- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

The relentless needs of election-year punditry draw out a lot of fanciful analysis, so it shouldn’t be a great surprise to find Hotline’s Chuck Todd arguing in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly that President Bush is the new Jimmy Carter — a failed incumbent ripe for crushing defeat at the hands of John Kerry.

Mr. Todd has it exactly backward. Mr. Kerry is the product of a Democratic Party that has been fully Carterized, and if the voters grasp this in a time of war, it will be Mr. Kerry who faces a Carter-style humiliation at the polls. At first this seems a paradox, as most Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, such as Bill Clinton, tried to avoid any association with Mr. Carter and his ignominious presidency. Mr. Carter’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, which was explicitly awarded as an anti-American gesture by the Nobel committee, has capped his long campaign to redeem his image, and it is now safe for Democrats to be seen in public with him. Indeed, he appeared on the same platform with Mr. Kerry at a recent Democratic Party unity dinner in Washington. Mr. Carter is likely to step up his public profile as we get closer to November.

While Mr. Carter may have been a pariah in the Democratic Party for a long time, the same principles that made a hash of his presidency have become the core of today’s liberalism. And the central principle, as applied to foreign policy at least, can be summarized in one sentence: Whereas Ronald Reagan and his successors believe in peace through strength, Mr. Carter and his successors believe in peace through talk.

That force is always to be used as a last resort has been a familiar trope of all leaders for a very long time. Mr. Reagan himself used the phrase repeatedly in his campaigns for office. What is important to understand about liberalism Carter- and Kerry-style is that as a practical matter the last resort would never arrive. There is always one more negotiation to attempt, one more U.N. resolution to propose, one more appeal for further “talks.”

Mr. Carter has made this abundantly clear throughout his public career, most spectacularly by going behind President George H.W. Bush’s back in 1991 to urge foreign leaders not to back Mr. Bush’s coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Let the Arab League handle it, he ludicrously told Arab leaders in private communications that Mr. Bush didn’t learn about until months later. Throughout the 1980s, Mr. Carter worked strenuously to undercut Mr. Reagan’s arms-control diplomacy, whose ultimate success Mr. Carter has never acknowledged. Small wonder Time magazine’s Lance Morrow commented that “some of [Mr. Carter’s] Lone Ranger work has taken him dangerously close to the neighborhood of what we used to call treason.”

In a recent interview in the American Prospect, Mr. Carter commented, “Now it seems as though it is an attractive thing in Washington to resort to war in the very early stage of resolving an altercation; a completely unnecessary war that President Bush decided to launch against the Iraqis is an example of that.” Let’s see: After 12 years of defying repeated U.N. resolutions and shooting at America pilots in the no-fly zone, Mr. Carter thinks the world’s dispute with Saddam Hussein was still in “the very early stage.” It is clear that for Mr. Carter, the time to employ force against Saddam would have been — never.

Mr. Kerry has yet to dispel convincingly the impression that he is in harmony with Mr. Carter’s neo-pacifism. Mr. Kerry even has said that he might select Mr. Carter to be his official envoy in the Middle East, a suggestion he has tried to back away from as Mr. Carter’s blatant pro-Arafat sympathies have appalled the American Jewish community. Mr. Kerry has said that he wouldn’t have taken us to war in Iraq the way President George W. Bush did, that he would have a real coalition. But if this means giving the U.N. Security Council or the French a veto over American decisions, it is clear that for Mr. Kerry the use of force against Iraq would have come — never. Mr. Kerry amplifies this uncertainty by explaining his Senate vote to authorize the use of force in 2002 (almost 12 years after having voted against the first Gulf War), as intended only to authorize the threat to use force. He is not even comfortable talking tough.

Far from being a marginal figure in the Democratic Party, Mr. Carter is the pivotal influence in moving Democratic Party liberalism away from the Cold War realism of Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Scoop Jackson, and cementing it as a McGovernite party. The fate of Joe Lieberman, the last faint echo of the Truman-Kennedy-Jackson sensibility at home and abroad, in this year’s Democratic primary contests shows that the Democratic Party has rejected its historic legacy. It has learned little from Mr. Carter’s disastrous defeat or the similar defeat of his liberal successors. The voters are likely to teach the slow learners on the left the same lesson once again.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-President Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators, and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry.”

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