Presidency: Ex-Presidents Who Don't Know When to Shut Up

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Mr. Gaffney Jr., a senior official in the Reagan Defense Department, is currently the president of the Center for Security Policy.

It seems at the moment that there is a surfeit of ex-Presidents of the United States making spectacles of themselves. Last week, Bill Clinton let it be known that he had met with NBC executives to explore the idea of having his own TV talk show. The skin crawls at the opportunities this would afford him for not only further debasing himself, but the office in which he once served, as well.

At least if Mr. Clinton ultimately secures this new platform for personal rehabilitation, the effect will probably be limited to a series of sensational statements that diminish what is left of his reputation. Remember his discussion of his preferences in underwear on MTV?


A far more serious departure from the tradition of ex-Presidents to conduct themselves in a responsible and decorous fashion is the latest international foray by Jimmy Carter. At this writing, he is adding to the list of odious tyrants to whom he has paid court by visiting Fidel Castro's Caribbean gulag. While the psychological impetus for this endeavor doubtless has much in common with Mr. Clinton's insatiable need to be back in the spotlight, Carter's freelance diplomacy is contrary to -- and calculated to subvert -- U.S. policy towards the hemisphere's last bastion of Communism.

While it remains to be seen how Mr. Carter will conduct himself in Cuba -- will he, for example, actually denounce the lack of human rights there and demand that Castro yield to his people's desire for freedom? -- his past track record of coddling dictators is not encouraging. Jay Nordlinger published a lengthy retrospective on that record which appeared in the May 3, 2002 online version of the National Review.

The Nordlinger essay calls to mind the subversive quality of the ex-President's conduct as a self-appointed ambassador and international busy-body during the years since the American people massively repudiated his leadership in the Reagan landslide of 1980. A sampler includes the following:

  • Mr. Carter embraced Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua even as Mr. Reagan sought to prevent the Cuban-backed Sandinista"revolution" from metastasizing into a threat to liberty elsewhere in Latin America.
  • Mr. Carter traveled to North Korea to extol the peaceable intentions of Kim Il Sung's regime even as President Clinton was (briefly) confronting a bid by the"Great Leader" to acquire nuclear weapons and wield them to prop up his lunatic regime.
  • Mr. Carter actually wrote members of the UN Security Council after Iraq invaded Kuwait, calling on them to thwart the first President Bush in his effort to reverse that act of aggression.
  • Mr. Carter has for years made common cause with Yasser Arafat against America's ally, Israel, helping draft disingenuous speeches for the Palestinian despot and in at least one private seance with Arafat joining with former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, in undermining the authority of the sitting President of the United States.

Nordlinger correctly concludes that Jimmy Carter has been"a thorn in the side of presidents, acting as a kind of ‘anti-president,' as Lance Morrow once put it in an essay for Time." Rarely, however, has his conduct been more brazenly incompatible with the policies of the incumbent Chief Executive than is his present trip to Cuba.


For example, on May 13, Mr. Carter was scheduled to visit a Cuban"biotech" operation. Castro's reason for taking him there -- and, presumably, Carter's as well -- is to have the ex-President personally repudiate a charge leveled just last week by a senior State Department official, Under Secretary of State John Bolton, to the effect that Cuba's highly developed biological industry has the potential to produce bioweapons. This is indisputably true; virtually any modern facility with the fermentation vats and other equipment needed for manufacturing vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs, etc. has the inherent ability to generate smallpox, anthrax and other deadly viruses for military purposes. (Secretary Bolton also raised an alarm that Cuba is proliferating such biowarfare capabilities by collaborating with Iran.)

The fact is that even skilled monitors making intrusive on-site inspections would be unable to establish whether such facilities are being used for weapons purposes prohibited under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). That is precisely why the George W. Bush administration declined a few months ago to become party to an exceedingly expensive but inalterably futile"verification protocol" to the BWC.


It is outrageous -- but hardly surprising -- that Jimmy Carter would put himself into a position where he will be shamelessly used as a propaganda foil against his own government. To be sure, he has done it before. By his participation in Potemkin tours of Cuban factories and other sites at this juncture, however, he is not only lending credibility to a regime that makes no secret of its hostility to the United States. The ex-President is overtly undercutting the current President's policy of insisting on regime change in Cuba and the liberation of the long-suffering people of that island as a precondition to normalizing economic and political relations between the two countries.

There is no doubt that such regime change will occur or that the people of Cuba will be freed. The only question is when and under what circumstances. Unfortunately, as with Mr. Carter's anti- presidential misconduct elsewhere, his freelance diplomacy with Fidel is likely to postpone, rather than advance that date. It will also add to the anger Cubans are entitled to feel towards those American politicians, companies and left-wing interest groups who -- by their advocacy of ending under present circumstances U.S. prohibitions on trade and tourism -- would help provide life-support to and otherwise perpetuate Castro's regime.

Click here to read Brent Scowcroft's denunciation of Jimmy Carter's intervention with the UN on the eve of the Persian Gulf War.

Click here to read the presidential directive Mr. Carter issued in 1977 to normalize relations with Cuba. The document is posted on the website of the National Security Archive.

This article was first published by http://www.frontpagemag.com/ and is reprinted with permission.

