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Jimmy Carter’s Penance?


In a New York Times (NYT) opinion piece, Jimmy Carter opens with: “The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.”

I read these words and focus on the present tense of “is”.  And I think:  When was this country ever anything but an imperialist nation?  When was the US anything but an enemy of human rights?  And I think about the blood on the hands of Jimmy Carter whose presidency was a devastating illustration of inhumanity.

Here’s a significant example:  It was Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski who were responsible for the rise of the Taliban and arming and training the mujahideen.  Brzezinski wrote the ending of Carter’s State of the Union Address, delivered on January 23, 1980:

An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

Afghanistan, in the late 1970s, was a secular country, providing free education to men and women.  And it was allied with the Soviet Union.  When the US recruited Islamic fundamentalists to come to Afghanistan for CIA training, the Soviets were drawn into war.

The Reagan Administration continued its predecessor’s aggression in Afghanistan.

Carter’s legacy includes not only Osama bin Laden and the majahideen, but, also, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Khmer Rouge, and the Shah of Iran.

Later, after leaving office, Carter, assumed the role of “impartial” election monitor. He traveled to Haiti after arranging a meeting with Bertrand Aristide who was running for president of the country and demanded that Aristide withdraw.  Aristide’s offense:  He was supported by an overwhelming majority of Haitians and wasn’t a puppet of the US government.  Refusing, Aristide went on to win the election but, later, was ousted in a coup supported by the US.  Carter’s original choice, Marc Bazin, backed by the US, was appointed Prime Minister. Carter defended General Raoul Cedras, a member of the governing junta responsible for the murder of thousands of Haitians who supported Aristides, saying, “I believe he [Cedras] would be a worthy Sunday school teacher.”

In 2006, Simon and Schuster published Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, in which the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize states, “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.”

I’ve wondered, often, if this, along with the former president’s work with Habitat for Humanity, is his attempt at redemption.

Carter closes his NYT piece with this call to action:

As concerned citizens, we must persuade Washington to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years.

It’s impossible, though, for “concerned citizens” to make our voices heard in a “Washington” that listens and is lulled only to and by Wall Street greed.  Certainly, Carter knows this.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland.  Missy can be reached at:


Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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