Jimmy Carter turns 92 today.
He has a mixed record as President. Althought he sometimes acted egregiously in foreign policy, he did not start any wars and has a solid record on domestic reforms, but seems unaware of his own accomplishments. The unfortunate part is that the economic benefits of his policies were not immediate and that, along with the Iranian hostage crisis, likely cost him re-election.
It's fascinating to go back and look at some of the things he's said.
From his 1971 Georgia gubernatorial inaugural address...
"I believe I know the people of our state as well as anyone. Based on this knowledge of Georgians North and South, Rural and Urban, liberal and conservative, I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over."
That's kind of a racist remark. I'm speculating that Carter would say today that there never should have been a "time" for discrimination. I suppose he didn't want to totally condemn segregationists, since there were still a lot of them and he needed their support.
On the 1976 Presidential campaign trail...
"Sometimes we try to justify this unsavory business on the cynical ground that by rationing out the means of violence we can somehow control the world’s violence. The fact is that we cannot have it both ways. Can we be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of the weapons of war?"
Under Presidents G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama, America's given up any pretense of being a champion of peace. Just ask the rest of the world. But at least now we're not being hypocritical about being the world's weapons supplier.
During his Presidency...
"For too many years, we’ve been willing to adopt the flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries, sometimes abandoning our own values for theirs. We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is better quenched with water. This approach failed, with Vietnam the best example of its intellectual and moral poverty. But through failure we have now found our way back to our own principles and values, and we have regained our lost confidence."
This was the struggle against Cold War communism. We've committed similar atrocities the post 9/11 struggle against Middle East adversaries, but have yet to "find our way back to our own principles and values."
"Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use."
Nearly 40 years later, most of the nation is finally catching up to that insight. Carter didn't, however, seem to do much on that front.
"We believe in the right of every country to be free from interference in its own internal affairs by another country. And we believe that world peace can come — which we both devoutly hope to see — through mutual respect, even among those who have some differences between us."
That sounds like the non-interventionist policy of George Washington.
"I want to stress again that human rights are not peripheral to the foreign policy of the United States. Our pursuit of human rights is part of a broad effort to use our great power and our tremendous influence in the service of creating a better world, a world in which human beings can live in peace, in freedom, and with their basic needs adequately met... Human rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood."
This is where Carter is spectacularly wrong, and contradicts the previous statement. His job was the defense of the United States and the rights of the American people, not to use "power" abroad for moral crusades. In the nation-state system, other countries jealously protect their interests and resent the moral hectoring and interference of more powerful countries.
Promote human rights by preserving them at home. Using diplomatic pressure, economic aid or sanctions, or military force on nations and cultures we don't understand will not advance human rights; they'll lead to backlash and blowback. Just as the best way to be a good neighbor is to mind your own business, so a nation best serves the world when it minds its own business.
"I guess my biggest failure was not getting reelected. [The loss taught me] not to ever let American hostages be held for 444 days in a foreign country without extracting them. I did the best I could, but I failed."
And that's the main reason he's seen as a weak President today. But one wonder if a President Ford, whom Carter narrowly defeated in 1976, would have been able to handle the crisis more effectively.