"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red."
He started out all right. Jimmy Carter always does. Whether as president or ex-. Remember when he was the country's bright, shining hope after Richard Nixon's reign of darkness and then the vague non-administration of Gerald Ford, the Great Pardoner?
But before long Americans were looking back to the nondescript Mr. Ford as if he'd been George Washington. Nothing made the bumbling, likeable Gerald Ford look better than having been succeeded by a walking, ever-talking disaster.
The Carter administration was that bad: stagflation, gas lines, appeasement, never-ending sanctimony . . . . You name a colossal mistake and Jimmy Carter probably made it a policy.
As a former president, Mr. Carter started off well, too, wielding hammer and nails with Habitat for Humanity. Good for him. When he was building houses, the worst he risked was a bruised thumb. But then he decided he was God's gift to American foreign policy, and began making trouble for every chief executive and commander-in-chief who came after him.
Was there any part of the globe, from the Caribbean to the Middle East, from Haiti to North Korea to the Balkans, where Jimmy Carter didn't cozy up to dictators? Wherever he goes, tyrants smile. The long, dispiriting trail of former President Carter's overseas travels has been marked by one diplomatic disaster after another.
As for Jimmy Carter's role as a monitor of free-and-fair elections, the low point must have come when he gave his blessings to Robert Mugabe's takeover in Zimbabwe. Naturally, utter disaster followed. It hasn't ceased there since.
And now Mr. Carter is at it again, preparing to pay court to just about the bloodiest terrorist leader in the Middle East, which is no mean distinction in those violent parts. He's about to lend his ex-presidential presence to terrorist chieftain Khaled Meshaal, who as head of Hamas hides out in Damascus under Syrian aegis. (Let others die for the cause in Gaza; its leader is quite comfortable, thank you.) The only proper greeting for someone like Mr. Meshaal would be, "You're under arrest." Instead, we can expect to see Jimmy Carter pay his usual homage to those who champion violence.
He calls this peace-seeking. Which raises the question, if this is promoting peace, what would encouraging violence be?
As the former president explains the purpose of his visit, it's to draw Hamas' unyielding leader into the Peace Process. Why, sure. And whom would Mr. Carter propose to draw in next - Osama bin Laden?
The Carter Center in Atlanta, a kind of think tank for failed thought, keeps producing bad ideas. This visit to the Mideast is only the latest. You have to wonder if Jimmy Carter will have his picture taken with a terrorist leader who by now has been responsible for the murders of scores of innocent men, women and children - about 250 at last bloody count.
Do you think Mr. Carter will come away with Khaled Meshall's autographed picture to hang proudly in his office - the way American naifs used to accept decorations from Hermann Goering in the '30s, and explain how we could do business with the Nazis? It was all done in the name of peace, of course. We all know how well that worked out.
Jimmy Carter says his goal is peace, too. He's offered to be a conduit between Hamas and the State Department. (Let's just hope he doesn't pass on any bulky vests that give off a suspicious ticking sound.) The former president's naivete about the Middle East is exceeded only by his animus toward Israel. The combination would be silly if it weren't so dangerous.
After that cordial handshake in Damascus, Mr. Carter can scrub his hands till his dying day and not get the blood off. But he's not likely to let a little thing like that bother him. By now he's so deep into self-righteousness, he wouldn't even notice the crimson stain. His sanctimony was already tiresome when he was president; now that he isn't, it becomes more so. That's just the way he is, our former best former president.