- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

Of all the criticisms Jimmy Carter shouldn’t be making, the allegation about President Bush’s foreign policy shortcomings tops the list. He should not need reminding that his botching of the Iranian hostage situation helped get us where we are today.

While few would disagree about Mr. Bush’s failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and his inability to bring key European allies into the mix, only a brief glance at history will tell us where this whole mess began. But then Mr. Carter has been in denial about his role almost since the last vote was cast for his successor Ronald Reagan in 1980, leaving him to search for vindication by sticking his nose into every international crisis from Haiti to the Middle East in an ultimately successful campaign for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The former Navy officer turned politician turned peanut farmer turned politician can claim credit for winning a detente between Egypt and Israel that was no small achievement. He also is a nice man whose bitterness over what he felt was an unfair rejection by the voters finally spewed out in his ranking of Mr. Bush as the biggest Oval Office lunk head in history when it comes to overseas affairs and his slandering of British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a toady, breaking the rule about former presidents not speaking ill about the current holder of the job.

When Mr. Carter left office, his ratings were as low or lower than Mr. Bush’s, dipping into the 20s for job approval on a series of domestic and foreign policy blunders that left U.S. prestige abroad in a shambles and turned Iran into a theocratic state that still fosters and finances terrorism. His misguided stances included canceling U.S. participation in the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a silly protest that accomplished nothing and hurt only the American athletes who had trained for years.

But the capper, of course, came when he withdrew U.S. support for the ailing shah of Iran, a Western educated, pro-American monarch who had kept radical Muslims in line and provided stability throughout the area. This sometimes required what Mr. Carter saw as repressive measures by the shah’s dreaded secret police. So what does this “born-again” Georgian do? He helps unleash on Iran and the world one of the most regressive radicals in modern history, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The shah’s secret police were amateurs compared to the oppressiveness this creature brought from exile in Paris.

The cleric, whose religious ideology was right out of the 11th century, then warned his benefactor not to permit the dispossessed shah to receive medical treatment in the United States. That was too much even for Mr. Carter, who ignored the edict. The ayatollah then gave his young militants the go-ahead to storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, holding 52 hostages and making the U.S. a laughingstock for more than 444 days while Mr. Carter dithered, afraid of the consequences of military action.

He finally OK’d an improbable plan for rescue but quickly abandoned it when a helicopter crashed killing nine members of the team. The nation’s wimp image, along with his, was certified.

Meanwhile, the new Persian dictators turn their attention to promoting anti-Americanism throughout the globe and establishing a rogue state now about to reach critical mass with its nuclear development. At the same time they have tried, not unsuccessfully, to feed the insurgency in Iraq with financing and roadside bombs.

That Mr. Carter seemed to retreat a bit in normal political fashion after his remarks caused the White House to bite back, calling him “irrelevant,” which under the circumstance seems mild, albeit correct.

Mr. Carter said he was speaking in a context that was misunderstood. Right. Actually, he has been openly critical of Mr. Bush in the past without eliciting a response from the White House.

Taken together, the mistakes in Middle East policy would fill volumes. But Mr. Carter, who cultivates an image of fairness and integrity, should understand better than anyone that our current problems have been a long time in the making, dating back to his own bad judgment. It probably is time for him to restrict himself to pounding nails in houses for the poor.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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