Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jimmy Carter

Reagan and Israel: the Real Story

Any time tensions rise between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two leaders are treated to a two-step process: headlines proclaiming the U.S.-Israel relationship at a low ebb followed by commentators pointing out that it has been far worse in the past, and to please have some perspective. That is true, and exaggeration should always be avoided. But it’s also important to understand the U.S.-Israel relationship through the years in the proper context.

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Any time tensions rise between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two leaders are treated to a two-step process: headlines proclaiming the U.S.-Israel relationship at a low ebb followed by commentators pointing out that it has been far worse in the past, and to please have some perspective. That is true, and exaggeration should always be avoided. But it’s also important to understand the U.S.-Israel relationship through the years in the proper context.

Because Republicans today are more supportive of Israel than Democrats, someone usually pops up to say that Obama and Bibi may not like each other very much, but even Ronald Reagan–this is meant to underscore conservatives’ supposed lack of perspective–treated his Israeli counterpart worse than this. A favorite column for these writers is Chemi Shalev’s 2011 Haaretz piece titled “If Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he’d be impeached.”

During the current conflict in Gaza the column has been surfaced as usual, recently by Gene Healy in the Washington Examiner. Today in Haaretz, Gershom Gorenberg doesn’t cite Shalev but does take a walk down memory lane to point out many of the times the U.S.-Israel relationship has been in far worse shape, taking a shot at Reagan and his admirers along the way.

So what are all these writers overlooking? Put simply, it’s context. There’s no question Reagan had his fights with then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin. But the question isn’t whether Obama would be “impeached” for treating Israel the way Reagan did. It’s why Obama, or any modern president, gets such pushback anytime the rhetoric approaches that of decades past. It’s not because of the “Israel Lobby.” It’s largely because of the way the U.S.-Israel relationship improved under Reagan and became what it is today.

In 2011, I contributed a post to National Review Online’s “Reagan at 100” series of remembrances NR was running on its Corner blog in honor of Reagan’s centennial. I wrote about Reagan and Begin. Here is part of my post:

Israel’s counteroffensive against the PLO in South Lebanon strained the relationship. But here, too, Reagan proved he could be open-minded about Israel’s predicament. When Reagan lectured Begin on the reports of civilian casualties, Begin painstakingly explained how the media reports not only weren’t true, but could not possibly be true. In a meeting that was supposed to be a dressing-down, Reagan became convinced the Israelis were getting a bad rap in the press. He brought Begin in to meet with his cabinet and told Begin to repeat to them what he had just told the president. Begin obliged, and left feeling a bit better about the trust between the two men.

Another test came with the killings at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. The Israelis were blamed for supposedly allowing the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militias. The accusation was outrageous, but it wounded Begin. Here again, however, Reagan stood out. [Yehuda] Avner was able to report to his boss that “there are people in the [Reagan] administration who are angry, but not the president.”

The point is that the Begin premiership was a series of challenges for Israel, its allies, and the Jewish diaspora. When Likud won national elections for the first time in 1977, the Columbia Journalism Review noted in a piece two years ago, “[Abba] Eban and others would continue to lunch with their friends at the Times in New York, where they regularly predicted the imminent collapse of the Begin government.” This cohort “spoke frequently to their friends in the media, telling them that the new crowd was a disaster, ‘that Begin was an extreme nationalist, a war-monger.’”

So Begin came into office with Israeli figures already trying to convince Americans they shouldn’t get used to dealing with Begin. Then came Israel’s raid on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, which Reagan thought he’d been excluded from by Begin when in fact Jimmy Carter had been in consultation with Israel about the threat from the reactor; it was Carter who left Reagan out of the loop. The former American president was poisoning the well of the American government against Begin and Likud.

He didn’t have a ton of poisoning to do with some of Reagan’s advisors. In discussing the Begin inner circle (of which he was a part) and its impression of Caspar Weinberger, Yehuda Avner repeats the wonderful, though likely apocryphal, anecdote that Weinberger, in explaining why he lost his bid for California attorney general, said “Because the Jews knew I wasn’t Jewish and the Gentiles thought I was.” Whatever the actual reasons for their distrust of Begin’s team, which included Ariel Sharon, the relationship between the two Cabinets was icy.

That only increased with the war in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila, Reagan’s rejected peace plan, etc. But there was one exception: Reagan. He made sure to treat Begin with a legitimacy that was lacking in everyone else’s approach to him. By the end of Reagan’s first term, Begin grew accustomed to being treated with respect by Reagan and being given the benefit of the doubt.

Had Carter still been in office, any one of those challenges might have seriously derailed the relationship at a time (the first Lebanon war) when Israel’s international isolation seemed assured. Reagan may have offered tough love, but it was love nonetheless. And the U.S.-Israel special relationship never looked back. For all the Reagan-Begin disagreements, the U.S.-Israel relationship came out stronger than it was when their respective terms in office began. That’s a tougher standard to meet, which is why the current president’s defenders resort to hyperbole and cherry-picked history that obscure the full picture.

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Presidential Longevity and Social Security

Today is George H.W. Bush’s 90th birthday. That is certainly an event worth celebrating, and may he enjoy many more. But it is also illustrative of a remarkable increase in longevity enjoyed by recent presidents (and the rest of us).

Before there were presidents there were English sovereigns. Not one of them lived to see his or her 70th birthday until George II, who died in 1760, aged 76. To be sure a few of them, such as Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI, were assisted early into that good night for political reasons.

Of the first six presidents, four of them (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and John Quincy Adams), remarkably, lived to be over 80 and John Adams lived to be 90 and 8 months, a presidential longevity record that would last into the 21st century, until Ronald Reagan surpassed him in 2001. But from John Quincy Adams to Herbert Hoover, more than a century later, no president made it to 80. Hoover lived to be 90 and two months. Harry Truman, who died at the age of 88, was the only other president to live to 80 until Richard Nixon.

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Today is George H.W. Bush’s 90th birthday. That is certainly an event worth celebrating, and may he enjoy many more. But it is also illustrative of a remarkable increase in longevity enjoyed by recent presidents (and the rest of us).

Before there were presidents there were English sovereigns. Not one of them lived to see his or her 70th birthday until George II, who died in 1760, aged 76. To be sure a few of them, such as Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI, were assisted early into that good night for political reasons.

Of the first six presidents, four of them (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and John Quincy Adams), remarkably, lived to be over 80 and John Adams lived to be 90 and 8 months, a presidential longevity record that would last into the 21st century, until Ronald Reagan surpassed him in 2001. But from John Quincy Adams to Herbert Hoover, more than a century later, no president made it to 80. Hoover lived to be 90 and two months. Harry Truman, who died at the age of 88, was the only other president to live to 80 until Richard Nixon.

But starting with Nixon, every president has either lived to the age of 80 or is still alive. Reagan and Ford each lived to be 93, and Ford holds the longevity record at the moment, dying at the age of 93 and five months. On October 1 this year, Jimmy Carter will also turn 90.

Living to 100 used to be exceedingly rare, but not anymore. Among the famous who have reached 100 in recent decades are Irving Berlin, the Queen Mother, Rose Kennedy, Brooke Astor, Bob Hope, and George Burns. I have a friend who is in robust good health at the age of 84. Her mother, in equally robust health except for being a bit deaf, is 109.

All this, while unreservedly good news for all of us, has profound policy implications regarding entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The latter program was instituted in 1935 and set the age for receiving benefits at 65. The reason 65 was chosen is that that was the life expectancy in the 1930s. Today, in the United States, it is 79.8 for women and 77.4 for men and rising quickly. That is no small part of the reason both programs are headed inexorably toward insolvency unless Congress acknowledges mathematical and medical reality.

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Not First Time Palestinian Aid Violated the Law

Jonathan Tobin noted yesterday that the Obama administration’s decision to continue funding the Palestinian Authority despite its inclusion of Hamas is a clear violation of U.S. law. He is absolutely right. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s decision, alas, was entirely predictable. In my recent book on the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, I chronicle CIA, State Department, and White House efforts across decades to subvert U.S. law and engage with the worst, most extreme Palestinian elements.

In July 1979, for example, Andrew Young, a civil rights hero whom Carter had appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met secretly with Zehdi Terzi, the PLO’s representative at the UN. True, Young had not cleared his meeting with the State Department. Like many diplomats, he found freelancing with rogues to be cool. When the matter became public, Carter reprimanded Young, and Young resigned. He remained defiant, however, and chided U.S. refusal to talk to the PLO. That much was public. What was not aired publicly at the time, but became clear from both letters, declassified documents, and memoirs, is that Carter blamed not Young but rather the Israelis for forcing the matter to come to a head.

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Jonathan Tobin noted yesterday that the Obama administration’s decision to continue funding the Palestinian Authority despite its inclusion of Hamas is a clear violation of U.S. law. He is absolutely right. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s decision, alas, was entirely predictable. In my recent book on the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, I chronicle CIA, State Department, and White House efforts across decades to subvert U.S. law and engage with the worst, most extreme Palestinian elements.

In July 1979, for example, Andrew Young, a civil rights hero whom Carter had appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met secretly with Zehdi Terzi, the PLO’s representative at the UN. True, Young had not cleared his meeting with the State Department. Like many diplomats, he found freelancing with rogues to be cool. When the matter became public, Carter reprimanded Young, and Young resigned. He remained defiant, however, and chided U.S. refusal to talk to the PLO. That much was public. What was not aired publicly at the time, but became clear from both letters, declassified documents, and memoirs, is that Carter blamed not Young but rather the Israelis for forcing the matter to come to a head.

