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Of all the criticisms Jimmy Carter shouldn't be making, the allegation about President Bush's foreign policy shortcomings tops the list. He should not need to be reminded that it was his botching of the Iranian hostage situation that helped get us where we are today.
While few would disagree about the president's failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and his inability to bring key European allies into the mix, only a brief glance at history will tell us where this whole mess began. But then Carter has been in denial about his role almost since the last vote was cast for his successor Ronald Reagan in 1980, leaving him to search for vindication by sticking his nose into every international crisis from Haiti to the Middle East in an ultimately successful campaign for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The former Navy officer turned politician turned peanut farmer turned politician can claim credit for winning a detente between Egypt and Israel that was no small achievement. He also is a nice man whose bitterness over what he felt was an unfair rejection by the voters finally spewed out in his ranking of Bush as the biggest Oval Office lunk head in history when it comes to overseas affairs and his slandering of British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a toady, breaking the rule about former presidents not speaking ill about the current holder of the job.
When Carter left office his ratings were as low or lower than Bush's, dipping into the 20s for job approval on a series of domestic and foreign policy blunders that left U.S. prestige abroad in a shambles and turned Iran into a theocratic state that fosters and finances terrorism and still does. His misguided stances included canceling U.S. participation in the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a silly protest that accomplished nothing and hurt only the American athletes who had trained for years.
But the capper, of course, came when he withdrew U.S. support for the ailing shah of Iran, a Western educated, pro-American monarch who had kept radical Muslims in line and provided stability throughout the area. This sometimes required what Carter saw as repressive measures by the shah's dreaded secret police. So what does this born again Georgian do? He helps unleash one of the most regressive radicals in modern history, the Ayatollah Khomeini, on Iran and the world. The secret police were amateurs compared to the oppressiveness this creature brought with him from exile in Paris.
The cleric, whose religious ideology was right out of the 11th century, then warned his benefactor not to permit the dispossessed shah to get medical treatment in the United States. That was too much even for Carter who ignored the edict. The ayatollah then gave his young militants the go-ahead to storm the American embassy, holding 52 hostages and making the U.S. a laughingstock for more than 444 days while Carter dithered, afraid of the consequences of military action. He finally OK'd an improbable plan for rescue but quickly abandoned it when a helicopter crashed killing nine of the team. The nation's wimp image, along with his, was certified.
Meanwhile, the new Persian dictators turn their attention to promoting anti-Americanism throughout the globe and establishing a rogue state about to reach critical mass with its nuclear development. At the same time they have tried, not unsuccessfully, to feed the insurgency in Iraq with financing and roadside bombs.
That Carter seemed to retreat a bit in normal political fashion after his remarks caused the White House to bite back, calling him "irrelevant," which under the circumstance seems mild albeit correct. He said he was speaking in a context that was misunderstood. Right. Actually, he has been openly critical of Bush in the past without eliciting a response from the White House.
Taken together, the mistakes in Middle East policy would fill volumes. But Carter, who cultivates an image of fairness and integrity, should understand better than anyone that our current problems have been a long time in the making, dating back to his own bad judgment. It probably is time for him to restrict himself to pounding nails in houses for the poor.