January 31st, 2011

An expert weighs in on the Egyptian crisis: Jimmy Carter

If I were Jimmy Carter, I think I’d keep my mouth shut on the subject of the current Egyptian unrest. But being Carter being Carter, that’s not happening:

Former President Jimmy Carter said Sunday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will likely be forced to step down because “the people have decided,” according to a news report.

“This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office,” Carter said…

I’m not sure what “most profound” means, but I would think he’s leaving out a few subsequent events, such as the Iraq War.

But that’s just Carter’s narcissism, which is so familiar as to be unremarkable. What’s more interesting to me is that, although both Carter and the article mention his role in the “historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978,” the entire article proceeds without mentioning the enormous part Carter had in the downfall of the Shah and his replacement with the Iranian theocracy that has been hugely influential in unrest and terrorism in the region and the world ever since.

Carter calls Mubarak “corrupt,” and very few people would quarrel with that; I’m certainly not one of them. He also says Mubarak “will have to leave.” But here’s what happened between Carter and the “corrupt” Shah, who also “had to leave”—and we all know how well that one turned out:

The Shah lived in what’s known as a “rough neighborhood.” This meant that, in order to implement the modernization of Iran, he felt he needed to be harsh in dealing with the opposition. Jimmy Carter was dedicated to the cause of spreading human rights throughout the world, and he decided to put pressure to bear on the Shah to expand civil liberties and relax his policies towards those in his country who were against him.

Carter threatened the Shah with cutting arms shipments, and in response:

The Shah…released 357 political prisoners in February, 1977. But lifting the lid of repression even slightly encouraged the Shah’s opponents. An organization of writers and publishers called for freedom of thought, and 64 lawyers called for the abolition of military tribunals. Merchants wrote letters requesting more freedom from government controls. Some people took to the streets, perhaps less fearful of being shot to death, and they clashed with police. A group of 120 lawyers joined together to publicize SAVAK torture and to monitor prison conditions. Dissident academics formed a group called the National Organization of University Teachers, and they joined students in demanding academic freedom. Political dissidents started disseminating more openly their semi-clandestine publications.

As events spiraled out of control, there were demonstrations throughout Iran. Police reacted harshly, and many protestors were killed, which led to more demonstrations and more deaths, which led to–well, you get the idea.

A genie of dissent had been unleashed–a valid one, because there was much to protest. But as things escalated, and the Shah eventually lost the support of the army and the police (a turning point), few seemed to be prescient enough to predict what forces would replace his regime–not what was hoped for, but what was likely to do so. There were only three choices, and two of them–the mullahs and the Marxists–could reasonably be expected to be far more repressive than the Shah.

Jimmy Carter was probably sincere in wishing that his pressure on the Shah would lead to greater civil liberties, not fewer. But if so, it was one of the gravest miscalculations in history. Be careful what you wish for.

On New Years Eve of 1977:

President Carter toasted the Shah at a state dinner in Tehran, calling him “an island of stability’ in the troubled Middle East….Did the Carter administration “lose” Iran, as some have suggested? Gaddis Smith might have put it best: “President Carter inherited an impossible situation — and he and his advisers made the worst of it.” Carter seemed to have a hard time deciding whether to heed the advice of his aggressive national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who wanted to encourage the Shah to brutally suppress the revolution, or that of his more cautious State Department, which suggested Carter reach out to opposition elements in order to smooth the transition to a new government. In the end he did neither, and suffered the consequences.

Even after it became known that the Shah was suffering from cancer, President Carter was reluctant to allow him entry to the United States, for fear of reprisal against Americans still in Iran. But in October, when the severity of the Shah’s illness became known, Carter relented on humanitarian grounds. “He went around the room, and most of us said, ‘Let him in.'” recalls Vice President Walter Mondale. “And he said, ‘And if [the Iranians] take our employees in our embassy hostage, then what would be your advice?’ And the room just fell dead. No one had an answer to that. Turns out, we never did.”…

The rest, as they say, is history.

The fate of Egypt is unknown, but our own fate is tied in with what happens there, just as it was in Iran back in the late 70s, when Carter was our president and the Shah “had to go.”

7 Responses to “An expert weighs in on the Egyptian crisis: Jimmy Carter”

  1. T Says:

    I used to think that Carter, while a failed president, was one of the most humane men to sit in the oval office. His anti-American activity and sanctimonious criticism over the last decade have disabused me of that opinion. Carter is a great living example of Mark Twain’s observation that it is “better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

    As to Carter probably being sincere, we all know where the road paved with good intentions leads.

  2. texexec Says:

    Carter would be laughable if his way of “thinking” wasn’t so dangerous.

  3. Occam's Beard Says:

    Carter serves a valuable function as an anti-authority.

    If I were President, I’d ask Carter what he thought of a proposed course of action. If he approved, I’d thank him and then reconvene my staff to come up with something else, grateful to have avoided stepping on that rake. Seriously.

  4. Parker Says:

    I like the stepping on a rake analogy.

  5. SteveH Says:

    Jimmy is an example of what an adolescent mind looks like in an 80 year old.

  6. kaba Says:

    Unlike the O-man, Carter had some real world experience before becoming President. And yet for the last 30+ years he has periodically blathered these asinine jewels.

    I’m not a psychologist nor do I play one on TV. But I am convinced that he is in deep, deep denial. He will believe and posit whatever position will allow him to maintain his own fantasy that his wasn’t a massively failed administration. And that directly or indirectly he is responsible for thousands of dead innocents.

  7. Gringo Says:

    The Carter administration was very naïve. Recall what Andrew Young, US Ambassador to the UN, said about Khomeini after his return to Iran from exile in Paris: “Khomeini will be somewhat of a saint when we get over the panic.”

    Very saintly.
    [page 106: Andrew Young: Civil Rights Ambassador,by Andrew DeRoche]
    By no means was this the only naïve statement made by a member of the Carter Administration regarding Iran.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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