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That '70s Show

By James Taranto
Wall Street Journal
October 11, 2007

Jimmy Carter is promoting another new book, this one described by Publisher's Weekly as "less a memoir than an extended brochure for his nonprofit institution, the Carter Center." For the second time in a year, he's been doing the media rounds, and he's given some revealing interviews, in which he's gotten attention less for promoting the Carter Center and his book than for bitterly second-guessing the policies of the current administration.

Lots of people carp about the government--some of us even get paid to do it--but most of us are in no position to answer "yes" to the question: Could you do any better? Carter is unusual in that he has actually done the top job himself, so one can compare. In an interview with Ed Walsh of Boston's WBZ-AM (listen here or download here), Carter faults the Bush administration for the way it is dealing with Iran. No joke:

Walsh: And finally on Iran, what if they continue to defy world opinion and develop a nuclear weapon capability? What should the United States do about it?

Carter: Well, first of all, I think we should be communicating with the Iranians directly, through diplomatic means. Even after the shah was overthrown, we still maintained diplomatic relations with Iran--in fact, that's proven by the fact that my hostages were in Tehran. They had an equal number of diplomats in Washington, about 75 or so, and we should be communicating with them. And secondly, we should assure them that we don't intend to launch a pre-emptive war against them as we did in Iraq. But there are a lot of threats coming out, and that tends to put the Iranians on the defensive and make them want to do everything they can to build up their weaponry. So communicating with them and letting them know that we'll resolve their difference--differences diplomatically would be my recommendation.

This column agrees that in most situations appeasement and diplomacy are better than war. For example, we wouldn't advocate a military strike, or even the threat of such a strike, against Canada to resolve the current dispute over access to the Northwest Passage.

But when you're dealing with a real enemy as opposed to a friendly adversary like Canada, you sometimes do need to go to war--or, short of that, to use the threat of war to give muscle to your diplomatic effort. The crucial question about the course Carter proposes is: Would it work?

Carter's failure to learn from his own experience is really quite stunning. He proudly cites the taking of "my hostages" (a very odd turn of phrase) at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran as evidence that America had diplomatic relations with Iran. Excuse us, but was that fact ever in dispute? The real point--and this is not so subtle that anyone can be excused for missing it--is that diplomacy with Iran didn't work back then, as evidenced by the Iranians' having taken our diplomats hostage!

Jeff Dufour and Patrick Gavin of Examiner.com report on another Carter interview:

Speaking with XM Radio's Bob Edwards on Tuesday, former President Jimmy Carter (you know, the guy who gave the "malaise" speech) told the radio host that he "would not want to have changed anything" during his presidency.

Well, okay, maybe one thing. Referring to the Iran hostage crisis, Carter said, "I have a specific regret in not having one more helicopter when I wanted to rescue our hostages. If I had had one more helicopter, they would have been rescued. I might have been reelected president."

But presidency, schmesidency, says Carter, who thinks that the Oval Office isn't nearly as sweet a gig as his own humanitarian efforts at The Carter Center. [After] all, [if] had had that extra helicopter, which would have rescued the hostages (wildly presuming, of course, that the Delta Force commanders were able to pull of a daring rescue of the more than 50 U.S. citizens being held in Tehran) and, thus, helped re-elect him president, Carter said "in that case I probably wouldn't have had the Carter Center, so in balance I would not want to have changed anything."

Now and then even we forget just how public-spirited Jimmy Carter really is.

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