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Jimmy Carter on Foreign Policy

President of the U.S., 1977-1981


Boycotted 1980 Olympics in response to USSR Afghan invasion

In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, everyone was worried about growing tensions between the US and the Soviet Union. I'd previously registered as a Democrat and voted for President Jimmy Carter in my first presidential election in 1976; I had this narrative in my head about reconciliation of the North and South and how he was going to be the first Southern president. Now I watched him say that he had learned more about the Soviet Union from this Afghanistan invasion than he had ever known. "Whom did you think you were dealing with?" I asked the television set. When Carter decided that the best response to the invasion was to boycott the Olympics, he lost me. I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980, and a few years late I joined the Republican Party.
Source: My Extraordinary Family, by Condi Rice, p.188 , Jan 10, 2012

Israel's 14 Road Map reservations eliminate its contents

Obama declared, "the Quartet [US, EU, Russia, UN) has made it clear that Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements." Unmentioned is the inconvenient fact that the US and Israel firmly reject all three conditions for themselves. In international isolation, they bar a two-state settlement, thus rejecting Palestinian national rights. They of course do not renounce violence. And they reject the Quartet's central proposal, the "Road Map." Israel formally accepted it, but with fourteen reservations that effectively eliminate its contents (tacitly backed by the US). It is the great merit of Jimmy Carter's "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" to have brought these facts to public attention for the first time--and in the mainstream, the only time, it appears. But even this was quickly effaced.
Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p.254-255 , Jun 1, 2010

1976: first support of Ireland in Democratic platform

With Jimmy Carter we found common purpose in Northern Ireland. "The troubles," as they were known in Northern Ireland, remained off the US' diplomatic radar until the late 1960s. In 1972, I cosponsored a resolution calling for withdrawal of the British troops from Northern Ireland and establishing a united Ireland.

In 1976, I worked to address the issue of Northern Ireland for the first time in the Democratic platform. Although I did not have a strong personal relationship with Jimmy Carter, we were able to work with his staff, with his knowledge, to include the following language: "The voice of the United States should be heard in Northern Ireland against violence and terror, against the discrimination, repression and deprivation which brought about that civil strife, and for the efforts of the parties toward a peaceful resolution of the future of Northern Ireland."

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.354-356 , Sep 14, 2009

1977: lectured Senators on minutiae about Africa

President Carter was a difficult man to convince--of anything. One reason for this was that he did not really listen. He loved to give the APPEARANCE of listening. He made a point, for example, of bringing eminent people to the White House for colloquies in the summertime.

You would mill around, and you'd go through the buffet line. And then for the next three hours Jimmy Carter would conduct a seminar: on Africa, for instance. He would let you know that he knew every country in Africa and the name of every president of every country in Africa. He could count on about a third of the Senate in the room every time, and about thirty members of the House.

I will not deny that it was well worth attending these events. They were informational--you coul say they were nothing if NOT informational. But they were personal tours de force, and every one of my colleagues recognized them as such, designed to impress us that the president knew so much about the minutiae.

Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.360-361 , Sep 14, 2009

We have neglected alliances and international organizations

Our nation has declared independence from the restraints of international organizations and has disavowed many long-standing global agreements, including judicial decisions, nuclear arms accords, controls on biological weapons, environmental protection, the international system of justice, and the humane treatment of prisoners. Even with our troops involved in combat and America facing the threat of additional terrorist attacks, we have neglected alliances with most of the very nations we need to have join us in the long-term fight against global terrorism. All these political actions have been orchestrated by those who believe that the utilization of our nation's tremendous power and influence should not be constrained by foreigners.

Fortunately, these national policies and this disharmony have not yet become permanent.

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p. 4-5 , Sep 26, 2006

Got Chinese leader to allow Bibles and religious freedom

With the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, during his state visit to Washington, Deng and I had a number of wide-ranging talks. He asked what inspired my first interest in his country. I replied that I was raised as a Baptist and that our preeminent heroes were the women Christian leaders who went to China as missionaries to spread the gospel.

Deng pointed out that religious activities of that kind had been terminated when the People's Republic of China was established in 1949. Under the Communist regime, in fact, the official government policy was atheism, and worship services and the distribution of Bibles and other holy books were prohibited. I asked if it might be possible to change these policies, and he asked for specific suggestions. I made three requests: guarantee freedom of worship, permit the distribution of Bibles, and reopen the door to missionaries. [Deng promised] to provide for religious freedom and that Bibles would be authorized [but not missionaries].

