"Your strength can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom can help to minimize my mistakes."
-- Jimmy Carter, inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1977
WASHINGTON -- More than 31 years after he uttered those words, America still is trying to compensate for and minimize Jimmy Carter's mistakes and weaknesses, the greatest of which appears to be hubris. This week, our much-traveled 39th president ventured as a "private citizen" to the Middle East on a self-described mission "exploring possibilities for peace." Regrettably, what citizen Carter has succeeded in doing is encouraging our nation's adversaries, lending credibility to terrorists who have killed our countrymen, and disparaging a beleaguered ally.
Carter's current sojourn in personal diplomacy is just his most recent foreign foray in post-presidential folly since being voted out of office in Ronald Reagan's 1980 landslide. During his global quest for relevance, he rarely missed an opportunity to denigrate our country's interests, helping him to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. But this week's expedition to Jerusalem, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia may prove to be the most damaging excursion yet.
Despite his claims, Carter is no "neutral observer." In June 1994, the former president went to Pyongyang to broker a failed nuclear disarmament deal with North Korean despot Kim Il Sung. In 2002, he deigned to dignify the brutal, bearded butcher of Havana, Fidel Castro. While in the "island paradise," he disparaged America's commitment to human rights and praised Cuba's education and health care systems. In 2006, he and his self-appointed "impartial arbiters" declared that the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power in Gaza were "legitimate." Later that same year, in his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," he declared, "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."
Though Carter's present 10-day Mideast trip has been overshadowed in the U.S. media by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, the former president's travel and talks have been widely celebrated in the Arab press, particularly on radical Islamic Web sites. All have observed that the former chief executive's decisions to lay a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat and his meetings with senior Hamas officials are "unprecedented."
To note that this entire venture is an extraordinary propaganda windfall for radical Islam is an understatement. If anyone knows that, it should be the former president. His Atlanta-based Carter Center has had a full-time office in Ramallah, West Bank, since 2006 to "monitor developments in the region." Apparently, the staff has failed to apprise its founder that he is being celebrated as the man who will "bring an end to Zionist hegemony."
Hamas, it should be noted, is listed by the U.S., Israel and the European Union as an international terrorist organization. Hamas radio pledged as recently as this week to "destroy the illegal Jewish entity" and continue to "deliver Allah's fire" (meaning Iranian-built 107-mm and 122-mm rockets) on "the occupiers" (meaning any Israeli within range). During the course of the past year, Hamas terrorists have fired the high explosive missiles repeatedly into Israeli communities, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians.
Unlike his past efforts on behalf of Habitat for Humanity, it is hard to fathom what good Carter sought to achieve in this peripatetic itinerary. His trip is taking place during Passover, one of Judaism's holiest holidays. Other than a brief no-press-allowed arrival meeting with Israel's ceremonial president, Shimon Peres, he will meet with no other senior Israeli officials. That hasn't deterred his desperate bid for attention -- or his bid to grant legitimacy to Hamas.
On Tuesday, Carter met with Hamas representatives in Ramallah. He then went to Cairo, Egypt, for "a listening session" with the terror group's Gaza leaders: Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siyam. But it was the meeting he scheduled in Damascus, Syria, with Hamas kingpin Khaled Mashaal -- wanted in connection with the death of more than a half-dozen American citizens and scores of Israelis -- that defies comprehension.
In response to critics -- and the entreaties of the Bush administration not to meet with the leaders of Hamas or go to Damascus -- Carter generously said, "I'll share what I find with the Israelis and with Fatah and also, of course, with the American government officials."
That's mighty kind of the man. By the time his trip concludes, Carter will have broken bread with the sworn enemies of the United States and disparaged our only democratic ally in the region. He also has broken faith with his countrymen. He's not naive and he's not ignorant. But he is on an ego trip.