No doubt, Carter had a soft spot for the PLO. After Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979, Carter used the PLO as an intermediary with the hostage-takers. When the Iranian hostage-takers released black and female hostages, the State Department credited the PLO. Diplomats didn’t realize that this was a gesture the Iranians would have made anyway, because the revolutionary leadership had internalized third world propaganda on American society and wanted to show that they were supporters of ‘social justice.’ Regardless, by accepting the PLO as an intermediary, Carter and the State Department granted the PLO legitimacy at a time when it refused to abandon terrorism. Congress was less willing simply to criticize and posture, and instead moved to constrain Carter’s outreach: It opposed both the UN Special Committee on Palestinian Rights and American participation in the International Monetary Fund if the PLO joined.

Compared to Carter, Ronald Reagan was a breath of fresh air. During his campaign, Reagan swore he would not negotiate with terrorists. The State Department had come to a different conclusion. In the early 1980s, the PLO was on the ropes. Israel’s 1982 Lebanon invasion soundly defeated the PLO and forced its leadership into exile. The PLO remained as committed to terrorism as ever, most famously hijacking the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. The execution, reportedly on Arafat’s orders, of an elderly, wheelchair-bound American Jew reinforced the PLO’s pariah status. Rather than gear policy to undermine the weakened PLO further, the State Department engaged the group.

In one of the closest parallels to what is occurring today, U.S. diplomats in 1985 were willing to accept the fiction of a joint Jordanian-PLO delegation in order to sit down with the PLO. Arafat’s refusal to even rhetorically foreswear terrorism, however, led to the cancellation of talks. In the aftermath of the Achille Lauro hijacking, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987, which formally declared the PLO to be a terrorist organization for purposes of U.S. law, and reinforced the prohibition on U.S. dialogue with the group. This act forced the State Department to close the PLO’s offices in Washington, against American diplomats’ wishes, although the United Nations treaty protected the PLO offices in New York.

The PLO got a new lease on life with the outbreak of the first intifada in December 1987. In February 1988, in the midst of almost daily violence, Mohamed Rabie, a Palestinian academic close to the PLO leadership, approached William Quandt, a Carter-era National Security Council aide and sought Quandt’s help with an introduction to NSC officials to explore U.S. interest for dialogue with the PLO. Two diplomats serving on the NSC—Robert Oakley and Dennis Ross—were happy to oblige. Talking to terrorists makes careers. In the book, I go into considerable detail into that dialogue. The PLO gained a great deal of legitimacy and that late Reagan-era dialogue actually set the stage for the full embrace of the PLO five years later.

It is one thing for the Congress to make laws in order to constrain the State Department and protect against diplomats’ worst instincts. It is another thing to enforce the law. During the Clinton administration, efforts to subvert Congress in order to keep dialogue with the PLO alive became even more nefarious.

In 1989, noting that the PLO continued its terrorism with Arafat’s cognizance, Congress passed the PLO Commitments Compliance Act (PLOCCA), which required the State Department to affirm every 120 days that the PLO was abiding by its commitment to abandon terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If the PLO did not meet its commitments, then dialogue should cease. That happened once. On May 30, 1990, terrorists attacked a Tel Aviv beach. When Arafat refused to discipline Abul Abbas, the PLO executive committee member who planned the attack, the State Department suspended dialogue for a few weeks.

After Oslo, and after Arafat returned to Gaza, he was dismissive of commitments both to ensure security and revoke portions of the PLO’s charter that called for Israel’s destruction. Because the State Department ignored Arafat’s backpedaling, the Senate tried to rein in engagement. On July 15, 1994, the Senate prohibited release of taxpayer funds to the PLO unless the PLO complied with its commitments to renounce and control terrorism. Congressional action did not filter down to diplomats on the ground, though. “I took every opportunity I could to see Arafat,” recounted Edward Abington Jr., the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. “I just felt it was important to be seen as very active, as understanding Palestinian positions, showing sympathy and empathy.” In retirement, Arafat rewarded Abington with a golden parachute.

Throughout the later Clinton administration, the State Department actively buried information that it had at its disposal proving Arafat’s complicity in terrorism in order to avoid triggering an automatic U.S. aid cut-off. Documents captured from Arafat’s Ramallah compound showed the depth of Arafat’s personal involvement in financing and directing terror attacks. A comparison of declassified intelligence with the timing of Congressional testimony by senior American diplomats shows unequivocally that senior State Department officials—many of whom subsequently joined the Obama administration—had simply lied to Congress in order to keep the taxpayer money flowing and keep shuttle diplomacy alive.

Jonathan is absolutely correct that “Congress must restrict his ability to funnel money to Palestinian terrorists in the future. Let us hope they have the will. But until Congress holds senior American officials accountable for demonstrably lying to Congress, there is no disincentive for flagrantly breaking the law.

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Khamenei Loves Carter’s Book on Women

Love Jimmy Carter or hate him, one thing is certain: The Iranian hostage crisis paralyzed his presidency and contributed heavily to his political downfall. A chapter of my new book examines in detail Carter administration outreach to Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis and while Carter made many mistakes, too often his critics ignore the very real belief at the time that Iran’s revolutionary authorities could do anything, including trying American diplomats before revolutionary tribunals and executing them.

The Islamic Revolution, of course, did many things. Despite the rhetoric of social justice that infuses the Islamic Republic’s religious rhetoric, it ushered in an increase in sectarianism and a rollback of basic human rights across Iranian society. Whereas women in Middle Eastern countries have long fought for new rights, the Islamic Republic was unique—at least until recently with the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring and the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—in that women had to fight for rights which had been taken away from them. Nor are there many countries whose governments take pride in imprisoning and perhaps even executing rape victims.

So, it’s always slightly ironic when senior Iranian officials extol the Utopia they say their country has become for women. And so it was with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the self-professed deputy of the messiah on Earth, who gave a speech on women’s rights recently. The values the Islamic Republic hold dear in women?

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Love Jimmy Carter or hate him, one thing is certain: The Iranian hostage crisis paralyzed his presidency and contributed heavily to his political downfall. A chapter of my new book examines in detail Carter administration outreach to Iran in the wake of the hostage crisis and while Carter made many mistakes, too often his critics ignore the very real belief at the time that Iran’s revolutionary authorities could do anything, including trying American diplomats before revolutionary tribunals and executing them.

The Islamic Revolution, of course, did many things. Despite the rhetoric of social justice that infuses the Islamic Republic’s religious rhetoric, it ushered in an increase in sectarianism and a rollback of basic human rights across Iranian society. Whereas women in Middle Eastern countries have long fought for new rights, the Islamic Republic was unique—at least until recently with the Islamist hijacking of the Arab Spring and the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey—in that women had to fight for rights which had been taken away from them. Nor are there many countries whose governments take pride in imprisoning and perhaps even executing rape victims.

So, it’s always slightly ironic when senior Iranian officials extol the Utopia they say their country has become for women. And so it was with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the self-professed deputy of the messiah on Earth, who gave a speech on women’s rights recently. The values the Islamic Republic hold dear in women?

A mother who has offered two, three, four martyrs in the way of God and who has stood firm despite this, advises us to stand firm as well. One really feels humility in the face of such greatness. These are the realities about the women of our society which are very glorious and important realities. Well, this is thankfully the bright and shining part of the issue of women in our country.

He continues to lament women’s suffrage and the growing role in society that women have played in the West since the Industrial Revolution. He continues to cite none other than Jimmy Carter to describe the supposedly horrible state of women in the West:

I found it to be a very important writing. I have brought it to this meeting to read it for you. A book written by Jimmy Carter – the former president of America – has been published which is named “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, And Power”. Jimmy Carter says in this book, “Every year, 100,000 girls are sold as slaves in America where the owner of a brothel can buy girls – who are usually Latin American or African – at only 1000 dollars.” He also refers to the rapes which occur in colleges where only one case out of 25 cases is reported. He goes on to say that only one percent of rapists are put to trial in the army. One cries when one reads such things. We can see many such writings in newspapers. I see such writings as well, but I never base my opinions on them. However, these are realities. Jimmy Carter is a well-known personality after all and this is his book.

Khamenei is referring to Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power. While Carter is right to point out a lack of progress in some aspects of Western society, he has little perspective or sense of balance about relative rights. He exaggerates or uses unreliable or discredited statistics to bash the West, and tends to embrace cultural relevancy and downplay the horrific violence and discrimination women face in the Middle East and broader Islamic world.

For example, he describes Saudi women as “bubbl[ing] over with pleasure as they extolled their enhanced status in Saudi society, with its special protection, plus freedom and privilege.” Indeed, he then observed “women in the Kingdom relish some customs that Westerners consider deprivations.” How unfortunate it is that a man who was once leader of the free world so readily considers individual liberty and freedom to choose how to live one’s life such a burden.

Carter also includes some potted history with regard to Iran, but he fails to mention the repressions Iranian women face. The closest he comes is to lament that Tehran—along with Sudan, Somalia, the island nations of Palau and Tonga, and the United States—have not ratified the UN’s The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. He neglects to realize that many Arab countries have ratified but then moved to exempt themselves from the Convention’s provisions, or ignored them altogether, nor mentions the reasons why the United States has not ratified the treaty, which have more to do with sovereignty than misogyny. Bashing Western freedom and whitewashing abuses in the Islamic world does not make an individual enlightened; it makes him or her a bigot, willing to condemn others to tyranny based on the location of their birth.

The arrogance of power—and life in an echo chamber—can lead to the moral miscalibration that appears to afflict our nation’s 39th president. But, if there was ever a time to stand up and engage in some serious introspection, it is probably when Iran’s supreme leader seems so enthusiastic to endorse your latest book.

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Why Does Jimmy Carter Ignore Hamas Terrorism?

Jimmy Carter has steadily embraced ever-more leftist and extreme causes since his 1980 election loss. In recent years, he has found his own club of former officials, and joined a self-appointed group of “Elders” which deigns from their unelected and therefore unaccountable posts to dispense what they see as wisdom. Often, that wisdom includes legitimizing if not embracing Hamas, a terrorist group that unapologetically targets civilians and embraces a covenant which implies if not endorses genocide against Jews.

