Starring Jimmy Carter, in War and Peace

Now they’ve given Jimmy Carter the Nobel Peace Prize. Looking at the present, wretched incumbent, Democrats feel smug about their paladin of peace.

But there’s continuity in Empire. Presidents come and Presidents go. There are differences, but over much vital terrain the line of march adopted by the Commander in Chief doesn’t deviate down the years. Is George Bush “worse” than, say, Jack Kennedy, who multiplied America’s military arsenal, nuclear and nonnuclear, and dragged the world to the edge of obliteration forty years ago? Sure, Carter wasn’t as bad as Reagan. By the low standards of his office, he did his best in the Middle East. But how bad is bad? Carter’s projected military budgets for the early 1980s were higher than the ones Reagan presided over. Remember his plan to run MX missiles by rail around the American West?

Recall when Carter said America would not stand idly by while Nicaragua tried to set forth on a different path after the Sandinistas threw out Anastasio Somoza? Carter told them they had to retain the National Guard, which had been Somoza’s elite band of US-trained psychopathic killers. The Sandinistas said no. So Carter ordered the CIA to bring up the officers and torturers running the Argentine death squads to train a force of Nicaraguan exiles in Honduras scheduled for terror missions across the border. They called them the contras.

El Salvador? In October 1979, a coup by reformist officers overthrew the repressive Romero dictatorship and pledged reforms, including land reform. But within weeks, it became clear that the reformers among the new rulers had been outmaneuvered, so they resigned en masse as the real leaders stepped up frightful repression in the countryside, killing close to 1,000 people a month. Some 10,000 were killed in 1980, most of them peasants and workers.

The Carter Administration sent millions in aid and riot equipment to the Salvadoran military, dispatched US trainers and trained Salvadoran officers in Panama. The Administration cast the conflict as one between the “extremes” of left and right, with the junta trying to steer a “moderate” course. In fact, 90 percent of the killings were carried out by the army or paramilitary death squads acting under army or government supervision. The Carter Administration continued to push this line throughout 1980, not suspending aid until the killing of four Maryknoll nuns in December. It’s all coming back to you? Yes, it was the Carter Administration that restored the Khmer Rouge to military health after the Vietnamese kicked them out of power in Cambodia.

And he harked to the pain of South Korea, where students and workers were demonstrating against the military dictatorship of Chun Doo Hwan, notably in Kwangju. Carter’s envoy advised the South Korean military to hit back hard, and it did on May 17, 1980, killing at least 1,000, the most horrible massacre since the Korean War. The White House instructed the local US military commander to release a South Korean force from border duty to attack the demonstrators, which they did with terrible brutality.

In his introduction to Lee Jai-eui’s Kwangju Diary, Bruce Cumings reviews the documents unearthed by Tim Shorrock and says the record “makes it clear that leading liberals-such as Jimmy CarterSand Zbigniew Brzezinski; and especially Richard Holbrooke (then Under Secretary of State for East Asia), have blood on their hands from 1980: the blood of hundreds of murdered or tortured students in Kwangju.”

Carter presided over the dispatch of arms to Indonesia, fresh from its invasion of East Timor, which makes him, oh, just one more American to get the Nobel Peace Prize after sponsoring genocide in Asia. And he started the covert CIA operation in Afghanistan, rallying the mujahedeen to fight the Soviets. Soon the CIA would bring the Saudis, and Saudi cash, to Afghanistan, not least among them Osama bin Laden.

As Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, who’s just finished a history of the first years of the Nicaraguan revolution, put it to me after the news of Carter’s Nobel, “‘Benign’ Carter was the source of so many bad things, including the rise of the Christian right (his endless public pronouncements of his faith and his sister’s leadership in the actual Christian right gave the movement a new legitimacy), the erosion of the UN, the destruction of the New International Economic (and Information) Order, etc. And no one seems to recall that he led a campaign to free Lieutenant Calley [of My Lai infamy] when Carter was governor of Georgia.”

Remember that the late 1970s were years of great optimism at the UN, with reforming agendas such as the report of the Brandt Commission, which called for radical transformation of the world economic order, with transfer of technology and development financing from North to South. The Carter Administration decided to undercut one 1980 UN Special Session, echoing its behavior at the UN Conference on Racism in 1978. The United States sent a very low-level delegation to announce its noncooperation with the terms of the discussion and generally disrupt the proceedings.

That whole initiative for readjustment of the economic relationship of North and South came to nought. We headed into the Reagan 1980s, when the deregulatory philosophy embraced by Carter came to full flower, both at home and abroad, with the destruction of public infrastructure and social services across the world, the collapse of healthcare in Africa, the onset of the plague years. At home, too, the post-Nixon/Ford years were times of hope. Carter presided over their demolition. Neoliberalism won the day on his watch.

Now he’s a peace prize winner. He’s been campaigning for it for years. In the end, how could he have missed, unless the peace prize committee had decided to compress the whole process and give it to George Bush? Maybe Bush will get it next year, in partnership with Ariel Sharon.


More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring