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Contentions

Jimmy Carter: Role Model?

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer makes this point:

Three Iran sanctions resolutions passed in the Bush years. They were all passed without a single “no” vote. But after 16 months of laboring to produce a mouse, Obama garnered only 12 votes for his sorry sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining and Turkey and Brazil voting against.

So nothing good came of Obama’s Bash-America Tour, in which he traveled to foreign capitals to criticize America for sins committed long ago or imaginary. Indeed, the premise of Obama’s approach to international affairs — that America’s problems in the world were caused by America’s sins, and Obama’s charm offensive would overcome any obstacles between us and our enemies — has been eviscerated.

In a wonderful essay in COMMENTARY in February 1981, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in reviewing the failures of the Carter presidency, wrote about the ideas that animated it, including:

The political hostility which the United States encountered around the world, and especially in the Third World, was, very simply, evidence of American aggression or at least of American wrongdoing… If the United States denied itself the means of aggression, it would cease to be aggressive. When it ceased to be aggressive, there would be peace – in the halls of the United Nations no less than in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.

Moynihan went on to write about the Carter administration’s “fateful avoidance of reality” — “a denial that there is genuine hostility toward the United States in the world and true conflicts of interest between this nation and others – and illusion that a surface reasonableness and civility are the same as true cooperation.” He warned about the “psychological arrogance that lay behind the seeming humility of our new relations with the Third World – it was we who still determined how others behaved.” And Moynihan concluded his essay this way:

With the experience of the last four years, we should at least have learned that foreign policy cannot be conducted under the pretense that we have no enemies in the world – or at any rate none whose enmity we have not merited by our own conduct. For it was this idea more than anything else, perhaps, that led the Carter administration into disaster abroad and overwhelming defeat at home.

President Obama and his White House aides would be wise to reflect on Moynihan’s words and warning, which are as apposite now as they were then. There are a lot of presidents Obama could model himself after; Jimmy Carter shouldn’t be one of them.


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