Here is the Elders’ statement applauding the Palestinian unity deal. In the past, Elder delegations have traveled to Gaza to parlay with Hamas and have called for the lifting of a blockade which, of course, did not prevent the import of food, medicine, or building materials, but only mandated an inspection given Hamas’s predilection for rocketry, explosives, and terrorism. Carter and his fellow Elders have ignored Hamas terrorism and remained completely uninterested in details or facts that would interfere in their narrative of demonizing Israel. Indeed, Carter has even gone so far as to falsify his own notes in order to rewrite history to exculpate Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad.

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Jimmy Carter has steadily embraced ever-more leftist and extreme causes since his 1980 election loss. In recent years, he has found his own club of former officials, and joined a self-appointed group of “Elders” which deigns from their unelected and therefore unaccountable posts to dispense what they see as wisdom. Often, that wisdom includes legitimizing if not embracing Hamas, a terrorist group that unapologetically targets civilians and embraces a covenant which implies if not endorses genocide against Jews.

Here is the Elders’ statement applauding the Palestinian unity deal. In the past, Elder delegations have traveled to Gaza to parlay with Hamas and have called for the lifting of a blockade which, of course, did not prevent the import of food, medicine, or building materials, but only mandated an inspection given Hamas’s predilection for rocketry, explosives, and terrorism. Carter and his fellow Elders have ignored Hamas terrorism and remained completely uninterested in details or facts that would interfere in their narrative of demonizing Israel. Indeed, Carter has even gone so far as to falsify his own notes in order to rewrite history to exculpate Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad.

That Mary Robinson has joined Carter in the most recent statement praising the Hamas deal also shouldn’t surprise. After all, she was the sponsor of the UN’s so-called “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” which, under her leadership, became an orgy of anti-Semitic hatred. And, while she led the UN Human Rights Commission, she presided over the passage of a resolution that endorsed suicide bombing against civilians as legitimate under international law. Hence, her love affair with Hamas seems par for the course.

If Carter, Robinson, and their fellow-travelers truly sought peace, they might recognize that Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and its refusal to renounce terrorism—as required by the Oslo Accords upon which the Palestinian Authority is based—threaten to undercut the basis of any peace process: the fact that diplomatic deals don’t expire.

Carter, of course, may see himself as a peacemaker, but increasingly it’s hard not to see him as a bigoted man consumed with his own ego and hateful toward Jews. Given his activity in the Elders, and the evolution of his recent writing, his next book should be titled, The Protocols of the Elders of Atlanta. I’m sure he could get Max Blumenthal, Desmond Tutu, and David Duke to endorse it.

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Carter Blames Jews for Obama’s Snubs

Former President Jimmy Carter is back in the news this week publicizing a new book about women’s rights. But, as is often the case with Carter, he drew more interest for comments he made about Israel and its supporters. When asked on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday by Andrea Mitchell why it was that Barack Obama never called upon him for advice, he made it clear that the Jewish state was the reason he has been treated like a pariah:

I—that’s a hard question– for me to answer—you know, with complete candor. I think the problem was that– that in dealing with the issue of peace in– between Israel and Egypt– the Carter Center has taken a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn’t want to be involved.

When he first came out with his speech in Cairo calling for the end of all settlements and when he later said that the ’67 borders would prevail, he and I were looking at it from the same perspective. But I can understand those sensitivities. And I don’t have any criticism of him.

Lest anyone think this was a slip of the tongue, he repeated the assertion in more stark terms this morning during a fawning interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the same network’s Morning Joe program:

I think that sometimes an incumbent president doesn’t want to be very friendly with me because it might looked upon as more friendly toward the Palestinians instead of the Israelis. So we try to be balanced. That’s the only issue that separates me from Obama anyway. And I was very proud of him when he made a speech in Cairo and said no more settlements when he said the 67 borders would prevail except for minor modifications. Those things are very compatible with what I believe.

Carter might consider that the reason a successor wouldn’t wish to be burdened with a relationship with him was, at least in part, due to the Georgian’s insufferable personality and chronic self-righteousness. But there may be some truth to his assertion that his stands on the Middle East are at the root of the problem. Far from being an innocent victim of political influence for being “even-handed,” however, his lack of influence is due to the fact that his bias and slanders against the Jewish state have effectively marginalized him.

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Former President Jimmy Carter is back in the news this week publicizing a new book about women’s rights. But, as is often the case with Carter, he drew more interest for comments he made about Israel and its supporters. When asked on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday by Andrea Mitchell why it was that Barack Obama never called upon him for advice, he made it clear that the Jewish state was the reason he has been treated like a pariah:

I—that’s a hard question– for me to answer—you know, with complete candor. I think the problem was that– that in dealing with the issue of peace in– between Israel and Egypt– the Carter Center has taken a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn’t want to be involved.

When he first came out with his speech in Cairo calling for the end of all settlements and when he later said that the ’67 borders would prevail, he and I were looking at it from the same perspective. But I can understand those sensitivities. And I don’t have any criticism of him.

Lest anyone think this was a slip of the tongue, he repeated the assertion in more stark terms this morning during a fawning interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the same network’s Morning Joe program:

I think that sometimes an incumbent president doesn’t want to be very friendly with me because it might looked upon as more friendly toward the Palestinians instead of the Israelis. So we try to be balanced. That’s the only issue that separates me from Obama anyway. And I was very proud of him when he made a speech in Cairo and said no more settlements when he said the 67 borders would prevail except for minor modifications. Those things are very compatible with what I believe.

Carter might consider that the reason a successor wouldn’t wish to be burdened with a relationship with him was, at least in part, due to the Georgian’s insufferable personality and chronic self-righteousness. But there may be some truth to his assertion that his stands on the Middle East are at the root of the problem. Far from being an innocent victim of political influence for being “even-handed,” however, his lack of influence is due to the fact that his bias and slanders against the Jewish state have effectively marginalized him.

Carter’s grudge against the pro-Israel community goes back to his defeat for reelection at the hands of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Carter thought he would reap the applause of supporters of the Jewish state because of his role in the Camp David Accords that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt. But Reagan gained a record percentage of the Jewish vote for a Republican due in no small measure to the contrast between his support for Israel and Carter’s open antagonism toward the Israeli government led by Menachem Begin. Once out of office, Carter has spent the years since nursing this grudge and becoming an increasingly bitter opponent of Israel and those who support it. This reached a crescendo in 2007 with the publication of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book, a compendium of vicious slurs hurled against the Jewish state, lent the imprimatur of the former president and the Carter Center for Peace to the canard that Israel was imposing apartheid on the Arabs. In Carter’s world, Israelis have always been the obstacles to peace while Palestinian terrorism and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is always ignored.

Carter can always count on a sympathetic hearing in the mainstream media (and especially on the show where the daughter of his former National Security Advisor is the co-host) and has carefully cultivated a low-key do-gooder image because of charity projects with which he has associated himself. But his animus against Israel puts him outside the American political mainstream. That is not because supporters of Israel don’t believe in fairness but due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans in both major political parties want no part of Carter’s hostility to the Jewish state. If he has become politically toxic even during the administration of the president whose foreign policy and predilection for picking fights with Israel most resembles his own, it is due to his own intemperate and indefensible views on the Middle East and his not-so-subtle echoes of the anti-Semitic Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis. Obama’s snubs in the wake of Carter’s “apartheid” slurs are simply a matter of political awareness that it wasn’t possible to align oneself with such a discredited figure. That the 39th president would blame the Jews, rather than himself, for this predicament is as vile as it is predictable.

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Carter Should Stay Away from Venezuela

Former President Jimmy Carter has a poor reputation on many issues, among them Venezuela, where pro-democracy activists view him as a stalwart ally of the ruling chavista regime. So, with much of the country still convulsed by protests, their reaction to the news that Carter is planning another visit to Venezuela is somewhere on the scale between indifference and contempt. As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

Carter is accepted by the normally anti-American government—(current President Nicolas) Maduro praised him at a news conference Friday. But some members of the opposition harshly criticized the Carter Center for validating a 2004 recall referendum that (the late President Hugo) Chavez won amid complaints that the process leading up to the vote unfairly favored him.

An especially irate response to Carter’s announcement came in the form of an open letter penned by the dissident writer Daniel Duquenal, whose blog has been one of the most incisive guides to the events of recent weeks. Here is how Duquenal signs off:

I can assure you that half of the country has no respect nor credibility for you and the other half thinks you are a mere fool that they can use and discard as needed.

I think that not only you should desist from your trip, but should never mention us again. You have cursed us enough as it is. We will appreciate your future silence since nothing good ever comes from your statements on Venezuela. Worry not, I am sure we will find more worthy mediators.

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Former President Jimmy Carter has a poor reputation on many issues, among them Venezuela, where pro-democracy activists view him as a stalwart ally of the ruling chavista regime. So, with much of the country still convulsed by protests, their reaction to the news that Carter is planning another visit to Venezuela is somewhere on the scale between indifference and contempt. As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

Carter is accepted by the normally anti-American government—(current President Nicolas) Maduro praised him at a news conference Friday. But some members of the opposition harshly criticized the Carter Center for validating a 2004 recall referendum that (the late President Hugo) Chavez won amid complaints that the process leading up to the vote unfairly favored him.

An especially irate response to Carter’s announcement came in the form of an open letter penned by the dissident writer Daniel Duquenal, whose blog has been one of the most incisive guides to the events of recent weeks. Here is how Duquenal signs off:

I can assure you that half of the country has no respect nor credibility for you and the other half thinks you are a mere fool that they can use and discard as needed.

I think that not only you should desist from your trip, but should never mention us again. You have cursed us enough as it is. We will appreciate your future silence since nothing good ever comes from your statements on Venezuela. Worry not, I am sure we will find more worthy mediators.

