William James Martin: Carter

By William James Martin

Former President Carter’s recent two-pronged attack on Bush and Tony Blair was not a trivial event. Not merely a former president, but one who has over a quarter of a century built a public reservoir of trust and respect having time and time again exhibited a character of principle, integrity, honest, and sound and reasoned judgment has trained a forthright critique on the leaders of the two most powerful states in the world, and arguably the two most powerful men in the world, describing Tony Blair as “subservient” and Bush as the “worst president in history.” Carter also accused the European community of either not knowing, or not caring, about the deprivation and abuse of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

There once was a time when George Bush basked in the glow of a 90% popularity rating and strode the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, with a sign of “Mission Accomplished” visible over his shoulder. And Jimmy Carter was mocked by the right wing as a weak president for having endured the Iranian hostage crisis without a military response. Of course, the right wing did not think out the consequences of a military attack on Iran, as it did not think out the consequences of the invasion of Iraq; nor did they even consider if such an attack on Iran would have resulted in the freeing the American hostages. Carter was mocked, as well, by Zionists for recognizing the rights of the Palestinians and calling for a “Palestinian Homeland”.

In response to Carter’s remarks, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "I think it’s unfortunate. And I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments."

Now, Blair is in his final days as British prime minister (with most of England happy to see his departure) and, despite the Bush administration’s charge that Carter is irrelevant, it looks like Bush’s irrelevancy is accelerating by the day. The lame duck president is overseeing the failure of his Neocon-driven policies, which form the core of his foreign and Middle East policy, and the collapse of his administration with major figures being force to resign on a regular basis as a result of those failed policies (Rumsfeld), or illegal policies (Libby, Gonzales), or both (Wolfowitz).

“These kinds of comments", Fratto said: the reference is plural. Was the spokesman referring as well to the characterization of the state of Israeli as “Apartheid” in Carter’s recent book Palestine, Peace not Apartheid?

Irrelevant, hardly. As the critique of Blair and Bush appears in the dénouements of the Blair Prime Ministership and the Bush Presidency, so the critique of Israel’s treatment of those obliged to live under military occupation occurs at a time when the legitimacy of Israel is coming more and more under international scrutiny and when it is becoming possible for some to envision the end of the Zionist project.

The emerging awareness of the deprivation of rights of the Palestinian population, which President Carter has done much to highlight, will eventually yield up several questions:

Why has the Palestinian population been kept imprisoned for 40 years in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem ?

Why has Israel ’s history revealed continuous territorial expansion at the expense of the indigenous Arab population? 

Is it incidental to the mix of religious fervor, secular ideology, and identity as a Jewish state that the Palestinians have been so imprisoned; or is it rather intrinsic, and a necessary corollary of the logic of racial or ethnic purity, which is what Zionism is about?

Is this the cost of international support for a Jewish state, that one racial or ethnic group is granted superior rights to another, including superior considerations of security interests?

Even those who argue for a “two state solution”, insist upon Israeli military and political superiority in the region, with a de-militarized Palestinian state, and Israeli control of borders.

The denigration of American presidential leadership in the world, along with the demise of Tony Blair, and the Neocon ideology driving the Bush foreign policy is not unrelated to Israel ; loyalty to Israel and the protection of its interests is the central principle of that ideology, and the central principle that drove Bush to invade and occupy Iraq . Not that the control or dominant influence in the control of the Middle East ’s oil resources was not a factor; they are two components driving policies that are inextricably interlinked. Indeed, It was the core group of Neocons, mostly belonging to the American Enterprise Institute, calling themselves The Project for the new American Century and with strong ties to Israel, who produced several position papers, including in 2000, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century", which delineated a program for American dominance of the world and dominant control of its resources.

Carter and Bush could hardly be more unlike. Carter trained at the US Naval Academy in the art of warfare, and later in the Navy program at Union College in New York state in nuclear engineering would work closely with his mentor, Hyman Rickover, in the development of the nuclear propelled Navy. Bush, who has bragged that he got through Yale without reading a book, found that he was a man who could apparently succeed by taking short cuts. It is doubtful that Bush studied the Middle East or its history before launching his Iraq invasion as an early stage of transforming the Middle East and conferring western democracy on this troubled land. It is equally doubtful that Bush understood, or cared about, the complexity of Iraqi society or of the various strains of Islam. It is also doubtful that Bush knows anything of the history of the establishment of Israel and of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Since the weekend, Carter has insisted that his remarks were not about President Bush personally, but rather about the Bush administration policies. Yet the separation is a hard one to maintain. In the chapter in his recent book, Our Endangered Values on American use of torture as part of its “war on terror”, Carter begins by saying: “This is an especially unpleasant chapter to write, because it includes some embarrassing assessments of the government I have led and whose values I have defended.” From there, Carter details America ’s abuse of persons around the world and the mechanisms put in place by the Bush administration in order to enact such a program. Carter is walking a fine line between his own respect for the American presidency and American government, and his barely disguised contempt for policies which he sees a detrimental to American national interests and which are opposite the values for which Carter has dedicated his adult life.

Bush is a man who wishes to be recognized as a strong and decisive leader, traits that Carter was, during his presidency, unjustly in my view, accused of lacking. Bush has been known to have said that to be a great president, it is necessary to be a wartime president. He did not have Thomas Jefferson in mind.

Bush is not a man given to introspection nor to the refinement of his own character. He does not seem to value either hard work or humility. No one has ever suggested that Bush was either thoughtful or curious.

When the dust clears, it is Carter who is more likely to be remembered as having made the substantive contribution to the US military. Carter initiated a military buildup in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and also approved the development and deployment of the cruise missile and the Stealth F-14 fighter bomber, both of which performed so admirably in the first Gulf War. Bush has weakened the military by overextending it, and has also exhibited to the world the limitations of a strong conventional army in the face of determined guerilla resistance.

But it is soft power rather than hard power with which Carter is now concerned. Carter must certainly watch with pain as the principles of universally understood human rights and the rights of persons erode daily, and as the principles embodied in international law and international humanitarian law are flouted, all under the banner of the war on terror. It is leadership in the area of humanitarian and egalitarian principle and respect for the structure of international law built over the past century that Carter, as well as many others, feel has eroded during the Bush presidency.

Whatever the nuances of the genesis of the WMD information that Bush and the other members of this administration presented to the American public and the world, he will ultimately be remembered by future historians as the leader who lied to the world in order to promote a war which most members of his administration and the Neocons had been contemplating for a decade, one that suited his own personal contempt for the Iraqi leader. Bush will likely be remembered as the president who exploited the emotions of shock and anger of the American people in the aftermath of the attacks on America ’s greatest buildings in September 2001 and redirected that energy away from the genuine interests of the American people and toward the goals of the Israeli oriented Neocons.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out