Friend Of Dictators
Leadership: In foreign policy, Jimmy Carter proved his presidency the worst ever by subordinating U.S. interests to his vague "human rights" policy. All he did was enable dictators to take him to the cleaners.
Carter had barely settled in at the White House in 1977 when he set about establishing his presidency as different. Instead of leading with the pragmatic idealism that marked most successful U.S. presidencies, the former governor of Georgia said he would base his leadership on a new, ill-defined concept of "human rights." Or so he imagined.
History shows that shift came at a high cost. Not only did it obscure Carter's duty to put U.S. interests first, the policy politicized a principle that was easily used by dictators Carter dealt with to undermine U.S. interests and abuse their citizens.
In a bad coda, Carter's "human rights" policy enabled him to continue his own mischief well beyond his presidency.
Carter started with an essentially flawed premise: weakness is strength. To show his seriousness, he cut the U.S. defense budget by $6 billion, signaling to global predators our lack of resolve.
Carter gutted America's intelligence services, proudly telling America (and its enemies) of his executive order prohibiting assassinations. It only emboldened America's enemies.
Carter also undermined key U.S. alliances by killing off the B-1 bomber and neutron bomb programs, not even bothering to tell our allies. German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt read about it in newspapers.
In the absence of power to back policy, all that buttressed Carter's policy were sanctimonious words. Dictators took advantage of him.
• In Cuba, Carter made secret moves in 1977 to establish diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro, justifying it in a State Department directive as a move to advance human rights. Castro knew about this. Unfortunately, neither oppressed Cubans nor U.S. voters did. Net result: Castro got the diplomatic attention he sought, but no human rights appeared in Cuba.
• In Panama, dictator Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 military coup, intimidated Carter in 1976 into giving up the Panama Canal, a U.S. sovereign territory since 1914. Torrijos secretly warned Carter he had a general named Manuel Noriega who already had prepared plans to destroy the canal if Carter didn't hand it over. He whipped up mobs to demonstrate. Carter caved, telling outraged Americans his weakness was all just "human rights."
• Later in his presidency, Carter showed no such courtesies to Nicaragua's democratically elected president, Anastasio Somoza. Because Somoza was unpopular with Marxist radicals who had learned to shout "human rights abuses" against him, Carter withdrew U.S. support from our ally. Carter was first to greet the Marxist Sandinistas who overthrew Somoza, inviting them to the White House and handing them $118 million in U.S. aid. At that point, a real dictatorship began, costing Nicaragua a decade of development and igniting a long civil war. Human rights, of course, ended.
• In the Pacific, Carter withdrew troops and nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1977 and scrapped the U.S.' mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, hanging two further allies out to dry.
But for northern Asia's totalitarian dictators, the treatment was entirely different. China was rewarded with full diplomatic relations in 1979. North Korea was emboldened to launch its nuclear program. Years after his presidency and acting on behalf of President Clinton, Carter negotiated with North Korea to end that nation's nuclear program. And yes, he made more pious talk about "human rights." Dictator Kim Jong Il pried $4 billion in aid from Carter for promising to end his nuclear program. Carter praised him for his "humanitarianism." After Kim took the cash, he restarted his nuclear program, this time targeting Japan and Los Angeles. Oh, and he also systematically starved millions of his own people.
• In the Middle East, Carter likewise used cash to buy phony reform from dictators. Chilly relations between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin already had started to thaw. All that was needed was a little money. Carter leapt into that role, taking credit for their historic meeting. Today, because of Camp David, Egypt and Israel are the two largest recipients of U.S. aid. In Egypt, the aid managed to entrench the dictatorship that followed after Sadat's death. What few recall, however, is that terrorist Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat refused to sign on to a peace deal. He got aid anyway. There still is no peace.
• In Rhodesia, Carter kept up sanctions begun under his predecessors. But he went further by undermining the election of Bishop Abel Muzorewa as prime minister in 1979 to protest the exclusion of candidate Robert Mugabe. In response to Carter's pressure, new elections were held, giving Mugabe the victory he has held onto as Africa's worst dictator. Thank you, Jimmy Carter.
• In Ethiopia, Carter cited "human rights" to cut arms sales to its admittedly awful dictator, Haile Mengistu. So Mengistu invited East German advisers and Cuban soldiers in, turning his nation into a Soviet vassal. Human rights in Ethiopia never happened.
• Lastly, there was Carter's post-presidency role in entrenching Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Sent to observe a rigged recall referendum in 2004, Carter let Venezuelan officials pick out the boxes he could count to validate the election and then certified it, ending democracy and creating a human-rights meltdown there.
In the Soviet Union, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko laughed at Carter's human rights record behind his back, but knew how to manipulate Carter in public. Gromyko browbeat Carter, telling him the USSR's health care and housing trumped America's. "I couldn't argue," Carter winced in his book, "Living Faith." "We each had a definition of human rights, and differences like this must be recognized and understood."
Carter's inability to distinguish intentions from results through his "human rights" policy has led to more human rights violations around the world than any dictator could have done on his own.
But he didn't just undermine human rights; he undermined the U.S. and its legitimate security interests. His legacy is the spread of tyranny, making him the U.S.' worst president for human rights.