Since Carter is unlikely to heed Duquenal’s candid advice, it’s worth revisiting his woeful record on Venezuela. As Duquenal notes, Carter has never condemned the notorious “Tascon list”–the illegal publication, by chavista National Assembly member Luis Tascon, of the names of millions of petitioners who signed up in favor of the 2004 referendum, and who faced harassment and discrimination from the regime as a consequence.

Nor has Carter ever revised his frankly bizarre view, expressed to the Miami Herald‘s Andres Oppenheimer following the fraud-stained presidential election of April 2013, that the “voting part” of that ballot was “free and fair.” Said Oppenheimer in response:

Is it fair to call “the voting part” of an election “free and fair,” when the opposition’s claims of irregularities have not been fully investigated? Is it fair to separate the “voting part” of an election from the entire electoral process, when a president has a more than 10-1 advantage in television time? And if the election was clean, why didn’t Venezuela allow credible international election observers?

Then there was the quite disgraceful tribute to Chavez on the occasion of the latter’s death one year ago. “Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen,” droned Carter’s statement. “President Chavez will be remembered … for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment.”

For the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans currently taking to the streets, Chavez is remembered as the architect of a system that has brought their oil-rich nation to the brink of collapse, with food shortages, hyperinflation, and rampant crime all staples of daily life. It was Chavez who appointed Maduro as his successor, and it was Chavez who empowered the army officers who stand behind Maduro. And yet, the best Carter can manage is the following anemic remark: “It is difficult for elected officials from opposition parties to resolve differences when they feel threatened and persecuted.”

Note the qualification: “they feel,” not “they are.” Note, too, the absence of any mention of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, any concern about the use of the Cuban-inspired colectivos–paramilitary gangs on motorbikes–to repress demonstrators, or any acknowledgement of the refusal of Henrique Capriles, the leader of the opposition MUD coalition, to hold talks with Maduro at the Miraflores Palace on the grounds that the president’s residence “is not the place to talk about peace – it’s the center of operations for abuses of human rights.”

The wooliness, of course, is not confined to Carter. The Obama administration has also engaged in its usual equivocation, despite the expulsion of three U.S. diplomats by Maduro’s regime on the preposterous grounds that the protests have been orchestrated in Washington. Still, surely there is someone in the State Department who understands the imperative of preventing Carter from handing Maduro yet another PR victory? Can State not prevail upon Carter–perhaps more politely than Duquenal did–to stay away from Venezuela?

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Obama Both Incompetent and Consequential

I have a high regard for Paul Mirengoff, who writes for Powerlineblog.com. In a recent post, Mirengoff, in responding to something I had written, said the following:

Peter Wehner calls President Obama “Jimmy Carter without Camp David.” It’s a great line, and one I’d like to subscribe to. But is it apt?

If we are to make the analogy, then Jimmy Carter can be cast as Barack Obama without Obamacare. And if Republicans cooperate with Democrats to enact amnesty-style immigration reform, Carter will be Obama without Obamacare and amnesty.

Obamacare (assuming no repeal) and significant pro-illegal immigrant reform would be enough to make Obama’s presidency of more than average consequence. Carter’s presidency, even with Camp David, was inconsequential except to the extent that it paved the way for Reagan’s.

I’ll take this opportunity to clarify what I was saying. My point about President Obama being Jimmy Carter without Camp David has to do with Mr. Obama being incompetent; I wasn’t arguing that he’s inconsequential.

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I have a high regard for Paul Mirengoff, who writes for Powerlineblog.com. In a recent post, Mirengoff, in responding to something I had written, said the following:

Peter Wehner calls President Obama “Jimmy Carter without Camp David.” It’s a great line, and one I’d like to subscribe to. But is it apt?

If we are to make the analogy, then Jimmy Carter can be cast as Barack Obama without Obamacare. And if Republicans cooperate with Democrats to enact amnesty-style immigration reform, Carter will be Obama without Obamacare and amnesty.

Obamacare (assuming no repeal) and significant pro-illegal immigrant reform would be enough to make Obama’s presidency of more than average consequence. Carter’s presidency, even with Camp David, was inconsequential except to the extent that it paved the way for Reagan’s.

I’ll take this opportunity to clarify what I was saying. My point about President Obama being Jimmy Carter without Camp David has to do with Mr. Obama being incompetent; I wasn’t arguing that he’s inconsequential.

To take these two categories in order. I’m not sure I could name a single area President Obama has been successful in–economic growth and job creation, dealing with long-term unemployment and the number of people leaving the labor market, health-care reform, the stimulus, our fiscal balance, reducing poverty and income inequality, outreach to the Arab and Islamic world, impeding Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Russian “reset,” America’s pivot to Asia and our relations with China, relations with our allies, transparency, reducing the influence of lobbyists and special-interest groups, decreasing political polarization and partisan divisions, and more. President Obama has been, by my lights, an across-the-board failure.

That said, there’s no question that Mr. Obama has been a consequential president. The damage he’s inflicted on our nation has been significant, comprehensive, and durable–including but not limited to the Affordable Care Act.

The degree to which we can unwind the disaster of the Obama era is unclear. I don’t for a moment underestimate the harm America’s 44th president has done to our nation. But on matters of sheer competence, I’ll stick with my assessment: Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter without Camp David.

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Obama Is Jimmy Carter Without Camp David

Next Tuesday a lot of media attention will be focused on President Obama’s State of the Union address. It need not be.

As a general matter, State of the Union addresses poll very well immediately after they are given but have no lasting effect. I expect this speech will be no different.

The problem facing Mr. Obama right now is diminishing support in how Americans view his competence and character. For example, a new Quinnipiac survey found that a majority of Americans view President Obama’s White House as incompetent (53 percent v. 42 percent) while a plurality (49 percent) believe he isn’t honest and trustworthy. Nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) consider the economy to be “not so good” or “poor.” And only 36 percent approve of his handling of health care; 59 percent disapprove. A State of the Union speech is powerless to shift these perceptions in any meaningful way.  Read More

Next Tuesday a lot of media attention will be focused on President Obama’s State of the Union address. It need not be.

As a general matter, State of the Union addresses poll very well immediately after they are given but have no lasting effect. I expect this speech will be no different.

The problem facing Mr. Obama right now is diminishing support in how Americans view his competence and character. For example, a new Quinnipiac survey found that a majority of Americans view President Obama’s White House as incompetent (53 percent v. 42 percent) while a plurality (49 percent) believe he isn’t honest and trustworthy. Nearly eight in 10 (77 percent) consider the economy to be “not so good” or “poor.” And only 36 percent approve of his handling of health care; 59 percent disapprove. A State of the Union speech is powerless to shift these perceptions in any meaningful way. 

Moreover, the president conceded to the New Yorker’s David Remnick that he’s overexposed. People are tuning Mr. Obama out. His words have been dramatically devalued; he’s seen as a person who talks a lot but just isn’t up to the job. He is Jimmy Carter without Camp David. 

The State of the Union address is a political ritual. The speech–which is almost always too long, undisciplined, and unmemorable–commands more attention than it deserves. Mr. Obama and his party will be in as bad a shape after it’s been delivered as they were before.

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Leverage Always Matters on Iran

Gary Sick, a Carter administration National Security Council aide, took to the pages of USA Today this past week to argue that the congressional bill to increase sanctions should Iran not negotiate in good faith or reach a deal is counterproductive. Sick wrote:

This misguided bill threatens to derail the negotiations and sabotage progress. Our negotiators do not want or need this extra sanctions threat. They already have a strong hand, and new sanctions will almost certainly be seen by Iran as evidence of bad faith.

Sick is wrong. Leverage matters. It always has. And no one should know that more than one Gary Sick. Sick bases his authority on his service during the Iran hostage crisis. Indeed, he begins his essay, “Thirty-five years ago, when the Iranian revolution overthrew the shah and our diplomats were taken hostage, I was in the White House. Many of those taken prisoner remain personal friends of mine.”

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Gary Sick, a Carter administration National Security Council aide, took to the pages of USA Today this past week to argue that the congressional bill to increase sanctions should Iran not negotiate in good faith or reach a deal is counterproductive. Sick wrote:

This misguided bill threatens to derail the negotiations and sabotage progress. Our negotiators do not want or need this extra sanctions threat. They already have a strong hand, and new sanctions will almost certainly be seen by Iran as evidence of bad faith.

Sick is wrong. Leverage matters. It always has. And no one should know that more than one Gary Sick. Sick bases his authority on his service during the Iran hostage crisis. Indeed, he begins his essay, “Thirty-five years ago, when the Iranian revolution overthrew the shah and our diplomats were taken hostage, I was in the White House. Many of those taken prisoner remain personal friends of mine.”

The hostage crisis, of course, figures heavily in my new book, Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes. The hostages were seized on November 4, 1979, after Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security advisor, publicly shook hands with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, enraging Iranian hardliners surrounding revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. I detail the episode here.

What is less known but has become apparent based on the Persian (Farsi)-language writings of the hostage takers is that the Iranian students who took the embassy did not initially plan to stage more than a symbolic sit-in lasting perhaps 48 hours. But, on November 6, 1979, a press report appeared citing an anonymous official who leaked word from the emergency meeting that occurred at the White House that there would be “no change in the status quo—no military alert, no movement of forces, no resort to military contingency plans.” The leaker, according to other members of Carter’s Iran team, was likely Gary Sick, who often talked to the press. Perhaps Sick, or the White House if the leak was authorized, believed that taking the threat of something worse to come off the table would enable diplomacy. But by removing the threat of force, it forfeited its leverage. The hostage takers learned that they had nothing to fear, and so a short hiccup transformed into a 444-day crisis that defined the Carter presidency. In effect, Sick counsels Obama and the Congress to make the same mistake twice.