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p. 25-26 , Sep 26, 2006

Cuban embargo only punishes suffering Cuban people

Some American political leaders have adopted Fidel Castro as the ultimate human villain, and have elevated the small and militarily impotent nation of Cuba as one of the greatest threats to our nation's security and culture.

There was a justified concern, during a brief period more than 4 decades ago, when President John Kennedy was informed that Soviet missiles were being sent to Cuba, and the "Cuban missile crisis" was properly named. Since then, the continued fixation on Cuba has become ludicrous and counterproductive. A punitive embargo has been imposed on the already suffering Cuban people, the freedom of our own citizens to visit and trade with Cuba has been curtailed, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation has been outlawed. The only tangible results of this policy have been to hurt the people of Cuba and turn them against the US.

With the missile crisis resolved, in 1977 I removed all travel restraints.

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p.102-103 , Sep 26, 2006

Religious Right wants Mideast war to hasten The Rapture

Almost everyone has heard of the "Left Behind" series. Their religious premise, mostly from the book of Revelation, describes the scenario for the end of the world.

These believers are convinced that they have a personal responsibility to hasten this coming of the "rapture" in order to fulfill biblical prophecy. Their agenda calls for a war in the Middle East against Islam (Iraq?) and the taking of the entire Holy Land by Jews (occupation of the West Bank?), with the total expulsion of all gentiles. This is to be followed by infidels (antichrists) conquering the area, and a final triumph of the Messiah.

Based on these premises, some top Christian leaders have been in the forefront of promoting the Iraqi war, and make frequent trips to Israel, to support it with funding, and lobby in Washington for the colonization of Palestinian territory. Strong pressure from the religious right has been a major factor in America's quiescent acceptance of the massive building of Israeli settlements.

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p.113-114 , Sep 26, 2006

People believe foreign aid is 15% but it's actually under 1%

Americans are willing to be generous in helping others--and they believe that our government gives as much as 15% of our federal budget in foreign aid. But we are, in fact, the stingiest of all industrialized nations. We allot about 1/30 as much as is commonly believed. Our gross national income (GNI) is about $11 trillion, of which we share with poor nations only 16 cents out of each $100. If we add all the donations from American foundations and from other private courses to the government's funds, the total still amounts to just 22 cents per $100 of national income.

When confronted with these embarrassing facts, many well-informed Americans reply that we are quite generous in responding to catastrophes, such as the recent tsunami damage in Asia. This is true, and an admirable characteristic of our citizens, but most people do not realize that dealing with persistent suffering is equally important.

Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p.187 , Sep 26, 2006

1986 Iran-Contra paid ransom for kidnapped hostages

On Nov. 25, 1986 the Iran-Contra scandal hit the front pages. Former President Jimmy Carter was stupefied: "We've paid ransom, in effect, to the kidnappers of our hostages," said President Carter. "The fact is that every terrorist in the world who reads a newspaper or listens to radio shows that they've taken American hostages and we've paid them to get the hostages back. This is a very serious mistake in how to handle a kidnapping or hostage-taking."
Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.442-443 , Sep 14, 2004

Severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan & recognized PRC

In 1972, in the Shanghai Communique, the US "acknowledges that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China." As long as he remained in office, Nixon maintained the US embassy in Taipei and the treaty commitment to defend the Republic of China.

Jimmy Carter, however, severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, terminated the security treaty, and recognized the People's Republic as the sole legitimate government of China. A firestorm ensued. Reagan reaffirmed the Shanghai Communique.

Source: Where The Right Went Wrong, by Pat Buchanan, p.132-133 , Aug 12, 2004

Radical policies have cost the country a lot

The US has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends, and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused & disturbing strategy of preemptive war. In the meantime, the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt. For the first time since Israel became a nation, all former presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians. The achievements of Camp David and the more recent progress made by Clinton are in peril. Instead, violence has gripped the Holy Land, with the region increasingly swept by anti-American passions. This must change. Elsewhere, North Korea’s nuclear menace, a threat far more real and immediate than any posed by Saddam Hussein, has been allowed to advance unheeded, with potentially ominous consequences for peace & stability in Northeast Asia. These are some of the prices of our government has paid for this radical departure from the basic American principles and values
Source: Primetime speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 28, 2004

Unilateral acts and demands isolated the US from the world

Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the US from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism. Let us not forget that the Soviets lost the Cold War because we combined the exercise of power with adherence to basic principles, based on sustained bipartisan support. We understood the positive link between the defense of our own freedom and the promotion of human rights. But recent policies have cost our nation its reputation as the world’s most admired champion of freedom and justice.
Source: Primetime speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 28, 2004

