Monday, February 18, 2008

Historian: Carter's "our worst President"

Ari Kaufman is a military historian for the Indiana War Memorials Commission and an Associate Fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research.

At American Thinker this President's Day, Kaufman argues Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) ranks as our worst President:

Few would deny Mr. Carter's place in infamy. I will confine myself to his actual time in office, although Jimmy Carter arguably has actually been as detrimental to freedom, democracy and the American ideal as during his catastrophic tenure.

Many historians rank him around the mid 20s, some liberal publications place him even in the top 20, and some conservatives in the low 30s. But these are 1980s and 90s ratings. It no doubt takes two post-presidential decades for more complete observations, as we saw with President Reagan, and will likely see with President Bush, depending upon the successor.

One absurd decision, considered "controversial" by even his ardent supporters, was the final negotiation and signature of the "Panama Canal Treaties" in September 1977. Those treaties, which essentially would transfer control of the American-built Panama Canal to the nation of Panama, were bitterly opposed by a majority of the American public.

The treaties transferred a great strategic American asset - one that nearly 30,000 men died while constructing it over a decade -- to a corrupt third-world military dictatorship. Mr. Carter could not care less.

America's worst president also terminated the Russian wheat deal, which was intended to establish trade with USSR and lessen Cold War tensions. Even as a former farmer, Carter didn't value the grain exports, which would have been beneficial to many people employed in agriculture. This embargo marked the beginning of terrible hardship for American farmers.

If all that were not tragic enough, the main conflict between human rights and U.S. interests came in Carter's dealings with the Shah of Iran. Though Carter's presidency was marked by several major crises, the final year of his term arguably was his worst. It was dominated by the Iran Hostage Crisis, during which the United States struggled to rescue diplomats and American citizens held hostage in Tehran, paving the way for the rise of Radical Islam now threatening the free world.

The Shah had been a strong ally of America since World War II. He was also friendly to the Jews of Israel, an idea subsequently non-existent in Iran for more than three decades now. Al Qaeda and the Taliban did not exist and Radical Islam lacked a major state sponsor. Shah Reza Pahlavi was one of the "twin pillars" upon which U.S. strategic policy in the Middle East was built.

When the Iranian Revolution broke out, the Shah was overthrown, and the U.S. did not intervene. The Shah, in permanent exile, was refused entry to the United States by the Carter administration, even on grounds of medical emergency. Nearly a year later, Washington relented and admitted the Shah into the U.S. Gaining strength and confidence, Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage.

The Shah died a few months later in Egypt, but the hostage crisis continued, dominating the last year of Carter's presidency and putting his misguided policies on display for the world to see, embarrassing America in the process. Carter's response was to do nothing at first. He simply stayed inside the White House.

Then he attempted a rescue he closely managed, which failed. (Contrast this to President Bush after 9-11, though he was still criticized in the press). The redeeming factor in this telling ordeal was Carter's crushing defeat by Ronald Reagan in the presidential election.

The hostages were released on January 20, 1981 moments after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the USA. Carter's greatest achievement was leaving office.
IMO Kaufman goes easy on Carter. Nothing he says is as scathing as Sen. Ted Kennedy's basic stump speech in 1980 when Kennedy fought to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from Carter.

Kaufman could have mentioned Carter's inability to tackle and reduce the double digit inflation and unemployment which marked his term.

Or that Carter decided one way to help America was to fire all at once about half the cabinet members he'd selected just a few years before.

Do you remember all the talk at the time about how Americans were just going to have to learn to accept a secondary role for our economy behind that of Japan's?

How about barring our athletes from competing in the Olympics? Carter was convinced the people that would hurt were the Soviet rulers.

In 1984 when President Reagan won reelection carrying 49 states, a friend said,"I liked Reagan's victory speech, except he forgot to thank Carter."

Kaufman ranks two other Presidents just above Carter as our worst. One of them will surprise most of you.

Be sure to take a look at Kaufman's article, America's Three Worst Presidents.

Hat tip: Mike Williams


Anonymous said...

I am not surprised by the choices. For numbers 4 & 5 I would add, respectively, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover.

Jack in Silver Spring