The State Department seldom conducts lessons-learned exercises, but if it did, it would find that leverage always matters. Reducing leverage does not win agreements; it hampers them. While Sick reads good faith into Iranian actions, past and present, Rouhani’s own words belie that notion. Diplomacy should be a strategy of first resort, but diplomacy involves more than talking: it is the culmination of an elaborate game of three-dimensional chess as both sides maneuver for position and build up the leverage to achieve the best results for their country. Alas, that seems to be a notion Iranian leaders understand well, but it represents a blind spot for Sick and his fellow travelers, one that has cost the United States dearly over the years.

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What Caused the Iran Hostage Crisis?

Today marks the 34th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by revolutionaries answering to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The United States had never intended to break diplomatic relations with Iran. The embassy seizure occurred, after all, more than nine months after Khomeini’s return to Iran. During those nine months, diplomats actively sought to reach out to the new regime and to determine and report back on which way the revolutionary winds were blowing. There was a widespread belief that revolutionary fervor had nearly burned itself out, and that a revival of relations was inevitable. Indeed, Steven Erlanger, a young journalist who would rise to become The New York Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent, reported just a day before the embassy seizure arguing that while the revolution was not over, “the religious phase is drawing to a close.”

The hostage crisis was not inevitable, however. I examine the episode in detail in my new book about the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups. Rather, it was the direct result of forcing diplomacy upon a faction-ridden regime. Visiting Algiers on November 1, 1979, Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski met Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan at a reception to celebrate Algerian independence day. Brzezinski told Bazargan that the United States was open to any relationship the Islamic Republic wanted. Brzezinski may have been well-meaning, but his initiative was a case study in how ill-timed diplomacy worsens relationships. Rather than grasping Brzezinski’s outstretched hand, Iranian revolutionaries decided to slap it away in order to reinforce their ideological credentials. The day after newspapers published a photograph of the Brzezinski-Bazargan handshake, outraged students at first protested Bazargan’s alleged betrayal of the revolution, and then decided to put an exclamation point on it by seizing the American Embassy.

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Today marks the 34th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by revolutionaries answering to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The United States had never intended to break diplomatic relations with Iran. The embassy seizure occurred, after all, more than nine months after Khomeini’s return to Iran. During those nine months, diplomats actively sought to reach out to the new regime and to determine and report back on which way the revolutionary winds were blowing. There was a widespread belief that revolutionary fervor had nearly burned itself out, and that a revival of relations was inevitable. Indeed, Steven Erlanger, a young journalist who would rise to become The New York Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent, reported just a day before the embassy seizure arguing that while the revolution was not over, “the religious phase is drawing to a close.”

The hostage crisis was not inevitable, however. I examine the episode in detail in my new book about the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups. Rather, it was the direct result of forcing diplomacy upon a faction-ridden regime. Visiting Algiers on November 1, 1979, Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski met Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan at a reception to celebrate Algerian independence day. Brzezinski told Bazargan that the United States was open to any relationship the Islamic Republic wanted. Brzezinski may have been well-meaning, but his initiative was a case study in how ill-timed diplomacy worsens relationships. Rather than grasping Brzezinski’s outstretched hand, Iranian revolutionaries decided to slap it away in order to reinforce their ideological credentials. The day after newspapers published a photograph of the Brzezinski-Bazargan handshake, outraged students at first protested Bazargan’s alleged betrayal of the revolution, and then decided to put an exclamation point on it by seizing the American Embassy.

Khomeini endorsed the move. “Our young people must foil these plots,” he declared. The embassy seizure was initially just supposed to last 48 hours, but a Carter national security council aide leaked word that military options had been taken off the table, and the hostage-takers, according to subsequent interviews, identified that as the moment when they decided to increase their demands and keep the embassy for the long haul.

On the 30th anniversary of the embassy seizure, Khamenei warned Obama not to place his hopes in political reformers. Reformists “can’t roll out the red carpet for the United States in our country. They should know this. The Iranian nation resists,” Khamenei declared. Factionalism inside Iran is no better today. While Khamenei’s commitment to President Hassan Rouhani is debatable—for every statement that seems to endorse Rouhani, there is one against him—the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) remains as hostile as ever to the United States. So too does Iran’s intelligence ministry, to which Rouhani is close and which has a history of terror sponsorship independent of the IRGC.

If the United States puts hope before change in Iran, however, it will in all likelihood get burned just as it was 34 years ago and as Khamenei has subsequently threatened. It is the job of the Iranian government to put the IRGC in the box if peace will really be possible. Khamenei shows no sign of doing so, or even wanting to do so. To rush headlong into diplomacy when the Islamic Republic is a house so divided risks a great deal. Had it not been for one rushed handshake just over 34 years ago, after all, the United States and Iran may not have been set down a path from which they have been unable to recover.

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A Truly Wicked Blow: Jimmy Carter Hammers Obama for Ineptness

I’ve been quite critical of President Obama over the course of his presidency. Earlier this week, for example, I wrote a piece in which I accused Mr. Obama of mendacity. So I take a back seat to no one when it comes to leveling harsh judgments against the president. But even I, an Obama critic, believe there are some lines one should not cross, some things that should never be said, some blows that are too brutal even for American politics.

I had in mind what Jimmy Carter, who ranks with James Buchanan and a few others as among America’s worst and most inept presidents, said about Obama. When asked by Parade magazine how he would evaluate the Obama presidency so far, Carter said this:

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I’ve been quite critical of President Obama over the course of his presidency. Earlier this week, for example, I wrote a piece in which I accused Mr. Obama of mendacity. So I take a back seat to no one when it comes to leveling harsh judgments against the president. But even I, an Obama critic, believe there are some lines one should not cross, some things that should never be said, some blows that are too brutal even for American politics.

I had in mind what Jimmy Carter, who ranks with James Buchanan and a few others as among America’s worst and most inept presidents, said about Obama. When asked by Parade magazine how he would evaluate the Obama presidency so far, Carter said this:

He’s done the best he could under the circumstances. His major accomplishment was Obamacare, and the implementation of it now is questionable at best.

This is, as Guy Benson points out, a withering indictment from Mr. Malaise. And on first blush, I thought, an unfair one, at least given the source. Who is Jimmy Carter to indict anyone on grounds of incompetence. And yet the more I reflect on it, the more I think Mr. Carter may be on to something.

What exactly are the impressive achievements of President Obama?  The revival of the American economy? Surging job growth? The success of the stimulus package and the number of “shovel ready jobs”? Moving us toward energy independence? Reducing the debt? Reducing poverty and the number of Americans on food stamps? His oversight of agencies like the IRS? The Fast and Furious program? Ending America’s political divisions and unifying his countrymen? Perhaps his skillful handling before, during, and after the terrorist assault on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi? His successes in Syria? Egypt? Iraq? Iran? Peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis? And don’t forget his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, which may rank among the worst major government programs in modern American history, a failure in both conception and implementation.

So it may be that Jimmy Carter has a right to sit in judgment of Barack Obama. Which is among the worst things that could be said about America’s 44th president.  

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Why Forfeit Leverage on Iran?

If there’s one thing that hampers American policy, it is our general lack of strategy. As the National Security Council has transitioned into yet another bureaucracy, it has forfeited its main function to enforce policy discipline and shape interagency strategy. Too often, we forfeit leverage which, at any rate, too many in the State Department consider a dirty word.

Iran’s latest economic reports suggest that the United States should have much more leverage on Iran than many in the White House and State Department recognize. On Sunday, the Statistics Center of Iran released economic growth figures which confirm that the Iranian economy shrank 5.4 percent last year. Meanwhile, the Iranian Student News Agency has reported that liquidity has increased 670 percent during the administration of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile, the Statistics Center has also reported that the July-August 2013 inflation rate in rural areas was 42.6 percent, with the 12-month inflation rate at 41.4 percent. Both imports and exports are down according to the Iranian Customs Administration.

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If there’s one thing that hampers American policy, it is our general lack of strategy. As the National Security Council has transitioned into yet another bureaucracy, it has forfeited its main function to enforce policy discipline and shape interagency strategy. Too often, we forfeit leverage which, at any rate, too many in the State Department consider a dirty word.

Iran’s latest economic reports suggest that the United States should have much more leverage on Iran than many in the White House and State Department recognize. On Sunday, the Statistics Center of Iran released economic growth figures which confirm that the Iranian economy shrank 5.4 percent last year. Meanwhile, the Iranian Student News Agency has reported that liquidity has increased 670 percent during the administration of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile, the Statistics Center has also reported that the July-August 2013 inflation rate in rural areas was 42.6 percent, with the 12-month inflation rate at 41.4 percent. Both imports and exports are down according to the Iranian Customs Administration.

The Iranian economy is more than ever dependent upon oil exports. According to Majlis Research Center head Ahmad Tavakoli, per capita reliance on oil revenue under Ahmadinejad was $890. In contrast, the figure was $364 under Khatami, $384 under Rafsanjani, and $608 during the Iran-Iraq War. Subsidies payments are leading to a $40.4 billion deficit.

It would be wrong to blame sanctions for such a dire economic picture: Most of Iran’s economic woes stem from the incompetence of the Islamic Republic. However, it would be even more counterproductive to throw the Iranian regime a lifeline. If the Iranian economy is as bad as Iranian technocrats say it is, then now is the time for more pressure, not less.

Only twice in the Islamic Republic’s history has its leadership reversed course on core policies. The first was about what it would take to release the American hostages. It was not Carter-era persistent diplomacy which forced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to change his mind, but rather Saddam Hussein: Iraq’s invasion had raised the cost of Iran’s isolation considerably. The second time was with regard to what it would take to end the Iran-Iraq War. After continuing the war six years after first considering an end in 1982, Khomeini finally accepted a ceasefire, likening it to drinking a chalice of poison.

The Iranian government has now filled its own cup; perhaps it’s time with even more robust sanctions to force the regime to take a sip.

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Nations Swinging Away at the Obama Pinata

White House press secretary Jay Carney, in responding to Hong Kong and China allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow, said “The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there’s a problem.” He added, “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.” Mr. Carney went out of his way to express “our frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China.”

