- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

Former President Jimmy Carter backed off from calling the Bush administration’s foreign policy the “worst in history,” describing his comments as “careless or misinterpreted.”

It’s the second major mea culpa this year from the Georgia Democrat, who in January apologized for what he called a “stupid” passage in his most recent book that many interpreted as a de facto endorsement of Palestinian violence against Israelis.

Mr. Carter yesterday told NBC’s “Today” program that he meant only to compare the Bush administration to that of former President Nixon’s, as the latter has been both praised and panned by historians.

Mr. Carter added that his comments were not meant as a personal insult to President Bush, stressing that he “certainly was not talking personally about any president.”

In an interview published over the weekend in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Mr. Carter said, “I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.”

Asked for a response yesterday, Mr. Bush told reporters, “I get criticized a lot from different quarters and that’s just part of what happens when you’re president. And I will continue to make decisions that I think are necessary to protect the American people from harm, and I will continue to make decisions based upon certain principles, one of which is my strong belief in the universality of freedom.”

White House spokesmen had previously avoided any direct response to Mr. Carter’s criticisms, which also included comments on the administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and nuclear-arms treaties, but fired back at Mr. Carter, calling the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner “increasingly irrelevant.”

Historians say it’s unusual for a former president to criticize a sitting president, especially on policies whose effects often take decades to determine.

Mr. Carter’s foreign policy has been widely criticized in the 27 years after he left office. He is generally credited for orchestrating the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, and for emphasizing human rights. However, his handling of the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran that began in 1979 is largely blamed for his subsequent 1980 defeat by Ronald Reagan. Conservatives also condemned Mr. Carter for signing a 1977 treaty that ceded control of the Panama Canal.

“It’s true that these are not the typical comments of a former president,” said P.J. Crowley, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and member of President Clinton’s National Security Council.

“But it was said with the conviction of a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner. I think history will be very kind to Jimmy Carter for laying the foundations for Middle East peace. President Bush could only hope to be so fortunate.”