Jeane Kirkpatrick, who later served as President Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in 1979 that the Carter administration had fallen victim to three misconceptions about governments it didn't like, such as those of Iran and Nicaragua: "first, the belief that there existed at the moment of crisis a democratic alternative to the incumbent government; second, the belief that the continuation of the status quo was not possible; third, the belief that any change . . . was preferable to the present government." Bush took those errors and applied them to Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Oil prices soared under Carter as the economy stagnated. Oil prices have soared under Bush as the economy prospers. Carter preached fiscal discipline but let federal spending rise by 17 percent more than inflation during his four years. Bush preached tax cuts but let federal spending rise by 19 percent more than inflation during his first four years.
The two illustrate the dangers of taking a reasonable approach too far. The 39th president was overly eager to negotiate and thus let other countries get away with actions that harmed our interests. The 43rd president is overly reluctant to negotiate and thus lets other nations get away with actions that harm our interests.
Both found that their policies in the Persian Gulf had the unintended consequence of inflaming Islamic extremism. Both found their trust in Russian leaders to be unwarranted. Both caused their parties to lose control of at least one house of Congress.
The Bush experience proves that philosopher George Santayana was too optimistic. Even those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it.