To which the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Who cares?”

I wonder if it has begun to dawn on the administration that nations are lining up to demonstrate their indifference to, or contempt for, President Obama’s wishes. A headline in the Washington Post today, for example, reads this way: “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Fine, but only after Hong Kong, China, and Russia get their chance to swing at the Obama piñata. And the Snowden debacle is only the latest, and in some respects the least important, example of this. 

“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” Professor Eliot Cohen told the Post. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him – and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”

It is indeed; but that is where we find ourselves in the Obama Era.

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White House press secretary Jay Carney, in responding to Hong Kong and China allowing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to flee to Moscow, said “The Chinese have emphasized the importance of building mutual trust. And we think that they have dealt that effort a serious setback. If we cannot count on them to honor their legal extradition obligations, then there’s a problem.” He added, “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.” Mr. Carney went out of his way to express “our frustration and disappointment with Hong Kong and China.”

To which the Chinese must be shrugging their shoulders and asking, “Who cares?”

I wonder if it has begun to dawn on the administration that nations are lining up to demonstrate their indifference to, or contempt for, President Obama’s wishes. A headline in the Washington Post today, for example, reads this way: “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.” Fine, but only after Hong Kong, China, and Russia get their chance to swing at the Obama piñata. And the Snowden debacle is only the latest, and in some respects the least important, example of this. 

“Nobody’s afraid of this guy,” Professor Eliot Cohen told the Post. “Nobody’s saying there are any real consequences that would come from crossing him – and that’s an awful position for the president of the United States to be in.”

It is indeed; but that is where we find ourselves in the Obama Era.

If there is anything good that might emerge from what has happened to America during the Obama presidency, it might be that we have tested in the real world the theories and ideas that animate Mr. Obama’s progressive foreign policy vision. They include the belief that American power is the source of animosity against us; that serial apologies for America’s past would win us the favor of our adversaries; and that “leading from behind” would increase America’s influence in the world. Each of those myths has been exploded by events. So, too, has Mr. Obama’s belief that placating our enemies would win us their favor (it hasn’t) and that losing wars is the same thing as ending wars (it is not).

Over and over again during the 2008 campaign, and early in his presidency, Barack Obama said he would “restore America’s standing in the world” and make us more “respected.” He has done neither. America today, under Obama, is viewed as feeble, supine, and enervated.

I am reminded of what Ronald Reagan said (in 1980) about America under Jimmy Carter. “Adversaries large and small test our will and seek to confound our resolve,” according to Reagan:

but the Carter Administration gives us weakness when we need strength; vacillation when the times demand firmness. Why?  Because the Carter Administration live in the world of make-believe.  Every day, it dreams up a response to that day’s troubles, regardless of what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow.  The Administration lives in a world where mistakes, even very big ones, have no consequence. The rest of us, however, live in the real world.  It is here that disasters are overtaking our nation without any real response from the White House… Who does not feel a growing sense of unease as our allies, facing repeated instances of an amateurish and confused Administration; reluctantly conclude that America is unwilling or unable to fulfill its obligations as leader of the free world? Who does not feel rising alarm when the question in any discussion of foreign policy is no longer, “Should we do something?”, but “Do we have the capacity to do anything?”

Reagan went on to describe the Carter years as “years of weakness, indecision, mediocrity and incompetence.”

What once was, is again. And America, now as then, is paying a high price for the irresolution and weakness of its commander in chief. 

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Jimmy Carter Gives Seal of Approval to Venezuela Election

When the Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez passed away back in March, one notably unctuous commemorative tribute came from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. “Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen,” the statement, carried on the website of the Carter Center, intoned. Carter then praised the “positive legacies” of a man famous for embracing genocidal dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, before ending with a vague plea to Chavez’s successors to forge a “new consensus” in taking the country forward.

Three months and one disputed election later, has Carter revised these views? As the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer discovered this week when he interviewed Carter, the answer is a resounding no.

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When the Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez passed away back in March, one notably unctuous commemorative tribute came from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. “Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez’s commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen,” the statement, carried on the website of the Carter Center, intoned. Carter then praised the “positive legacies” of a man famous for embracing genocidal dictators like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, before ending with a vague plea to Chavez’s successors to forge a “new consensus” in taking the country forward.

Three months and one disputed election later, has Carter revised these views? As the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer discovered this week when he interviewed Carter, the answer is a resounding no.

“Would Carter now approve of the results of Venezuela’s April 14 elections, which according to the pro-government National Electoral Council (CNE) were won by Chavez protégé Nicolas Maduro?” Oppenheimer asked. “Would he give some credence to opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ claims that the election had been stolen from him?” Carter’s responses on these matters were an artful fusion of tired platitudes with flagrant untruths.

“Venezuela probably has the most excellent voting system that I have ever known,” Carter began, referring to the electronic voting machines that require voters to select their favored candidate on a touch screen, before collecting a paper receipt which is then deposited in a ballot box. Well, yes, we can all agree that technology is great. But it’s what you do with it that matters.

Then there was this gem: “So far as I know, Maduro did get 1.5 percent more votes than his opponent, [Henrique] Capriles,” Carter told Oppenheimer, “and that has been substantiated by the recount of paper ballots.” And finally, the clincher: “Asked… whether Venezuela’s election process was clean, Carter asserted that ‘the voting part’ of it was ‘free and fair.'”

Actually, it was anything but. On election day, opposition monitors recorded around 6,000 violations, including red-shirted Chavista activists shepherding voters into polling booths, threats both physical and verbal against voters deemed to have opposition loyalties, and, most ludicrously, several polling stations in which Maduro’s vote was astronomically higher than that achieved by Chavez in the previous, October 2012, election, which the ruling United Socialist Party won by a comfortable margin of 11 points.

Contrary to Carter’s claim, there was never a comprehensive matching of the ballot papers to the votes registered electronically. There was, earlier this month, a cursory, partial recount whose sole purpose was to validate the original announcement of a Maduro victory.

Now, it’s possible that Carter didn’t want to rely on data provided by the opposition in asserting claims of electoral fraud (though he apparently is willing to take the evidence provided by the chavistas at face value). But if that’s the case, then the logical conclusion would be to urge Maduro and his cohorts to permit credible and independent observers to monitor the elections, so that reliable field reports are available in the event of a dispute. As Andres Oppenheimer pointed out in the preamble to his interview with Carter, “the Venezuelan government did not allow independent international election observers for the elections. It only allowed electoral tourists from friendly regional groups who arrived shortly before the voting.”

There are those who will say that however outrageous Carter’s views are, they don’t really matter. In fact, they do. Much of the Carter Center’s work involves international election monitoring, since, as the Center itself says, “more governments than ever recognize democratic elections as essential to establishing their legitimate authority.” What’s therefore shocking in the Venezuelan context is that Carter, whose organization didn’t monitor the April election, has now issued Maduro with a clean bill of health.

As a result, the chavistas now have even less incentive to admit observers to monitor the forthcoming municipal elections, currently scheduled for December. Given the likelihood that the opposition will attempt to turn this next contest into a referendum on Maduro’s rule, we can confidently expect a repeat of the violations of this past April. And we can be just as confident that Jimmy Carter will emerge, once the dust has settled, to assure us that the ballot was “fair,” “legitimate,” “free” and all the other words that give succor to those autocrats who decide what the result of an election will be before they hold one.

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Obama Goes from Lincolnian to Carteresque

The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

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The November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose featured a conversation with David Remnick of the New Yorker and historians Alan Brinkley and Michael Beschloss.

“The extraordinary outpouring of celebration, joy, and hope all over the world at this election is something I could never have imagined in my lifetime,” according to Professor Brinkley. “There’s a discipline to Obama that is so extraordinary,” he raved. And then he added: “I don’t think we’ve had a president since Lincoln who has the oratorical skills that Obama has. Obama has that quality that Lincoln had.”

Mr. Remnick also compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign also “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.” (For the record, Remnick never has.) 

I mention that discussion for several reasons. The first is that as a general matter it’s not wise to compare any person to Lincoln, particularly before they’ve even taken office, which was the case during this 2008 discussion. Second, Obama had achieved nothing in his life that deserved these types of encomiums. It didn’t matter. Journalists and historians were besotted by the Myth of Obama, not the reality. But now that we’re four years and four months into the Obama presidency, reality has set in. And let’s just say that Mr. Obama has lost some distance to Lincoln in the race for the greatest president in American history. Quite some distance, in fact.

One example: In the Daily Beast, the influential Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum has written a column in which the best defense he can offer the president in the context of the IRS scandal is this:

For the White House, there is no crime here, there is no scandal, no matter how feverishly, irresponsibly, or demagogically the GOP labors to concoct one. This is not a case of Nixonian indifference to the Constitution, the law, and the president’s oath of office. But it does look like a reprise of Cartersque incompetence, increasingly so as we learn more about how the White House staff handled—or mishandled—a crisis they knew was coming… For the White House, the problem here resembles Carter, not Nixon.

This critique echoes the comments made to CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson by an Obama administration official, who told her in the context of the Benghazi scandal, “We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots. It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”

Before he took office, we were told time and again that Obama was a Lincolnian figure. Now that he’s been in office and demonstrated his governing skills, his strongest liberal supporters and his own staff are defending the president by insisting that we have a White House that is being run by Carteresque idiots.

Welcome to reality. 

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Yeshiva’s Self-Inflicted Carter Wound

All eyes are on Yeshiva University this week as they prepare to host a controversial awards ceremony today. Earlier this month the YU-affiliated Cardozo School of Law announced an award whose honoree outraged many in the Jewish community, including a portion of the school’s alumni. Despite a campaign waged by outraged friends and alumni, it appears today Cardozo will be bestowing on former President Jimmy Carter its “International Advocate for Peace Award.”

