Jonah Goldberg
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Whenever I open the newspaper to find an article about Jimmy Carter (or see him on TV) I scream, "Jimmy Carter?! He's history's greatest monster!" Alas, it's not my joke; it comes from an episode of "The Simpsons." Marge fails to make marshmallow treats for the town bake sale, which results in Springfield being unable to afford a statue of Abraham Lincoln. They settle for a bronze President Carter instead. When it's unveiled, someone shouts, "Jimmy Carter!? He's history's greatest monster!" and the town riots. My wife thought the line was funny too - the first 500 times I said it. But, in the last few days, I've blown out my quota because the 39th president is a 24-hour news fixture. Jimmy Carter, who, truth be told, isn't a monster, is in Cuba this week visiting Fidel Castro, the world's most notorious cigar wholesaler and a bona fide monster, in order to improve relations between our two countries. Until Tuesday, the media hype over Carter's visit was a bit silly because Carter, while doing yeoman work as a homebuilder for the American poor, is something of a joke as an international figure. So, what happened Tuesday? Oh, well, Carter called the United States a liar. Last week, Undersecretary of State John Bolton announced that the U.S. government has reason to believe Castro's Cuba is developing and exporting "dual use" technology - i.e. technology that can be used both for peaceful purposes as well as to develop weapons of mass-destruction. So what did Carter do when he got to Cuba? He basically said that the United States was full of it. He explained that the U.S. government didn't tell him about these concerns before he left. Moreover, Carter asked Cuban scientists - in the presence of Castro - and Fidel himself whether they had anything to do with biological weapons or terrorism and they all said no. Heck, if Castro's word isn't good enough, whose is? It's an unusual thing for a former president to more or less choose sides against the United States and with a hostile nation ruled by a ruthless dictator. Unusual, that is, in the sense that most U.S. presidents - current or former - don't do this sort of thing. Unfortunately, Carter is the exception that proves the rule. Like a (very) white, un-rhyming Jesse Jackson, Carter has developed an uncanny gift for sucking up to the most appalling dictators on the planet and undermining U.S. policy. As Joshua Muravchik wrote in the New Republic in 1994 - when Carter was bollixing up then-President Clinton's efforts to stop nuclear proliferation in North Korea - "Jimmy Carter, for all his heroic advocacy of human rights, has a long history of melting in the presence of tyrants." At the time, Carter said of Kim Il Sung, a brutal Stalinist dictator, "I found him to be vigorous, intelligent, surprisingly well-informed about the technical issues and in charge of the decisions about this country." As for the North Koreans, Muravchik wrote, Carter said the "people were very friendly and open." The capital, Pyongyang, is a "bustling city," where customers "pack the department stores," which looked like "Wal-Mart in Americus, Georgia." North Korea, it should be noted, has suffered from such government-imposed mass-starvation that millions have been forced to live off grass. While the first President Bush was trying to orchestrate an international coalition to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, Carter wrote a letter to the U.N. Security Council asking its members to stymie Bush's efforts. As the "human rights president," Carter noted that Yugoslavia's Marshall Tito was also "a man who believes in human rights." Carter saluted the dictator as "a great and courageous leader" who "has led his people and protected their freedom almost for the last 40 years." He publicly told Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, "Our goals are the same. ... We believe in enhancing human rights. We believe that we should enhance, as independent nations, the freedom of our own people." He told the Stalinist first secretary of Communist Poland, Edward Gierek, "Our concept of human rights is preserved in Poland." Since Carter has left office, he's been even more of a voluptuary of despots and dictators. He told Haitian dictator Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country." He's praised the mass-murdering leaders of Syria and Ethiopia. He endorsed Yasser Arafat's sham election and grumbled about the legitimate vote that ousted Sandanista Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. And, I learned from a devastating critique by my National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger, Carter even volunteered to be Arafat's speechwriter and go-fer, crafting palatable messages for Arafat's Western audiences and convincing the Saudis to continue funding Arafat after the Palestinians sided with Iraq against the United States. So, yes, it's unfair to say that Jimmy Carter was history's greatest monster. But it's a safe bet that if Carter could shake the hand of history's greatest monster, he'd leap at the opportunity.
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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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