- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Recently, Ex-ex-ex-ex-president Jimmy Carter formalized his dissatisfaction with the current president in the form of a New York Times op-ed advising President Bush to be more forceful with Israel and assuring him that "the rest of the world will welcome this." (He's right on the latter count, but not in the way he imagines.)

Last July, Mr. Carter said he was "disappointed in almost everything [Bush] has done," admonishing him to respect the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, questioning his reluctance to ratify the rights-of-the-child treaty, and calling missile defense technologically ridiculous and contrary to the "prestige and respect due our country." In the same interview, this technology expert advised the new administration not to ignore parts of the world beyond the Middle East, concluding that "the devastation of the wars in Africa is much more serious than the conflicts in the Middle East."

This visionary in February called Mr. Bush's axis of evil label "overly simplistic and counterproductive," stressing the need for the United States to mind how it is perceived by the world. Then last month, the complex and productive former leader told the president of South Africa that he should proliferate risky AIDS drugs to his people. And on Sunday, the medical expert flew to Cuba.

Good. As one pol said of Bill Clinton's trip to Vietnam, I don't mind him going. I mind him coming back.

The frequent harping Mr. Carter has taken up on a successor administration practically from the day it was sworn in is a nasty habit, uncommon among former presidents, excepting the most recent. Regardless, we should ask ourselves whether a former president with Alzheimer's should be issuing public statements at all. Not to mix up ex-presidents or trivialize this mental condition, but if Mr. Carter had any memory of his own tenure, he'd have very little to say about anyone else's.

Mr. Carter left the country with inflation and interest rates in the double digits, high unemployment, low consumer confidence and a 70 percent tax burden on the highest bracket. He enlarged government, creating the Department of Energy and the Department of Education, a bureaucrat-laden monstrosity devoted to brainstorming curricula such as the disastrous Whole Language and Whole Math approach. Instead of checking worldwide communist aggression, he answered Russians in Afghanistan by barring U.S. participation in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Mr. Carter was constantly criticizing Iran's shah, emboldening the subsequent Islamist overthrow which gave rise to the phenomenon of state-sponsored Islamic extremism. A failed rescue mission for American hostages in Iran resulted in the deaths of eight servicemen when three helicopters developed mechanical problems and one crashed in the desert, exposing the neglected state of our military.

Mr. Carter's answer to the imperiled economy was price, wage and credit controls, which compounded the problem. To face down the energy crisis, rather than increasing production, his policy on energy was to stop using it. Himself resigned to America's diminished status and influence in the world, Mr. Carter addressed a demoralized country by telling Americans they would have to face the prospect of not living like a superpower anymore, but more like the rest of the (Third) world.

Yet now he speaks, as if from experience, of American prestige and respect?

At least we can deduce what kind of "world perception" he is proposing that we cultivate. The rest of the world certainly approved of the direction in which America was headed under Mr. Carter. So in the context of his record, Mr. Carter is merely being consistent in his criticisms and policy prescriptions for Mr. Bush, who is sabotaging the American decline Mr. Carter worked so hard to engineer before Ronald Reagan's victory cheated him out of completing it.

But more likely, it's the dementia. Indeed, this seems to be a common malady among living ex-presidents, what with Bill Clinton proclaiming on a daily basis how much better equipped he is than Mr. Bush to deal with the attack on America because of his "experience fighting terrorism."

Mr. Carter also criticizes U.S. sanctions against Cuba, whose dictator regards him as the friendliest of all U.S. presidents to have held office during his reign. This month Mr. Carter will be the highest-profile U.S. figure, the first president former or sitting to visit the prison island since its 1959 revolution. As such, will he speak up for democratic change while he tours Cuba's hospitals and schools on Mr. Castro's arm? Will he appeal to Mr. Castro to not kill the 11,000 dissidents as soon as Mr. Carter leaves, who last week presented a petition for reforms? Will he look in on Elian Gonzales?

More likely the trip will bolster the anti-embargo lobby here which, like Mr. Carter, insists that a policy of engagement is the best road to democratizing the island. Unlike the "simplistic" tactics of the current president, Mr. Carter's complex style as president was to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba and establish diplomatic missions. Which turned out to be almost as effective as the engagement tactics the Carter Center employed with Hamas and Yasser Arafat in 1996. Granted, the big success story of his more sophisticated approach to the presidency did concern the Middle East, when in 1978 he paid off Egypt to not attack Israel.

It must be because his own ideas have worked so well that Mr. Carter still feels entitled to an opinion, as well as to a role in international missions. And it must be because he's always had a soft spot for despots and terrorists his recent op-ed refers to Palestinian bombers and Hamas not as terrorists, but as "misguided" that he feels he can impose his politics on a mentally sound administration.

Indeed, if Jimmy Carter is really worried about the state of the world, particularly carbon dioxide emissions, he should stop talking.

Julia Gorin is a columnist living in New York and a contributing editor to JewishWorld Review.com.

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