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Mark Turner - 5/17/2002

Gaffney raises perfectly valid points. Regardless of one's own feelings on the matter, ad hominem attacks on Gaffney lend no credibility to any argument that Jimmy Carter is not disingenuously and improperly using his status as a former (as in "a very long, long time ago") US president to single-handedly promote his own increasingly leftist vision of American foreign policy. Seems to me that if he wants to fill that role, he either should seek reelection (of course, he knows how far that would get him) or be quiet and grow peanuts. Playing the sycophant to unprincipled despots like Fidel Castro, Arafat and all those other charming fellows, who use unbridled force and ruthless political coercion to subjugate their populations and silence all dissent, is probably not the most honorable use of his status as a former world leader. Either the points Gaffney makes are true or they are not -- that is the issue here. Although, I am quite sure Jimmy Carter would be more than delighted with an argument such as yours.

Jacob Goldfinger - 5/17/2002

While you claim to disavow ad hominem attacks, you accuse Carter of "disingenuously and improperly using his status...to promote his own leftist vision."

Disingenuous and improper? How so? Carter traveled to Cuba in consultation with the current Bush administration. It was a symbolic gesture, and apparently a powerful one, given the stunning response to his speech calling for a more democratic Cuba that respects human rights. I don't recall similar criticism of the Pope when he visited Cuba.

I'm not sure how you can possibly construe Carter's visit as the improper pursuit of a free-lance foreign policy. That's what Gaffney does, and it is perfectly appropriate to refer to his former employer for an example of an improper, free-lance foreign policy.

Leftist? Carter? Again, you mischaracterize Carter's politics, and in doing so reveal your own. Funny, Carter wasn't a leftist when he was in office. Certainly nobody on the left considered him one of their own. It seems that a steady diet of right-wing propaganda for more than 20 years has transformed Carter in the public mind.

pilgrimbob - 5/16/2002

Dear Fritze
It is you not I who confuses fantasy with reality. When Reagan came to office the Soviets were on the offensive. There were in central America and Africa proping up Marxists regimes like Nicaragua and Angola. Reagans defense buildup and most especially SDI forced the Soviets, as they themselves admit, to an arms race which they could not substain. It was our support of Afghan rebels which turned that war into a Soviet Vietnam. Reagan along with others such as Maggie Thatcher were willing to identify the Soviet regime for what it was , Evil. Many other leaders starting with Churchill and Truman fought the Cold War but Reagan gave the coup de grace and those who deny it are idiots, ignoramuses, or liers

Fritze - 5/16/2002

Dear Pilgrimbob,

If you believe Reagan won the Cold War, you are have a bit of difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and historical reality. The Soviet Union collapsed because it overspent on the military. That process began shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Soviet Union had already entered the terminal phase long before Reagan became president. It was a deadend path that Reagan tried mightly to take us down. Secondarily, the Soviety system made for a weak economy. Finally, getting bogged down in a war in Afghanistan put them under for the third time. For none of which RR bears any responsbility. On the other hand, RR does deserve recognition as the man who increased the national debt astronomically, a complete betrayal of Republican principles.

Trevor Getz - 5/16/2002

Er... I take issue with the idea that Gaffney makes perfectly valid points. He makes highly politicized points, based on some very one-sided pieces. If you read Brinkley's take on the whole thing, you get completely the opposite picture! Frankly, I tend to think that Brinkley's interpretation of the Sandanista issue, and some of the others mentioned by Gaffney, would stand up to an academically rigorous test... I'm not sure Gaffney's political ramblings would.

Mark Turner - 5/16/2002

Gaffney makes perfectly valid points. Regardless of one's own feelings on the matter, ad hominem attacks on Gaffney lend no credibility to any argument that Jimmy Carter is not disingenuously and improperly using his status as a former (as in "a very long, long time ago") president to promote his own leftist vision of American foreign policy. Seems to me that if he wants to fill that role, he either should seek reelection (of course, he knows how far that would get him) or be quiet and grow peanuts. Either the points Gaffney makes are true or they are not -- that is the issue here. Although I am quite sure Jimmy Carter would be more than delighted with your argument.

Jacob Goldfinger - 5/15/2002

Forgive me if I don't get worked up over Gaffney's claims that Carter coddles dictators and "undermines" American presidents.

It seems Gaffney's most significant career experience was in the employ of Ronald Reagan, who came to power by secretly arming terrorists who were holding American hostages, an act that borders on treason.

And of course, this undercut the then-president he now derides.

Gaffney's statements here are utterly reprehensible.

Ty Geltmaker - 5/15/2002

I suppose Mr. Gaffney prefers the ex-President model of George Bush arms dealer to that of Jimmy Carter peacemaker.
Ty Geltmaker, Ph.D.
Los Angeles

pilgrimbob - 5/15/2002

What planet has J Cuepublic been living on. Carter was a disaster as a president and even worst as an expresident save when he stayed out of troubel building houses. Futher it was the hawks who were proven right about the cold war. Reagan gave the evil empire its death blow. If Carter and Mondale had won The Soviet Union would still exist and would be causing trouble throughtout Latin America and Africa. You on the Lunatic Left were WRONG. The Right was and is Right

J. Cuepublic - 5/15/2002

The positive reception by leading Cuban exiles to Jimmy Carter's astute move shows up this cheap shot for what it is: political hackery masquerading as policy analysis. If we had let hard line half-wittedness of this variety dictate our policy towards the USSR, we might still be fighting the Cold War.