As our readers are aware, there is no love lost between pro-Israel activists and the former president. If Carter had been chosen to receive this award by any other university in the country, Zionists would have scoffed and chalked the selection up to predictable liberal bias on America’s campuses. The fact that it’s Yeshiva University, a privately funded school with ties so close to Israel that her flag flies alongside its American counterpart outside university offices, is particularly egregious. While the university denies a role in Carter’s selection (they claim to have placed that responsibility on a student group’s shoulders) many of the individuals campaigning against the award wonder why the University didn’t nix the selection before it was announced. 

The situation has become a major black eye for the university. In a form letter sent to an alumni concerned about the award, university President Richard Joel responded:

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All eyes are on Yeshiva University this week as they prepare to host a controversial awards ceremony today. Earlier this month the YU-affiliated Cardozo School of Law announced an award whose honoree outraged many in the Jewish community, including a portion of the school’s alumni. Despite a campaign waged by outraged friends and alumni, it appears today Cardozo will be bestowing on former President Jimmy Carter its “International Advocate for Peace Award.”

As our readers are aware, there is no love lost between pro-Israel activists and the former president. If Carter had been chosen to receive this award by any other university in the country, Zionists would have scoffed and chalked the selection up to predictable liberal bias on America’s campuses. The fact that it’s Yeshiva University, a privately funded school with ties so close to Israel that her flag flies alongside its American counterpart outside university offices, is particularly egregious. While the university denies a role in Carter’s selection (they claim to have placed that responsibility on a student group’s shoulders) many of the individuals campaigning against the award wonder why the University didn’t nix the selection before it was announced. 

The situation has become a major black eye for the university. In a form letter sent to an alumni concerned about the award, university President Richard Joel responded:

While he has been properly lauded for his role in the Camp David Accords of 1978, I strongly disagree with many of President Carter’s statements and actions in recent years which have mischaracterized the Middle East conflict and have served to alienate those of us who care about Israel. President Carter’s presence at Cardozo in no way represents a university position on his views, nor does it indicate the slightest change in our steadfastly pro-Israel stance.

That said, Yeshiva University both celebrates and takes seriously its obligation as a university to thrive as a free marketplace of ideas, while remaining committed to its unique mission as a proud Jewish university.

Even if the school’s students have chosen Carter without the university’s input, one must wonder why Cardozo’s students are unaware of Carter’s record on Israel and other human rights issues. The Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this week

“I can’t imagine a worse candidate for any kind of a human rights award,” Harvard law professor and pro-Israel author Alan Dershowitz told the Washington Free Beacon Monday. “He has more blood on his hands than practically any other president,” Dershowitz said, referring to Carter’s silence in the face of Communist leader Pol Pot’s slaughter of some 2 million Cambodians.

Carter, author of the controversial book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has met with the terrorist group Hamas and rallied against Israel on the international stage, providing much fodder for the Jewish state’s fiercest critics.

“He has encouraged terrorism and violence by Hamas and Hezbollah,” Dershowitz said, who dubbed students’ desire to award Carter as “immoral.”

Carter “has done more harm to the cause of human rights than anyone I can think of,” Dershowitz said. “It’s a terrible, terrible choice.”

It hasn’t been an easy few years for the school financially, especially after the Bernie Madoff scandal helped to significantly clean out its coffers. In an widely circulated open letter published in the school’s newspaper late last year, faculty members anonymously griped about the dysfunction in the school’s administration. The financial situation at the school is especially troubling:

First and foremost, the finances of the University are much worse than President Joel portrayed them to be.  Yeshiva’s discretionary endowment[i] is nearly zero, and the overall endowment has not only plummeted in value, but has plummeted in relative value.  In 2006, the value of YU endowment was 47th among all universities in the United States, while in 2011 it was 66th. In fact, if one looks up Wikipedia’s “list of colleges and universities by endowment worth more than $1 billion,”[ii] YU is the only university to show a smaller endowment in 2011 than in 2006.  The only one. Moreover, the upswing experienced by all universities in the last three years is less at Yeshiva than elsewhere.

For example, in 2006, Columbia’s endowment was $5.2 billion and it is now $7.9 billion, whereas in 2006 Yeshiva endowment was $1.15 billion and now it is $1.13 billion.  We are running out of money, and there are very painful cuts ahead of us that will go to the muscle of Yeshiva if we are not careful. Denying the terrible mismanagement of the endowment over the last decade, and the errors the University made (that other similar institutions did not make) in response to the Great Recession increases the likelihood that we will never learn our financial lesson.  It is not about the Madoff fraud or the Merkin scandal, rather the whole structure does not work and no real information is shared about why.  No one is speaking about what caused the terrible drain on the endowment and when it will stop. In short, there is no transparency.

With the finances at the school being so precarious, it’s extremely troublesome that the concerns of friends of the university as well as alumni, both large donor bases, have been ignored as the university has clearly decided to go ahead with this event. 

From Carter’s nomination and selection by misinformed or naive post-graduate students to the university administration’s refusal to step in, there are clear and worrisome signs within the country’s most prominent Jewish university. As a former president prepares to receive the award today, the school will now have to face the shame of having to usher him and his entourage past protests of outraged members of the university community, where President Joel will then have to face the man he was forced to repudiate just days ago. Every aspect of how this situation has unfolded should have been obvious to the university’s administration weeks ago. The fact that the situation progressed in this manner should give pause to anyone concerned about the state of Jewish education both at Yeshiva and beyond. 

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Obama Channels Clinton, Not Carter

In the wake of President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem yesterday, Israeli leftists are hoping for a new lease on life for a peace process that was left for dead by the country’s voters in January. But given the unenthusiastic reaction from Palestinians to the speech, any idea that negotiations will be revived anytime soon seems far-fetched. That’s especially true since most of those cheered by the president’s call for a new commitment to peace ignored the fact that the one tangible shift in American policy was that Obama backpedaled on his desire to force Israel to freeze settlement building. Much to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s displeasure, he also echoed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for negotiations without preconditions.

But one thing has undoubtedly changed in the aftermath of the presidential visit to Israel: Barack Obama’s image as an antagonist of the Jewish state. In terms of his attitude toward Israel, in the past three days Obama has altered his status in that regard from being the second coming of Jimmy Carter to that of another Bill Clinton. That won’t exempt him from criticism, nor does it mean that he will have even a remote chance of succeeding in moving the region toward peace. But it does mean that many of his Jewish and Democratic defenders have been to some extent vindicated and his critics chastened, if not silenced.

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In the wake of President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem yesterday, Israeli leftists are hoping for a new lease on life for a peace process that was left for dead by the country’s voters in January. But given the unenthusiastic reaction from Palestinians to the speech, any idea that negotiations will be revived anytime soon seems far-fetched. That’s especially true since most of those cheered by the president’s call for a new commitment to peace ignored the fact that the one tangible shift in American policy was that Obama backpedaled on his desire to force Israel to freeze settlement building. Much to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s displeasure, he also echoed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for negotiations without preconditions.

But one thing has undoubtedly changed in the aftermath of the presidential visit to Israel: Barack Obama’s image as an antagonist of the Jewish state. In terms of his attitude toward Israel, in the past three days Obama has altered his status in that regard from being the second coming of Jimmy Carter to that of another Bill Clinton. That won’t exempt him from criticism, nor does it mean that he will have even a remote chance of succeeding in moving the region toward peace. But it does mean that many of his Jewish and Democratic defenders have been to some extent vindicated and his critics chastened, if not silenced.

The president may have spent his first three years in office picking fights with Netanyahu and seeking, as administration staffers openly said in 2009, to create some distance between Israel and the United States. But after the stirring Zionist rhetoric uttered by the president during his stay in the Jewish state, it’s simply no longer possible for his opponents to brand him as a foe of Israel or as someone who is unsympathetic to its plight. Though his appeals for peace were addressed to the wrong side of the conflict, it just isn’t possible to ask any American president to have said more.

As much as many conservatives have, with good reason, hammered Obama both for the tone and the substance of his policies toward Israel, there can be no denying that he went some way toward rectifying his past mistakes. His speeches didn’t merely give the Israelis some love. He specifically endorsed the Zionist narrative and rationale about Israel’s founding and its purpose. Unlike his 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, when he seemed to say that its creation was merely a sop to the Jews suffering in the Holocaust, this week the president cited the thousands of years of Jewish history that gave them a right to sovereignty in their historic homeland. He reaffirmed the U.S. alliance with Israel as being both “eternal” and “unbreakable.” The president also specifically endorsed Israel’s right of self-defense against terrorism and pointedly said those who seek its destruction are wasting their time.

At this point, the comparisons between Obama and Jimmy Carter or even the first President Bush, who were both rightly criticized for their hostile attitudes toward Israel, ought to cease. Instead, the more apt comparison would be Bill Clinton, who went out of his way to express warm friendship for Israel even as he pushed hard to continue a failed peace process.

That doesn’t mean the president’s stands on issues relating to Israel are exempt from criticism. Though he once again promised in the most absolute terms that he would never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon and that all options, including force, remain on the table, there is room for plenty of skepticism about whether he will make good on that pledge even if he wants to. Obama’s naïve views about the chances for peace and his mischaracterization of Abbas as a reliable partner for Israel also deserve close scrutiny.

It is here that the Clinton analogy is most telling. Though Clinton is rightly remembered in Israel for his “Shalom, haver” farewell to Yitzhak Rabin and as being a stout friend of the Jewish state, his blind faith in the Oslo Accords—whose signing he hosted on the White House Lawn—wound up doing Israel more harm than good.

As State Department veteran Dennis Ross subsequently admitted in his memoirs, the U.S. became so committed to the idea of peace that it blinded itself to the reality of the Palestinian Authority that Oslo created. The Clinton administration refused to acknowledge the PA’s incitement of hatred toward Israel and Jews as well as its cozy relationship with Fatah’s own terrorist auxiliaries. That foolish tunnel vision led to the chaos and bloodshed of the second intifada that cost the lives of more than a thousand Israelis and far more Palestinians.