We cannot lead the world if our leaders mislead

We cannot enhance our own security if we place in jeopardy what is most precious to us, namely the centrality of human rights in our daily lives & in global affairs. We cannot maintain our historic self-confidence as a people if we generate public panic. We cannot do our duty as citizens and patriots if we pursue an agenda that polarizes and divides our country. We cannot be true to ourselves if we mistreat others. And finally, in the world at large, we cannot lead if our leaders mislead.
Source: Primetime speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 28, 2004

1994: Negotiated last-minute deal to avoid Haiti invasion

On Sept.16, in a last-minute attempt to avoid an invasion, I sent Pres.Carter, Colin Powell, & Sam Nunn to Haiti to try to persuade Gen.Cedras and his supporters in the military and parliament to peacefully accept Aristide's return and Cedras's departure from the country.

For different reasons, they all disagreed with my determination to use force to restore Aristide. Though the Carter Center had monitored Aristide's overwhelming election victory, Pres.Carter had developed a relationship with Cedras and was skeptical of Aristide's commitment to democracy. Powell thought only the military and the police could govern Haiti, and that they would never work with Aristide.

As the deadline for our attack approached, President Carter called me pleading for more time to persuade Cedras to leave. Carter desperately wanted to avoid a forced invasion. So did I.

Cedras promised to cooperate and to leave power by Oct.15, as soon as the general amnesty law required by the UN agreement was passed.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.616-618 , Jun 21, 2004

1980: Broke promise of no more refugees to Fort Chaffee

Jimmy Carter's Presidency was beset by problems. Some of those troubles spilled over into Arkansas in spring 1980, when hundreds of detained Cuban refugees--mostly inmates from prisons and mental hospitals whom Castro released to the US in the infamous Mariel boat lift--were sent to a "resettlement camp" at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. In late May, the refugees rioted and hundreds broke out of the fort.

Bill sent state troopers. Bill wanted federal assistance to contain the detainees, but the White House message seemed to be: "Don't complain, just handle the mess we gave you." Bill had done just that, but there was a big political price to pay for supporting his President.

After the June riots, President Carter had promised Bill that no more Cubans would be sent to Arkansas. In August, the White House broke that promise, closing sites in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and sending more refugees to Fort Chaffee. That reversal further undermined support for Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in Arkansas.

Source: Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, p. 88-89 , Nov 1, 2003

Cuban embargo helps Castro but doesn't harm Cubans

The fear of Communism was always a total fraud. We know that and have known it for years from the declassified internal record. It's from the Kennedy administration.

The effect of the Cuban embargo, the standard line here, which was repeated by former President Carter a couple of weeks ago, is that the embargo helps Castro and, of course, doesn't harm the Cubans. The only people who are harmed by it are the North Americans like farmers and agro-business who want to export there, but it has no effect on Cuba except to help Castro.

A detailed study in March 1997 concluded that the embargo had dramatically harmed health and nutrition in Cuba, and caused a significant rise in suffering and death. It would have been a humanitarian catastrophe, they said, which is quite astonishing, though it did direct resources in the health system away from other needs, with the obvious consequences.

Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 73 , May 25, 2002

Establish human rights as a tenet of American policy

In foreign affairs, Carter undertook to establish human rights as a tenet of American policy. His frequent criticism of nations that violated basic human rights and his pleas in behalf of Soviet dissidents angered the Soviet government, setting limits on the numbers of Soviet and U. S. nuclear-weapons systems. In spite of his vigorous campaign, however, the treaty was not ratified by the Senate and eventually was placed in limbo by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That invasion also resulted in Carter’s insistence on an American boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow.
Source: Grolier’s Encyclopedia, “The Presidency” , Dec 25, 2000

1994: Dealt with Haiti's Cedras to assist Clinton's solution

Clinton's handling of Haiti involved many policy reversals that culminated with the Carter mission. Some claimed that the development of a "crisis" in Haiti was Clinton's own doing. One GOP critic said the "mess in Haiti was caused by Clinton running off at the mouth during the last election, by criticizing in an irresponsible manner President Bush's handling of the situation." While that statement has a partisan ring to it, the fact is that prior to Carter's dealing with Cedras, Clinton did not have Democratic support for an invasion of Haiti.

There certainly are those who will claim that Clinton's approach to Haiti eventually worked, since Cedras was ousted and Aristide returned to power.

