Sunday, June 10, 2007

Carter: Not Quite The Peacemaker

Nepal’s peace camp is pinning much hope in James Earl Carter Jr.’s arrival this week. The fact that the 39th president of the United States plans to hold talks with Maoist chairman Prachanda and chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai must have allowed many adherents of the Great Helmsman to see that first manifestation of the Great Satan in new light.
Carter, it should be recalled was scheduled to arrive in April last year, before the Uprising scuttled his itinerary. Ever since, the Carter Center has been quite candid in enumerating the shortcomings in the run-up to the constituent assembly elections. As an organization that made its name in certifying elections, the center’s apprehensions are understandable.
By scheduling a meeting with Maoist honchos, Carter is adhering to his own post-White House tradition. Among his prominent interlocutors have been Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the late North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung.
The Nobel Peace Prize Carter was awarded in 2002 certainly added to his ebullience. In real terms, peace has been more elusive under his watch both inside and outside the Oval Office.
For a while, Carter seemed to be the most famous ex-president for most Americans. The manner in which he has breached the gentleman’s agreement among ex-presidents not to criticize the incumbent in the White House has been galling, to put it mildly.
More so has been the route he took to criticize President George W. Bush. Carter recently called the current administration’s foreign policy record as being worse than Richard Nixon’s. The fact remains that Carter owed his presidency to Nixon. The post-Watergate national ire denied Gerald Ford his own mandate. The governor of Georgia did much to keep that national mood alive.
Carter’s anti-Bush rhetoric, therefore, was something akin to Ganesh Man Singh’s denunciation of Girija Prasad Koirala’s first prime ministerial tenure as being worse than that of the Panchayat system both had joined hands to oust.
As for the legacy of the dark horse from Georgia, well, it was a disaster. And President Bush can certainly vouch for that. True, Carter was the first president to have brought human rights to the center of American foreign policy. Barely a year after he had praised the Shah’s Iran as an island of stability in a turbulent sea, the monarch was forced into exile.
Carter’s ambassador in Teheran, William Sullivan, was instructed to bolster the Peacock Throne by encouraging the monarch to institute reforms. Yet a Carter emissary, General Robert Huyser, arrived to run his own operation in Teheran. He ended up pulling the rug from under the palace.
Apparently, the politically astute ayatollahs conned Carter into switching sides by promising to be more pro-American than the Shah could ever be. Carter’s aides – including chief of staff Hamilton Jordan – met with Iranian representatives – believed to be led by future foreign minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh – in Europe to work out a post-monarchy order.
With the godless Soviets having recently thrust their way into neighbouring Afghanistan and purportedly closing in on the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, the Shiite clerics and the sometime Sunday School teacher found themselves united by their faith in the Book. Khomeini returned in triumph to Iran. Contrary to popular wisdom, the Islamic Revolution had not yet begun. The ayatollahs kept people like Mehdi Bazargan, Karim Sanjabi and Abol Hassan Bani Sadr as frontmen as they moved to consolidate power. The abduction of American diplomats – purportedly by a group led by current Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedenijad – and Carter’s botched rescue mission deepened the post-Vietnam malaise.
Khomeini used the American hostages to consolidate his revolution to the point where he no longer required the other anti-Shah constituents. To render Carter’s humiliation complete, Khomeini ordered the hostages’ flight to freedom after 444 days in captivity only after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. As for human rights, Iranians would end up suffering far worse abuses under the ayatollahs.
As for Carter’s other foreign policy initiatives, the Camp David Accords seemed to be seminal when they were signed. Yet today even Carter seems to have revisited those days quite a bit, considering the way he derides the Israelis as the new purveyors of apartheid. The handover of the Panama Canal to its rightful owners, too, seemed to be an accomplishment, until the Chinese were found to be fishing in and around those troubled waters.
Nepal’s own real brush with Carter as president remains that reported phone call to King Birendra which led to B.P. Koirala’s release from prison and state-funded medical treatment in America. When he landed in Nepal as ex-president, Carter did bolster our trekking industry a bit – with B.P. dead and the Panchayat system in full bloom.
During his first term, President Bill Clinton had all but subcontracted foreign policy to Carter. His mission to Pyongyang paved the way for the Agreed Framework, which everyone thought was the best deal the Americans could have struck with the last outpost of Stalinism. Except that the North Koreans got their food and fuel as well as the nukes.
It would probably be unfair to consider Carter emblematic of the bitterness that creeps into one-term presidents, especially since the only other contender for that position is Bush Sr. However, if Bush Jr.’s foreign policy seems totally out of kilter, it’s largely because of Carter.
President Bush probably won’t take kindly to Carter’s overtures to people Washington still considers terrorists. What Maila Baje will be watching closely is whether Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai might be able to pull off a Ghotbzadeh on Carter. As for the Nobel Peace Prize, consider this: Mahatma Gandhi was studiously considered unworthy.