Jewish World Review May 19, 2002 / 8 Sivan, 5762
El Jefe basks in Carter's Light
Forget "Spider-Man." The real blockbuster of the season is "Jimmy and Fidel's Excellent Adventure," starring former President Carter and Energizer Bunny Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The early reviews from the mainstream press are glowing: Carter's best performance yet! Castro seems totally at ease in his role as host! The two have a natural chemistry!
There's Oscar buzz in the air.
It makes perfect sense that Castro would have sought this costarring role. Cuba is sinking into economic quicksand. After the fall of its Soviet patron, the money flow from Moscow to Havana has gradually run dry. Meanwhile, European and Canadian businesses have pulled back investments that went bad in the bureaucratic morass of a state-controlled economy. Even Mexico, one of Castro's most loyal defenders, seems to have had it. So it was a no-brainer for el Jefe. And, boy, has it paid off. Castro hasn't gotten this much publicity since the triumphant return of would-be inner-tube defector Elian Gonzales. Far more troubling are the actions of Carter. First, he put the Bush administration in an untenable position by requesting permission for a special visa to visit Cuba. (Imagine the outrage on the left if the administration politely had said no.) Second, he scheduled his trip at a time when the Bush foreign policy team is already juggling the war against terror and the situation in the Middle East. Third, he sided with the Castro regime against the U.S. on the issue of whether Cuba is developing weapons of mass destruction.
Last week, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton charged that Cuba had developed the capacity to produce biological weapons and had shared some of that expertise with rogue nations such as Iran and Syria. On Monday, Carter, flanked by Castro flacks, questioned the timing of the Bolton comments and said U.S. officials had told him that there was no evidence linking Cuba to the export of biological weaponry. Setting aside the fact that a former president would share the substance of intelligence briefings with a communist dictator, it is appalling that Carter would criticize his government while visiting one of the world's most abusive regimes.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell reiterated that the government believed that Cuba had "a biological offensive research capability" and that Bolton's comments were "not breaking new ground." But the U.S. should rest peacefully because Carter also has proclaimed that he believes that his pals in Cuba will live up to their international commitments restraining certain transfers of potentially dangerous technology.
Defenders of Carter's Cuba trip point to the heightened international awareness of Cuba's human rights abuses and a renewed dialogue on lifting the U.S. trade embargo, the bane of Castro's existence. For more than four decades, U.S. presidents have highlighted the horrors carried out to protect Cuba's communist way of life. Why does Carter think he will succeed in influencing Castro now when he couldn't as president? Has he decided to selectively repress memories of the horrific Mariel boat lift? As to the trade embargo, reasonable people disagree on that. Carter didn't have to give Castro a public relations boost to fire up the debate.
For the past several years, even those of us who didn't think much of the Carter presidency began to see him as the admirable idealist, hammering away for the poor with Habitat for Humanity. But this visit to Cuba reminds us that Carter has been the raspberry seed in the wisdom tooth of every administration that succeeded him. Jay Nordlinger in the National Review Online recently recounted how Carter cuddled up to Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega during the Reagan administration, traveled to North Korea when President Clinton stood against that nation's nuclear aspirations and lobbied the U.N. against the Gulf War during the previous Bush presidency.
Former presidents aren't just ordinary citizens. They remain on the public payroll, both with their pensions and the tax dollars spent to protect them and provide them with support staff. And they carry with them a level of prestige and cachet that requires that they pay special heed to the effects of their public pronouncements and visits with foreign leaders.
Society today is cluttered with actors, politicians and sports figures desperate to stage comebacks. All too often, they embarrass themselves.
In Carter's case, he embarrassed his country too.
JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by
Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Laura Ingraham