But political observers were not particularly impressed with the manner in which Clinton and Carter arrived at the agreement with Cedras. [Despite the criticism], Clinton would have considered Haiti a foreign policy victory.

Source: The Dysfunctional President, by Paul Fick, p. 24-25 , Jun 1, 2000

1977: Ended 20 years of secret CIA bribes to Jordanian king

In Feb. 1977, just weeks after Carter took the oath of office, I learned that the CIA had made secret payments to King Hussein of Jordan for intelligence and had done favors for the King--sex, money, bodyguards for him and protection for his children going to school in the US. It was potentially a big story, the first test of Carter's proclaimed policy of openness and no lies. I called the White House. To my great surprise, Carter agreed to see me personally.

"This has been in existence for 20 years," he said of the Hussein payments by the CIA. "It's against my policy. But I can't undo the past or be responsible for all the past." But there is an additional factor: Hussein was a moderate and a key to a Middle East peace settlement. He needed Hussein. Carter drove to his main point. He had just ordered the payments stopped, he said. "I want to assure you of that."

We asked gently if the payments weren't, when you got down to it, bribes? "I can't dispute that," Carter said.

Source: Shadow, by Bob Woodward, p. 44-45 , Jun 15, 1999

Carter 1977: Focus on human rights; give back Panama Canal

The public in 1977 was clearly against the “loss” of the Panama Canal. Carter decided to spend the goodwill of his political honeymoon on a serious campaign to change America’s attitude toward the Third World in general. This campaign would include Andrew Young’s many trips to Africa, and a human rights policy that softened America’s traditional sponsorship of right-wing dictators. Removing America’s own colonial outpost in Panama was a necessary preliminary to such a program.
Source: Reagan’s America, by Garry Wills, p. 334 , Jul 2, 1987

Use the weapon of human rights in peaceful struggle

Even if our human-rights policy had been a much more serious point of contention in Soviet-American relations, I would not have been inclined to accommodate Soviet objections. We have a fundamental difference in philosophy concerning human freedoms, and it does not benefit us to cover it up. The respect for human rights is one of the most significant advantages of a free and democratic nation in the peaceful struggle for influence, and we should use this good weapon as effectively as possible.

It will always be impossible to measure how much was accomplished by our nation's policy when the units of measurement are not inches or dollars. The lifting of the human spirit, the revival of hope, the absence of fear, the release from prison, the end of torture, the reunion of a family, the newfound sense of human dignity-- these are difficult to quantify, but I am certain that many people were able to experience them because the USA let it be known that we stood for freedom & justice for all people.

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p.149-150 , Apr 20, 1979

Abuse of human rights still serious problem in many lands

Our country paid a price for its emphasis on human rights. There were leaders of oppressive regimes who deeply resented any comment about their policies, because they had reason to fear the reaction of their own people against them when their oppression was acknowledged by the outside world. A few of these could have been spared both embarrassment & the danger of being overthrown, if they had strengthened themselves by eliminating the abuses. Had America argued for these principles sooner, such foreign leaders might not have allowed themselves to become too isolated to correct the abuses without violence.

The abuse of human rights is still a serious problem in too many lands. The world cannot be improved by one dramatic act or by one nation's transient policy. However, I know that the suffering of some people was eased and that others were given new hope. The world was reminded by salvaged lives that America cares about freedom & justice, a sufficient accomplishment to justify all our efforts

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p.150-151 , Apr 20, 1979

Push USSR to allow reunification of Jewish emigre families

Until a country changed its emigration policies to permit reunifications of families, we were forbidden by law from granting it "most favored nation" status. This amendment to the trade law had originally been aimed at the Soviet Union and a few other Warsaw Pact countries because of their repressive limits on the emigrations of Jews and other minorities who wanted to join their families in the West. China was not guilty of a similar policy, so there was no legal impediment to granting it a beneficial trade status.

However, if we now gave the Chinese these superior trade opportunities, there would be an imbalance in our relationship with the two major communist countries.

Efforts while I was President to families elsewhere had met with enough success that I personally preferred to grant most-favored-nation status to both countries.

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p.201-202 , Dec 31, 1978

Move toward normalization with China, slowly & incrementally

There were three "matters of principle" which the Chinese considered non-negotiable: termination of the US-Taiwan defense treaty, establishment of diplomatic relations with Peking, and withdrawal of US military forces from Taiwan. I was willing to accept these principles [if we were] able to continue to sell some defensive weapons to Taiwan; to maintain trade relations on an unofficial basis; and to be able to state publicly that the dispute between the Chinese on the mainland & Taiwan would be resolved peacefully.

