- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2008

Jimmy Carter has often been described as being more impressive as a former president than he was as president. That’s not hard to prove, of course, considering his failed presidency. While since then he has often been a busybody and irritating scold, and his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize was as much a dig at President Bush as an individual honor, he does some selfless (at least, seemingly selfless) things that make the world a better place. So, tempting as it is to have a feeling of schadenfreude at his latest uninvited foray, an attempted humanitarian assessment mission to Zimbabwe that ruthless dictator Robert Mugabe blocked, in this case Mr. Carter is on the side of the angels. If the devil tried to get into Zimbabwe and Mr. Mugabe blocked him (which might be an oxymoron), the devil would be on the side of the angels, but we digress.

Mr. Carter, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and South African human-rights advocate Graca Machel (wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who organized the group) were denied visas when they tried to visit desperate Zimbabwe to assess the country’s needs –- which are stupendous. Since leading Zimbabwe to independence from Great Britain in 1980, Mr. Mugabe has become increasingly irrational and dictatorial.

Two rounds of presidential elections earlier this year turned into a sham when Mr. Mugabe was surprised that, despite coercion at the polls, Morgan Tsvangirai almost certainly won. Since then Mr. Mugabe has been performing a sort of modified rope-a-dope routine, holding onto power brutally and skipping out on a power-sharing deal while critics punch themselves out.

The annual inflation rate as of July was estimated at 23l million percent, giving new meaning to hyperinflation. To say the country is in chaos understates the case. People are starving and compete in the countryside with baboons, jackals and goats for roots and wild fruits; health care has imploded and cholera is on the march as water and sewer systems collapse; and refugees by the millions have left the country.

The United States has done what it can, giving $186 million in humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe this year, the most of any donor. Regional groups such as the 15-nation Southern African Development Community have tried to help. South Africa, which might have more influence than any state on Mr. Mugabe (which isn’t saying much), has decided to withhold farm aid as a leverage. But nothing has worked with Mr. Mugabe, who has in effect told everyone where they can stick it.

Alas, at some times and in some places diplomacy just doesn’t work because one side simply doesn’t care, or their values are so averse to civilized society that words, hopes, logic and reason are pointless. Whether that is the case in, say, Iran or North Korea or Sudan may be debatable, but there seems –- to us, at least –- no debate in Zimbabwe under Mr. Mugabe. Has anyone in that part of the world thought of the “f” word - force?

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