|View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
The Peanut Center
Well, it had to be done. You're in Atlanta, you check out the doings at the Carter Center. Maybe it's dinner with Jimmah and Roz. Maybe it's a Carter Center researcher explaining how human rights defenders are being attacked after 9-11. By us. Maybe it's someone discussing the benefits of unilateral diarmament. In this case, it's a 1/12 scale model of Mount Vernon. Home of the man who made history by quitting, hosted by the man who doesn't know when his term ended.
You enter through the museum gift shop. Usually on a tour, you exit through the gift shop, but many of the visitors actually remember the 70s, so the Center probably thinks it's safer to get their cash up front. I did actually see one man buying a copy of Why Not the Best? One answer in 1976, another in 1980.
After passing through the auditorium, you pass the Wall of Presidents. The lineup ends with Carter himself, something beyond even his mighty efforts. There's a portrait, some period photographs, and a few paragraphs describing the president's life, times, and contributions to arms control, or as Jimmy likes to call it, "peace." I'm not making this up. Harding's greatest accomplishment was the 1921 Washington Conference on Naval Disarmament, which led more or less directly to the War in the Pacific, 15 years later. Eisenhower's "eight years of peace stand as his greatest achievement," though there's no mention of how handy the bomb was in ending the Korean War. The 1967 Six-Day War is presented as an obstacle to arms control. Remade the map of the Middle East. Earned Jimmah a new best friend in a Kaffiyah. Obstacle to arms control.
Ah, yes. Arms Control Negotiations. My old friend, I hardly recognize you. Let's see, in 1955, the Soviets reject Eisenhower's Open Skies proposal. Next year's Budapest Tanks on Parade goes unmentioned. "Late in his term, President Johnson approached the Soviets about starting negotiations. Talks faltered, however, when the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968." June 1979, Salt II is signed, Carter kisses Brezhnev on the lips. December 1979, and tanks roll into Kabul. Notice a pattern here? There's talk of an "arms race," the only actual balance-of-power numbers ever mentioned are the US's 6000-200 nuke lead in 1960. It's actually been proposed by the Left that we had to let them catch up so they'd have something to negotiate away. Why let the rape of a couple of dozen countries get in the way of a good arms-control strategy?*
As for the Middle East, "four wars and constant small-scale violence have ravaged Arabs and Israelis alike." Think this is related to "HRH King" Fahd of Saudi Arabia's status as a Center Founder, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a Center Sponsor? No, I didn't think so, either.
Then, there are the Hostages. We're informed that ordering a military strike would have been the "easy" thing to do. Um, no. Carter actually did the easy thing: negotiate while pretending not to, order a rescue operation sketched on the back of a restaurant napkin, hide in the Oval Office wearing out the carpet while agonizing through his "personal ordeal." Reagan, by threatening the "easy" solution, got to announce that the plane had left airspace during his inaugural address.
Then there's the whole Human Rights thing. Jay Nordlinger has amply shown how Carter's sympathy only extended to those suffering under military juntas. Maybe he was so tough on the South American dictators because we didn't have any canals to give back. Adam "Bigtime" Clymer gets the Senate ratification byline in the NYT: we were "moving to establish a new spirit of relations with Latin America." So evidently, if there's a retreat to be made in front of a dictator, in this case the much-beloved Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos, he of the white suits and fine cigars, it really doesn't matter what his persuasion is. If the canal had been built through Nicaragua instead, and the treaty negotiations had been going on at the same time as the Sandanistas revolution, the internal contradictions alone might have exploded poor Jimmy's head. Give now, or wait till you can give to Communists? It's a miracle that Panama didn't turn around and invade Colombia.
The museum doesn't talk much about the economy, but it does mention the "energy crisis," the "moral equivalent of war (MEOW)", and the "crisis of confidence." (Somehow, "malaise" didn't make the cut.) There's an actual yellow cardigan from one of his fireside chats, the fire a reminder of the heat people couldn't afford, and the sweater meant as a suggestion.
Carter clearly wants to focus on foreign policy. But if you look at his professed goals, almost all of them were achieved in the 12 years after he left office. Latin America is now run by democracies, with whom we really do have more in common. Nuclear weapons have been reduced. The hostages were free minutes after he left office. Actually defeating the Soviets was never on his list, but he did get to see all those newly-freed Olympians forget to thank him in Atlanta in 1996. The lone exception is Israel, which still exists, although President Clinton sure tried hard.
On the way out, the list of sponsors and founders makes interesting reading. We've already mentioned that the Saudis get double-billing. You would expect major individual and corporate donors, prominent Democrats, local companies, and so on. But did he really have to take money from avowed Communist Armand Hammer? Adnan Khashoggi is represented - an arms dealer donating to a center for "peace." And the Playboy Foundation gets Sponsor status - maybe in thanks for that interview.
Look, you don't go to a Presidential Museum and Library expecting an objective treatment of its subject. Certainly an element of popularizing - in this case, we call it "whitewashing" - is to be expected. But given his behavior after the fact, it's obvious that Carter really believes all this stuff. And the gymnastics necessary to recast his presidency in their light are a lesson in polemics that any student of politics can't miss.
* Couple of dozen: