Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2002 / 29 Elul, 5762
Carter, as you may not recall since he cast quite a small shadow as president, made "human rights" the foundation of his foreign policy. No longer would we judge nations by whether they were on our side or with the communists. No indeed. Early in his term, Carter freed us from an "inordinate fear of communism." Instead, we'd make respect for human rights our only concern.
Before it was all over (his four-year term lasted at least a century), 13 new countries were overtaken by communist coups d'etat, American helicopters lay burning in the Iranian desert, and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young had burbled that the United States shouldn't criticize the Soviet Union since we had plenty of political prisoners of our own.
Carter doesn't quite remember it that way. (And don't ask him to tell you what interest rates were on the day he left office, either.) He wrote: "Formerly admired almost universally as the preeminent champion of human rights, our country has become the foremost target of respected international organizations concerned about these basic principles of democratic life." Translation: When I was president, the whole world loved and respected the United States. Today, that's all gone down the drain.
Many years ago, I happened to find myself at the same dinner table with George McGovern. I asked him why he thought he had lost the 1972 election. He answered unhesitatingly, and rather as if it were so obvious as not to require explanation, that it was the "Eagleton business." Sen. Thomas Eagleton had been McGovern's first pick as Vice President and was forced to leave the ticket. This caused a fleeting scandal -- but it was scarcely a drop in the ocean of unsuitability McGovern demonstrated throughout that campaign.
Experience is the best teacher -- but not every student is capable of learning. Carter is deluding himself rather massively. Far from engendering worldwide admiration, his combination of self-righteousness and weakness invited scorn. During the 1970s, the Soviets became convinced that what they called the "correlation of forces" had shifted dramatically in their favor. And thugs from Grenada to Tehran felt emboldened to stick their thumbs in Uncle Sam's eye.
Worse even than Carter's sanctimony was his obliviousness. For while he claimed to view human rights as the loadstar of his foreign policy, he assiduously ignored the massive human-rights nightmare of the communist world.
What are these "respected international organizations concerned about these basic principles of democratic life?" There are some wonderful countries in the world, but it's difficult to think of a single international organization that is more devoted to liberty, human rights and the rule of law than the United States.
Regarding Iraq, Carter reassures us that "there is no current danger to the United States from Baghdad. In the face of intense monitoring and overwhelming American military superiority, any belligerent move by Hussein against a neighbor, even the smallest nuclear test ... or sharing this technology with terrorist organizations, would be suicidal."
There is an example of the kind of thinking that convinced the American people that they could do without a second Carter term. How would we know whether a terrorist group obtained a nuclear weapon from Saddam? Our intelligence agencies can't find 5,000 Al Qaeda members living in the United States.
And is Carter suggesting that we must wait until New York or Washington is incinerated and then retaliate against Iraqi civilians with a massive nuclear counterattack? Is that preferable to military action now, before Saddam has nuclear weapons?
Why is Carter so eager to believe (against all the evidence) that a criminal like Hussein is so tractable? We can all hope that Saddam Hussein will prove sane and reasonable. The difference between Carter and the foreign policy team he so derides is that they are unwilling to bank on it.
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