Yet for all that, Clinton, who to this day faults Arafat’s refusal to accept Israel’s offer of statehood at Camp David in the summer of 2000 for his failure to win a Nobel Peace Prize, must still be regarded as a friend of Israel–albeit one that sometimes urged it to adopt mistaken policies.

Obama, who seems prepared to make the same mistake about Abbas that Clinton did with Arafat, must now be regarded in much the same way. Though it would have been more useful for him to preach peace to Palestinian students than to a handpicked group of left-wing Israelis, the lengths to which he went to demonstrate his support for Israel must be acknowledged and applauded.

This entitles Jewish Democrats who spent the last year extolling the president as a true friend of Israel to a skeptical Jewish electorate to feel as if Obama has made them look prophetic. And Republicans, who were right to hold Obama accountable for his past record of hostility, will by the same token have to take their criticism of him down a notch, at least on this issue.

It remains to be seen whether Obama will use his new standing as a friend of Israel for good or for ill. He will be judged on his actions toward Iran as well as on whether his peace advocacy takes into account the utter lack of interest toward that goal on the part of the Palestinian people. But there is no escaping the fact that from now on—or at least until events dictate another shift in opinion—his relations with Israel will be remembered more for his embrace of Zionism than his squabbles with Netanyahu.

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Who Will Be the New Ramsey Clark?

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ramsey Clark, the son of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, to be his attorney general. The young Clark had pedigree, had served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and had previous experience in government.

Clark took his oath of office shortly before his 40th birthday, and played a hand in much of Johnson-era civil right legislation. His real legacy, however, has been in his post-government career. Clark was an unabashed supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In the days after Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy, President Jimmy Carter dispatched Clark to Tehran with a letter for Khomeini (it was never delivered; Khomeini refused him entry, and Clark cooled his heels in Istanbul before heading home). After Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Clark embraced Saddam Hussein. He condemned the U.S. liberation of Kuwait, and accused most of the George H.W. Bush administration of complicity in war crimes.

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In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ramsey Clark, the son of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, to be his attorney general. The young Clark had pedigree, had served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and had previous experience in government.

Clark took his oath of office shortly before his 40th birthday, and played a hand in much of Johnson-era civil right legislation. His real legacy, however, has been in his post-government career. Clark was an unabashed supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In the days after Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy, President Jimmy Carter dispatched Clark to Tehran with a letter for Khomeini (it was never delivered; Khomeini refused him entry, and Clark cooled his heels in Istanbul before heading home). After Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Clark embraced Saddam Hussein. He condemned the U.S. liberation of Kuwait, and accused most of the George H.W. Bush administration of complicity in war crimes.

The Clinton team was no better in Clark’s mind: he blamed the White House rather than Saddam’s behavior for sanctions and accused the United States of complicity in killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. He also sided with Slobodan Milosevic in the wake of the 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. There is seldom a radical cause that Clark is not willing to embrace; many of his supporters—and perhaps Clark himself—believe the fact that he was the attorney general of the United States adds credibility to his case.

So far, it is a toss-up between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama for the distinction of being the most left-wing president. When it came to foreign affairs Harold Brown—Carter’s defense secretary—provided some adult supervision, however, talking his boss out of his desire to unilaterally withdrawal forces from the Korean peninsula and other ideological excesses which the Soviet Union and its proxies would have exploited. Bob Gates and perhaps Leon Panetta played much the same role for Obama. But as Obama enters his second term, he has let his foreign affairs ideology shine ever more clearly through. There were, of course, hints as to where Obama stood in his first term. But when push came to shove, Obama was not willing to stand by radicals such as Van Jones, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist whom the president gave an environmental policy perch at the White House until controversy ensued.

Decades in the Senate may have made John Kerry mainstream in the public mind, but Kerry’s foreign policy instincts have always been far to the left. John Brennan, too, has instincts outside the mainstream, even if he has walked back past statements about cooperating with “moderate Hezbollah.” Chuck Hagel—while socially as conservative as former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin—has a blind spot toward tyranny and dictatorship as great as Clark’s, be it with Hamas, Kazakhstan, Iran, or Hezbollah. He is not a young man, however, and it is doubtful that he will jet across the globe ever condemning the United States. Hagel’s problem is not disloyalty to the United States—he is most certainly a patriot—but rather the arrogance and bigotry to assume that those who disagree with him harbor dual loyalties. This—and not the distracting debate about “Israel lobby” versus “Jewish lobby”—reflect his latent anti-Semitism. That may be of concern to the Jewish community, but many men harbor prejudice, however hard they seek to conceal it. A greater issue is the fact that—in Senator John McCain’s words—Hagel’s confirmation hearings showed his incompetence for the job. Make no mistake: Hagel will do great harm to U.S. national security, but he is no Ramsey Clark.

As Obama drives farther to the left, however, it is only a matter of time until he, Brennan, or Hagel appoint to a senior post a young radical who will leverage a White House, CIA, or Pentagon credential to encourage moral equivalence or legitimize a new generation of tyrants and terrorists.

I omit Kerry because, alas, too many diplomats have for so long effused moral equivalency and an embarrassment about the legacy of the United States that being a “dissident diplomat” today means being conservative and embracing American exceptionalism.

Still, if there is one lesson from Ramsey Clark’s life story, it is that credentials do not automatically bestow common sense or a love of liberty and freedom. Johnson likely appointed Clark in order to encourage his father to resign from the Supreme Court, enabling the president to replace the conservative elder Clark with a fresh face—Thurgood Marshall. Johnson’s desire to diversify the Supreme Court may have been honorable, but his political maneuverings had a cost which continues to the present. Let us hope that the Congress and press will not abandon their respectively formal and informal oversight roles as Obama and his secretaries combine foreign policy radicalism with cynical political maneuvering.

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Carter Visits Abbas to Sabotage Peace Talks

I’ve written over the last year about the newest phenomenon among the Palestinians and their supporters: they do not want negotiations—at all—with the Israeli government. In the past, the Palestinian leadership could at least use negotiations as a ploy to bide time or look like statesmen, and force Israeli leaders to spend their time on the Palestinian issue instead of other domestic issues.

But something changed with the speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made at Bar Ilan University in 2009, in which he declared his support for a two-state solution. And the shift has taken place, it seems, because despite the derision with which Netanyahu’s pronouncement was met by leftwing columnists, the Palestinian leadership seems to actually believe Netanyahu means it. And so negotiations have taken on a sense of historical heft they didn’t have in the age of Arafat, when everyone knew ahead of time Arafat’s answer would be no. Mahmoud Abbas has responded to the situation by adding new preconditions every time Netanyahu agrees to the last ones, in a desperate attempt to stave off peace negotiations. And now Jimmy Carter is getting in on the action.

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I’ve written over the last year about the newest phenomenon among the Palestinians and their supporters: they do not want negotiations—at all—with the Israeli government. In the past, the Palestinian leadership could at least use negotiations as a ploy to bide time or look like statesmen, and force Israeli leaders to spend their time on the Palestinian issue instead of other domestic issues.

But something changed with the speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made at Bar Ilan University in 2009, in which he declared his support for a two-state solution. And the shift has taken place, it seems, because despite the derision with which Netanyahu’s pronouncement was met by leftwing columnists, the Palestinian leadership seems to actually believe Netanyahu means it. And so negotiations have taken on a sense of historical heft they didn’t have in the age of Arafat, when everyone knew ahead of time Arafat’s answer would be no. Mahmoud Abbas has responded to the situation by adding new preconditions every time Netanyahu agrees to the last ones, in a desperate attempt to stave off peace negotiations. And now Jimmy Carter is getting in on the action.

Carter arrived in Israel this week with former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and former Irish president Mary Robinson, two other critics of Israel looking for something unhelpful to do with their time. The trio came to Israel to heap more attacks on the Israeli people, as would be expected. But they also met with Mahmoud Abbas. Did they at least suggest that maybe Abbas should consider negotiating with Netanyahu? The Times of Israel reports:

Abbas told them that he has decided to go ahead with the plan to ask the UN General Assembly to accept Palestine as a nonmember state in November. While Israel and the US fiercely oppose such a move, saying it doesn’t change facts on the ground and would preempt the outcome of future negotiations, Carter, Robinson and Brundtland wholeheartedly endorsed the plan, as it would give the Palestinians “a new stature.”

Rather than multilateral negotiations, Carter’s team told Abbas to ignore talks in favor of unilateral action opposed by the West. According to the New York Times, Netanyahu’s office pointed out the flaw in Carter’s no-negotiations strategy:

Mr. Regev pointed to Mr. Netanyahu’s 2009 speech calling for two states and said he “has repeatedly expressed his readiness for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever in order to advance that goal.”

“Those who want to see peace advanced should be asking the Palestinian leadership why they continue to boycott the negotiations,” he said in a statement. “The prime minister has consistently initiated confidence-building measures,” he added, citing the reduction of roadblocks, the advancement of funds and the issuance of work permits, among other measures.

But Mr. Carter blamed Mr. Netanyahu for the stalemate.

“I’ve known every prime minister since Golda Meir,” he said, ticking off experiences with Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. “All the previous prime ministers have been so courageous in their own way. In the past, all committed to the two states.

I suppose it bears repeating that past Israeli prime ministers did not support the two-state solution, up to and including Yitzhak Rabin. And that Netanyahu is to Rabin’s left on a Palestinian state, borders, and even Jerusalem. And that it’s pretty difficult to come to an agreement without negotiations.

Carter’s recipe is for continued Palestinian statelessness and the end of the peace process, not to mention Mideast diplomacy in general. That’s his right, of course, but we can at least appreciate the moments like these when he makes it so explicit.

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