Soundings

Stefan Kanfer
The Big Lie, Clothbound
Jimmy Carter’s lame legacy gets lamer.
Winter 2007

Jimmy Carter’s list of self-humiliations began with the double-digit inflation during the time he occupied the White House. Then there was the hostage crisis of November 1979, when Iranian “students” mobbed the U.S. embassy, took more than 50 prisoners, and kept them locked up for 444 days, while Carter wrung his hands and informed the country, “There are no easy ansuhs.” Then came the fatally botched rescue mission, ending with the deaths of eight servicemen in the Iranian desert. The long Carterian nightmare finally concluded when all the hostages went free on January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan’s inauguration day.

The electoral-vote landslide (489 to 49) was so ignominious that the very name Carter became synonymous with political ineptitude. Still, in retirement the ex–commander in chief attempted to repair his reputation, building homes for the poor and staying out of the limelight. But obviously, he found being ignored intolerable. So he began to attack American foreign policy and negotiate on his own with totalitarians around the globe, all the while lobbying for the Nobel Peace Prize—a reward he received in 2002.

Carter, who had smiled on dictators in Haiti, South America, and the Middle East, joined the category of Peace Prize frauds, such as PLO leader Yasser Arafat, known chiefly as an obstructionist and sponsor of murder, and Marxist Rigoberta Menchu, who fabricated her entire life story of victimhood.

Since then, Carter has been as predictable as the sunset, doing what no other former president has ever done: continuing to assail the U.S. administration while currying favor with foreign governments. He seems particularly anxious to please totalitarians in the Middle East, as his latest volume, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, shows. Though the writer claims the subtitle’s purpose was to “provoke discussion,” it’s clear that he wants the world to think of Israel the way it thought of South Africa, as a government guilty of oppressing its citizens and repressing dissent.

Carter’s wretched book caused a onetime chief executive of the Carter Center to split with his former boss. Kenneth Stein, a professor of Middle Eastern history and political science at Emory University in Atlanta, ended his association with Carter in a two-page letter. He called Palestine a book “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments.” Example: Carter claims that the Palestine Liberation Organization never advocated the elimination of Israel, whereas Article Two of its charter states: “The liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperial presence.” And Arafat stated, “Peace for us is the destruction of Israel and nothing else.”

Unaccountably surprised by the fierce hostility that his book produced, Carter sought to employ the Michael Richards–Mel Gibson approach: after making ignorant and insensitive remarks, seek widely publicized meetings with members of the offended group. Accordingly, on a recent tour, he sat down to pray with some rabbis in Phoenix. The gathering didn’t have the desired effect. Rabbi Ayla Grafstein of Scottsdale, for example, refused to buy Carter’s conciliatory approach, because, “In the end, he’s not going to change what’s in his book.”

By then, members of Carter’s own party had turned against him. In a brief literary review, Howard Dean stated, “I fundamentally disagree and do not support his analysis of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” And Nancy Pelosi said, “It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously.”

Decades ago, Carter’s arch-humiliator, Ronald Reagan, made an observation that rings truer now than ever: “Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed, there are many rewards; if you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book.” The book’s title is Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The disgrace is, of course, the 39th president of the United States.

SHARE
respondrespondTEXT SIZE
If you enjoyed
this article,
why not subscribe
to City Journal? subscribe Get the Free App on iTunes Or sign up for free online updates: