” when Arafat’s Fatah has never been anything but a gang of terrorists and thieves. I expect Bush figured the only alternative was to wash our hands of the tatters of Palestinian government all together, and let Israel have civil wars across two borders, and refugees fleeing over from noth east and west.

But I long ago figured out that the mark of being grown up is not the ability always to choose the absolute good over the obviously evil, but to choose between evils when no good choice presents itself--and then live with the consequences. Bush has been proving his manhood that way for seven years. And whenever something doesn't work out, he doesn't accuse Americans of suffering from malaise, or wag his finger from a high horse.

Carter never had any such fetters against which to struggle. Carter never had to grow up. He always found the choices stark and obvious, and he could sleep nights as long as he selected the right one, consequences be damned.

Now, as he flies from one peace confab to another, we all get to hear how he grows more prophetic and outspoken as he ages (though not more correct, because that would suggest he had ever been wrong). His utter lack of capacity to be wrong is where his authority comes from, and his self-confidence.

For criticizing the retiring Tony Blair on the BBC, calling him "loyal, blind, apparently subservient," Hitchens addresses Carter thus:

Show us your peanut envy. Heap insults on a guest in Washington: a thrice-elected prime minister who was the first and strongest ally of the United States on the most awful day in its recent history. A man who was prepared to risk his own career to be counted as a friend. A man who was warning against the Taliban, against Slobodan Milosevic, and against Saddam Hussein when George Bush was only the governor of Texas. Leaders like that deserve a little respect even when they are wrong—but don't expect any generosity or courtesy from the purse-mouthed preacher man from Plains, who just purely knows he was right all along, and who, when that fails, can always point to the numberless godly victories that he won over the forces of evil.

I think it is going to be Carter's smallness that determines his legacy in the end. He'll need two libraries: one to document the dismal record of his years in the White House, and one to memorialize his insufferable prattling in the years after. Even the simple things of the office that he could have preserved at no cost he was unable to keep intact, like the custom that ex-presidents don't criticize sitting ones, or that prominent Americans don't attack US foreign policy from foreign soil.

Not enough that he failed as President, (a difficult job for much better men than him), why does he have to keep reminding us of why we were so glad to see him out of office? (Full disclosure, I voted for him, twice. But I was still glad to see him go. Every sinner has a past, as Bill Bennett likes to quote).


Ronbo said...

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Ronbo said...


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