The Moral Foreign Policy of Jimmy Carter, March 13, 2007


If anyone is capable of commenting on President Bush's morally simple picture of foreign relations, it's Jimmy Carter. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Carter wore his faith as a born again Christian on his sleeve while in office. Unlike Bush, Carter put his Christian values to work making peace and helping to feed and clothe the world's poor, a practice he has continued to do out of office and around the world.

While Dubya's early foreign policy was about inviting the presidents of Mexico and Russia to an outdoor barbecue, Jimmy Carter successfully negotiated a lasting peace between Egypt and Israel in the first Camp David Accord, negotiated arms control with the Soviets and a peaceful end to the conflict over the Panama Canal. If the terrible events of 9/11 hadn't occurred, Mr. Bush would still be blissfully ignorant of the leader of Pakistan's name and America would be going its own unilateralist way, oblivious to the forces slowly marshaling against it.

If Carter's successors had adopted his idealistic foreign policy politics and his self-sufficient energy policies, 9/11 might never have happened. Carter chose negotiation over conflict, and the exporting of America's democratic values as foreign policy instead of choosing to arm "the enemy of my enemy," and worked to achieve America's energy independence from the OPEC Cartel.

Carter came from a family of dirt poor farmers, the first in his family to be college-educated. He had no silver spoon, no political dynasty, and no Hollywood good looks or career to vault him into politics. By force of will and intellect, Carter attended and graduated the Naval Academy, graduating near the top of his class.

He served his country in nuclear submarines until his father's illness led him to return to Plains to take over the family farm. Carter earned just $200 in his first harvest, but turned his father's farm into a profitable business that bought and shelled peanuts from neighboring farms. As Georgia's governor, Carter turned 300 inefficient state departments into 22 superagencies.

As president, Carter found himself the political outsider, distrusted as too liberal by Southern Democrats and too conservative by Northern Democrats who controlled Congress. Yet despite their lack of support, he kept a balanced budget and a tight economic ship at time when the economy faced the twin disasters of economic inflation and stagnation--the "stagflation" unique to this period of American economic history. Facing political opposition, the technocratic Carter founded the departments of Education and Energy, departments Republicans have always complained about but never dared eliminate.

Facing the expansion of OPEC and the loss of Iran as a US ally, Carter recognized that US energy self-sufficiency was a key element in any effort to prevent the use of oil as an economic weapon against America. The Energy Department he organized dedicated itself to exploring the increase of coal, nuclear, solar and domestic sources of oil and oil shale with the goal of making America energy independent. He broke a long-standing government policy by removing price controls over domestic oil and gas.

Unfortunately, the bulk of Carter's energy programs were gutted by the Reagan and Bush administrations, who preferred to import cheaper foreign oil -- and station US forces in the Middle East to guarantee its flow.

Carter's able Camp David negotiations led to an improvement of relations in the Middle East between Israel, Egypt, and eventually Jordan. Carter's negotiations over the Panama Canal defused a Latin American crisis over the canal's sovereignty. Despite the moaning of conservatives, the canal treaty continues to be effective after two decades.

Carter preferred negotiation to war. His successor's preferred conflict to negotiation. To combat the rising tide of Iranian fundamentalism, they supported Sadaam Hussein. To fight the invasion of the Russians, they trained and equipped Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

In the years since Carter left the presidency, he has if anything become a more effective representative of his ideals. While Carter's ex-presidential peers make money giving speeches, Carter demonstrates concern for homeless by building homes. He has shown a concern for the poor and sick by setting up an organization - The Carter Center - to rid Africa of Guinea worm disease; his love of democracy by serving as an election monitor in South America, and his desire for peace as a facilitator of the peaceful transfer of power from dictatorship to democracy in Haiti. Lately, he and Gerald Ford have worked together to improve America's helter-skelter electoral system.

Today the US maintains troops in Saudi Arabia to defend the oil we depend on from former US client Sadaam, and we have troops in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, and the Philippines fighting guerillas we formerly supported. The Arab on the street hates the US because we talk about freedom but support repressive Arab regimes just so we can drive our gas guzzling SUVs. Jimmy Carter continues his concrete efforts to support democracy and to feed and house the poor--George W. Bush would do well to listen to him and follow his example.

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