The Chinese could cooperate either by silence (regarding US-Taiwan trade), by interpreting the same language somewhat differently (concerning a peaceful settlement of China-Taiwan disputes), or by acknowledging an unresolved difference (such as our sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan). I decided that we should proceed slowly, presenting our proposals to the Chinese incrementally. This was a tedious and time consuming process, but it minimized the likelihood of a total impasse.

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p.190-191 , May 22, 1977

Panama: New treaty on canal was needed

Before 1974, I began to receive frequent questions about the Panama Canal. I would respond that we should continue to negotiate with the Panamanians, that legal sovereignty was not at issue because Panama retained that under the original treaty, and that we could share responsibilities more equitably without giving up practical control of the Canal.

After the election, it seemed clear that the eventual agreement would have to include a phasing out of our absolute control of the Canal, as well as the acknowledgment of Panamanian sovereignty.

Nevertheless, I believed that a new treaty was absolutely necessary. I was convinced that we needed to correct an injustice. Our failure to take action after years of promises under 5 previous Presidents had created something of a diplomatic cancer which was poisoning our relations with Panama.

Our military leaders testified that the Canal could not be defended permanently unless we were able to maintain a working partnership and good relations with Panama

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p.154-155 , Dec 1, 1976

Deal with Taiwan, China & USSR separately, despite pressure

Acknowledging that there was only one China, the Shanghai Communique [was negotiated by Richard Nixon in 1972]. At that time I looked forward to a burgeoning relationship with the Chinese mainland. However, progress toward full relations was put on hold. The Taiwan influence was very strong in the US, particularly in Congress.

We had to improve our relationship with China without reneging on our commitments to the well-being of Taiwan and without further affecting our already strained relations with the Soviet Union. However, I believed that too many of our international concerns were being defined almost exclusively by the chronic US-Soviet confrontation mentality. The US was stalemated both ways: in our attempts to move forward with acknowledging that the government in Peking was the government of China and in our efforts to complete the strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union. I wanted to reverse this state of affairs as rapidly as possible.

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p.187-188 , Dec 1, 1976

Treat Arab oil embargo like declaring economic war

If the Arab countries ever declare an embargo on oil I would consider that not a military but an economic declaration of war, and I would respond instantly. I would not ship that Arab country anything--no weapons, no spare parts for weapons, no oil-drilling rigs, no oil pipe, no nothing.
Source: The Second Carter-Ford Presidential Debate , Oct 6, 1976

US needs to regain respect in UN and with our allies

We're no longer respected in a showdown vote in the United Nations or in any other international council we're lucky to get 20 percent of the other nations to vote with us. Our allies feel that we've neglected them. Under this administration we've had an inclination to keep separate the European countries, thinking that if they are separate, then we can dominate them and proceed with our secret, Lone Ranger-type diplomatic efforts.
Source: The Second Carter-Ford Presidential Debate , Oct 6, 1976

Supports complete moratorium on nuclear weapon testing

I advocated in a speech at the UN that we move immediately as a nation to declare a complete moratorium on the testing of all nuclear devices, both weapons and peaceful devices; that we not ship any more atomic fuel to a country that refuses to comply with strict controls over the waste which can be reprocessed into explosives. I've also advocated that we stop the sale by Germany and France of processing plants for Pakistan and Brazil.
Source: The Second Carter-Ford Presidential Debate , Oct 6, 1976

End CIA lies; dedicate US to basic human rights & integrity

I was deeply troubled by the lies our people had been told; our exclusion from the shaping of American political and military policy in Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and other countries; and other embarrassing activities of our government, such as the CIA's role in plotting murder and other crimes. When I announced my candidacy in December 1974, I expressed a dream: "That this country set a standard within the community of nations of courage, compassion, integrity, and dedication to basic human rights and freedoms."

I was familiar with the widely accepted arguments that we had to choose between idealism and realism; but I rejected those claims. To me, the demonstration of American idealism was a practical and realistic approach to foreign affairs. I was determined to combine support for our more authoritarian allies and friends with the effective promotion of human rights within their countries.

Source: Keeping Faith, by Jimmy Carter, p.143 , Dec 1, 1974

Established relations with China; cut ties to Taiwan

Carter inaugurated full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1979, thus cutting formal U. S. ties with the Nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan. Conservative forces severely criticized the treaties as a “sellout” of vital American interests.
Source: Grolier’s Encyclopedia, “The Presidency” , Dec 25, 2000

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George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
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George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
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