Ex-presidential misconduct

Posted: May 14, 2002 12:00 AM
It seems at the moment that there is a surfeit of ex-Presidents of the United States making spectacles of themselves. Last week, Bill Clinton let it be known that he had met with NBC executives to explore the idea of having his own TV talk show. The skin crawls at the opportunities this would afford him for not only further debasing himself, but the office in which he once served, as well. At least if Mr. Clinton ultimately secures this new platform for personal rehabilitation, the effect will probably be limited to a series of sensational statements that diminish what is left of his reputation. Remember his discussion of his preferences in underwear on MTV? A far more serious departure from the tradition of ex-Presidents to conduct themselves in a responsible and decorous fashion is the latest international foray by Jimmy Carter. At this writing, he is adding to the list of odious tyrants to whom he has paid court by visiting Fidel Castro's Caribbean gulag. While the psychological impetus for this endeavor doubtless has much in common with Mr. Clinton's insatiable need to be back in the spotlight, Carter's freelance diplomacy is contrary to -- and calculated to subvert -- U.S. policy towards the hemisphere's last bastion of Communism. While it remains to be seen how Mr. Carter will conduct himself in Cuba -- will he, for example, actually denounce the lack of human rights there and demand that Castro yield to his people's desire for freedom? -- his past track record of coddling dictators is not encouraging. Jay Nordlinger, managing editor of National Review, helpfully published a lengthy retrospective on that record in the magazine's Online website on May 3rd (http://www.nationalreview.com/impromptus/impromptus050302.asp). The Nordlinger essay calls to mind the subversive quality of the ex-President's conduct as a self-appointed ambassador and international busy-body during the years since the American people massively repudiated his leadership in the Reagan landslide of 1980. A sampler includes the following: o Mr. Carter embraced Manuel Noriega's regime in Nicaragua even as Mr. Reagan sought to prevent the Cuban-backed Sandinista "revolution" from metastasizing into a threat to liberty elsewhere in Latin America. o Mr. Carter traveled to North Korea to extol the peaceable intentions of Kim Il Sung's regime even as President Clinton was (briefly) confronting a bid by the "Great Leader" to acquire nuclear weapons and wield them to prop up his lunatic regime. o Mr. Carter actually wrote members of the UN Security Council after Iraq invaded Kuwait, calling on them to thwart the first President Bush in his effort to reverse that act of aggression. o Mr. Carter has for years made common cause with Yasser Arafat against America's ally, Israel, helping draft disingenuous speeches for the Palestinian despot and in at least one private seance with Arafat joining with former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, in undermining the authority of the sitting President of the United States. Nordlinger correctly concludes that Jimmy Carter has been "a thorn in the side of presidents, acting as a kind of 'anti-president,' as Lance Morrow once put it in an essay for Time." Rarely, however, has his conduct been more brazenly incompatible with the policies of the incumbent Chief Executive than is his present trip to Cuba. For example, on May 13, Mr. Carter was scheduled to visit a Cuban "biotech" operation. Castro's reason for taking him there -- and, presumably, Carter's as well -- is to have the ex- President personally repudiate a charge leveled just last week by a senior State Department official, Under Secretary of State John Bolton, to the effect that Cuba's highly developed biological industry has the potential to produce bioweapons. This is indisputably true; virtually any modern facility with the fermentation vats and other equipment needed for manufacturing vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs, etc. has the inherent ability to generate smallpox, anthrax and other deadly viruses for military purposes. (Secretary Bolton also raised an alarm that Cuba is proliferating such biowarfare capabilities by collaborating with Iran.) The fact is that even skilled monitors making intrusive on-site inspections would be unable to establish whether such facilities are being used for weapons purposes prohibited under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). That is precisely why the George W. Bush administration declined a few months ago to become party to an exceedingly expensive but inalterably futile "verification protocol" to the BWC. It is outrageous -- but hardly surprising -- that Jimmy Carter would put himself into a position where he will be shamelessly used as a propaganda foil against his own government. To be sure, he has done it before. By his participation in Potemkin tours of Cuban factories and other sites at this juncture, however, he is not only lending credibility to a regime that makes no secret of its hostility to the United States. The ex-President is overtly undercutting the current President's policy of insisting on regime change in Cuba and the liberation of the long-suffering people of that island as a precondition to normalizing economic and political relations between the two countries. There is no doubt that such regime change will occur or that the people of Cuba will be freed. The only question is when and under what circumstances. Unfortunately, as with Mr. Carter's anti-presidential misconduct elsewhere, his freelance diplomacy with Fidel is likely to postpone, rather than advance that date. It will also add to the anger Cubans are entitled to feel towards those American politicians, companies and left-wing interest groups who -- by their advocacy of ending under present circumstances U.S. prohibitions on trade and tourism -- would help provide life-support to and otherwise perpetuate Castro's regime.