The Legacy of Jimmy Carter
by Mickey Z
October 12, 2002
The October 11, 2002 Washington Post article reported that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had beat out peace-loving nominees like George W. Bush and Tony Blair to win the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee citation explained: “In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development.”
While the award was primarily for Carter¹s work since leaving the White House, it might be instructive to examine his record while serving as “leader of the free world.”
Jimmy Carter was a president who claimed that human rights was “the soul of our foreign policy” despite making an agreement with Baby Doc Duvalier to not accept the asylum claims of Haitian refugees. His duplicity, however, was not limited to our hemisphere; Carter also earned his Nobel Prize in Southeast Asia.
In Cambodia, Jimmy Carter and his national security aide, Zbigniew Brzezinski made an “untiring effort to find peaceful solutions” by initiating a joint U.S.-Thai operation in 1979 known as Task Force 80 which, for ten years, propped up the notorious Khmer Rouge under the all-purpose banner of anti-Communism. “Small wonder present U.S.-originating stories about the Khmer Rouge end abruptly in 1979,” says journalist Alexander Cockburn. Interestingly, just two years earlier, Carter displayed his “respect for human rights” when he explained how the US owed no debt to Vietnam. He justified this belief because the “destruction was mutual.” It¹s odd that I have no recollections of my city being napalmed or babies born deformed on my block due to Agent Orange. Carter¹s statement, as Noam Chomsky has commented, “is easily worthy of Hitler or Stalin, yet it aroused no comment.”
Moving further southward “to advance democracy and human rights,” we have East Timor. This former Portuguese colony was the target of a relentless and murderous assault by Indonesia since December 7, 1975‹an assault made possible through the sale of U.S. arms to its loyal client-state, the silent complicity of the American press, and then-Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan¹s skill at keeping the United Nations uninvolved. Upon relieving Gerald Ford (but strategically retaining the skills of fellow Nobel peacenik Henry Kissinger), Carter authorized increased military aid to Indonesia in 1977 as the death toll approached 100,000. In short order, over one-third of the East Timorese population (more than 200,000 humans) lost their lives due to war-related starvation, disease, massacres, or atrocities.
Closer to home, Carter also made his mark in Central America. As journalist William Blum details, in 1978, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner attempted to create a “moderate” alternative to the Sandinistas through covert CIA support for “the press and labor unions in Nicaragua.” After the Sandinistas took power, Blum explains, “Carter authorized the CIA to provide financial and other support to opponents.” Also in that region, one of Carter¹s final acts as president was to order $10 million in military aid and advisors to El Salvador perhaps “to promote economic and social development.”
A final glimpse of “international co-operation based on international law” during the Carter Administration brings us to Afghanistan, site of a Soviet invasion in December 1979. It was here that Carter and Brzezinski aligned themselves with staunch anti-Communists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to exploit Islam as a method to arouse the Afghani populace to action. With the CIA coordinating the effort, some $40 billion in US taxpayer dollars were used to recruit “freedom fighters” like Osama bin Laden. The rest, as they say, is history.
Let¹s raise a toast as Jimmy Carter joins the ranks of Kissinger, de Klerk, Arafat, Clinton, Rabin, Peres, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, and others as the standard for peace on our planet.
Mickey Z. is a historian and lecturer based in New York. He is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of “The Good War” (Soft Skull Press, 2000). His work has appeared in the Village Voice, Street News, Anarchy, Poets and Writers, and Alternative Press Review. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.