Like an episode of “Survivor,” pitting one generation against another, former President Jimmy Carter is vying to retain the title of our worst and most pestiferous former president against the coming challenge by President Obama.
Mr. Carter’s latest attempt to keep his title was in an op-ed in the Nov. 28 New York Times. There, he argued that President Obama should, in his final days in office, recognize a Palestinian state as a legitimate nation and require Israel to return to its borders as they existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war
Though Mr. Carter’s argument is comprehensively wrong, his campaign for influence and attention is understandable because soon-to-be former President Obama is setting himself up to replace Mr. Carter in his chosen role, about which more in a moment.
Mr. Carter argues that under the Camp David accords, signed by Israel’s Menachim Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1978, Israeli settlements in the West Bank somehow became illegal. His implied conclusion is that unless Mr. Obama recognizes a Palestinian state now the matter will be left to Mr. Trump with dire consequences for all.
Mr. Carter’s errors are so fundamental that they can be dispensed with quickly. The belief enshrined in the Camp David accords and ever since is that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be achieved by Israel trading land for peace agreed to by the Palestinians. Mr. Obama would do so only on the basis of Israel’s pre-war 1967 borders, the same borders he tried to force Israel to accept in two years of negotiations conducted by Secretary of State John Kerry. If Mr. Obama did so he would smash our alliance with Israel to bits.
Mr. Carter overlooks history. Three times since 2000, Israeli prime ministers have offered the Palestinians land for peace and have been rejected.
In 2000, Ehud Barak agreed to a plan proposed by Bill Clinton that would have granted the Palestinians a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Yasser Arafat walked out of those negotiations and began the Second Intifada terror campaign. In 2005, Ariel Sharon dismantled all Israeli settlements in Gaza and pulled Israel back across the pre-1967 war borders. Palestinians answered by raining missiles on Israel from Gaza for two years. In 2008, Ehud Olmert presented Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a map, detailing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and a formally divided Jerusalem. Mr. Abbas promised to study the map and return to the negotiating table. He left and never returned.
The Palestinians have rejected peace time and again along the lines Mr. Carter proposes. They won’t trade peace for land unless the land they gain is all of Israel.
Mr. Carter’s latest attempt to influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is par for his course. Unlike most presidents he has refused to let his successors do the job they were elected to do. Instead, almost ever since Ronald Reagan defeated him in 1980, he has again and again tried to interfere in our foreign policy. On Jan. 20, he will be pushed aside by Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama and his family won’t retire to Chicago. They plan to stay in Washington, D.C. And Mr. Obama has made it clear that he will be eager to speak out whenever he feels the need to disagree with his successor. Based on Mr. Obama’s habit of releasing statements and giving press conferences almost daily for most of his term in office, we can expect him to be sounding off frequently.
What makes this different from past worst presidents, including Mr. Carter, is the eagerness of the media to talk about whatever Mr. Obama wants to talk about. Never, since Richard Nixon’s presidency, have we’ve seen anything like this.
Mr. Nixon was constantly vilified, long before the Watergate scandal erupted, by newspapers and television hosts for nearly everything he did. There was, in literal terms, an “axis of antagonism” comprised of major newspapers, all three television networks of the day, and Democratic politicians eager to bash him roundly and soundly. The press loved it and made every effort to aid and abet their efforts.
Mr. Trump faces a new version of the same equally determined axis of antagonism. Congressional Dems will do everything they can to stop Mr. Trump’s agenda, including filibustering Obamacare repeal legislation and anyone he nominates for the Supreme Court.
But Mr. Obama will be the one the media focus on. He’ll be a sort of “president in exile,” speaking out to protect his legacy — Obamacare, a liberal Supreme Court, the Iran nuclear deal and more — whenever he can get to a microphone. Which will be as often as he pleases. Mr. Carter will lose his title of worst former president to Mr. Obama almost immediately.
Wags have always said that the most dangerous place in Washington is the space between Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, and a microphone, because he’ll trample you on his way to it. Now, even incoming Senate Minority Leader Schumer will have to play second media fiddle to the former president.
Mr. Trump will enjoy no honeymoon with his opposition. Mr. Obama, Mr. Schumer and the media will make sure of that.
• Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”