Former president Jimmy Carter told NBC News on Monday that his work at home and abroad has been “superior” to other presidents. “I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents,” Carter assessed. “Primarily because of [my] activism and the injection of working at the Carter Center and in international affairs, and, to some degree, domestic affairs.”
In response to this boastful claim, we’ll hear the usual defenses: Carter misspoke. Carter is a good man. Carter has good intentions. I catch myself saying these things.
But even if well-intentioned, we shouldn’t avoid frank appraisals of Carter’s role. In truth, and especially when it relates to foreign policy, Carter has done far worse than good. More, his failures have resulted from a remarkably strange trust in some awful dictators. Carter’s infamous naïveté has been destructive, long producing inferior results, not superior ones.
Carter has been so unique in this regard, and worse than other presidents, Democrat and Republican, that, in my latest book, we placed him on the cover as a symbol of duped Americans during the Cold War; specifically, the June 1979 photo of a smiling Carter kissing Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev. Carter did this as the Soviets were rapidly picking up more satellites worldwide than any time since the 1940s, and mere months before they invaded Afghanistan.
Sure, but Carter, in his NBC interview, was talking about his work as a former president, right? Yes, but that record isn’t much better.
If you think Carter was misled by Brezhnev, consider his statements in recent decades regarding Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Hamas, Iraq, Iran, and on and on. They take your breath away. I can’t list them all, but one case stands out—namely, Carter’s visit to the world’s most repressive state: Kim’s North Korea.
Carter made a June 1994 trip to this prison state, where he was manipulated on a grand scale. Other Westerners have made that trip and were subject to manipulation. The difference, however, is few took the bait, and none like Carter. Worse, Carter magnified the manipulation in reports at press conferences, in interviews, and in a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
For starters, Carter dispelled speculation that Kim was dying. He found the aging despot “vigorous, alert, intelligent.” Kim died mere days after Carter’s visit.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."