Jimmy Carter: Walter Russell Mead Does My Presidency a Disservice





[Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States.]

Although I have refrained from responding to gratuitous and incorrect analyses of my foreign policy, I feel compelled to comment on Walter Russell Mead's cover story ("The Carter Syndrome," January/February 2010), which the editors apparently accepted without checking the author's facts or giving me a chance to comment. I won't criticize or correct his cute and erroneous oversimplistic distortions of presidential biographies and history except when he refers specifically to me. I resent Mead's use of such phrases as "in the worst scenario, turn him [Obama] into a new Jimmy Carter," "weakness and indecision," and "incoherence and reversals" to describe my service. An especially aggravating error is his claiming, "by the end of his tenure he was supporting the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, increasing the defense budget, and laying the groundwork for an expanded U.S. presence in the Middle East." None of these were late decisions based on a tardy realization of my earlier errors and misjudgments.

Except for obviously unpredictable developments like the fall of the shah, Iraq's invasion of Iran, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, all the actions described below were planned and announced even before I took the oath of office. These included energetic moves regarding China, the Middle East, Panama, nuclear arms control, defense budgets, Rhodesia, and human rights.

To ensure clear and continued top-down direction of U.S. foreign policy, I regularly reviewed a comprehensive agenda of international issues with my key advisors. These included the vice president, the secretaries of defense and state, the national security advisor, the chief of staff, and often the director of intelligence services. My decisions were recorded by National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and quickly shared with others, and when necessary, he convened a meeting of the two secretaries during the following week to ensure compliance with my directives....

Often over the objection of our European allies, we publicly and privately condemned the Soviet leaders' mistreatment of their own citizens, especially Jews and human rights activists. This aggressive policy bore rich dividends, as internal challenges to the regime were greatly strengthened and the annual out-migration of Russian Jews increased from a few dozen to more than 5,000. We actively supported the Solidarity movement in Poland, and reacted firmly and also mobilized the support of key allies in response to the threat of Soviet military intervention.

Following 30 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan as "the One China," I negotiated persistently with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for more than a year and was successful in reaching agreement in December 1978. This led to full relations with the People's Republic of China the following month -- while still continuing proper treatment of Taiwan. This was a strategic turning point in U.S.-China relations that my predecessors had not been willing or able to consummate. As China's global influence increased, the Soviet Union's was diminished. This was, perhaps, the most serious challenge to the global status of the Soviet Union. In addition, Moscow's enormous influence with Arab leaders in the Middle East was severely attenuated by our successful peace efforts. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in his writings, has given this overall policy of challenging the Soviet Union more public credit than have I for its ultimate demise.

There was no pressure on me to launch a peace initiative in the Middle East, but I did so from my first days in office. I realized that there had been four wars against Israel during the preceding quarter-century, with Egypt being the only Arab force that was strong enough to be a real threat. At Camp David and during the following weeks, we negotiated a resolution to the Palestinian issue and a treaty of peace early in 1979 between Egypt and Israel. Although written commitments to the Palestinians have not been honored, not a word of the peace treaty has been broken. Tragically, there has been little if any real progress since that time....

NATO was strengthened, U.S. military budgets steadily increased (despite my spending levels being somewhat reduced by Congress), and many technical innovations were introduced under Defense Secretary Harold Brown, a noted physicist and former president of the California Institute of Technology. This included precision bombs, seminal improvements in ground- and air-launched cruise missiles, and development of stealth aircraft....

Although it is true that we did not become involved in military combat during my presidency, I do not consider this a sign of weakness or reason for apology. While maintaining the peace, for ourselves and many others, we greatly expanded our global influence and also protected the security, strength, ideals, and integrity of the United States....

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