President Jimmy Carter vs. President Barack Obama

In the very first days of Jimmy Carter’s presidential administration, back in January 1977, a black American friend approached me with heartfelt enthusiasm.  “For the first time in years I’m proud of my country,” he said.  “Our president is speaking out for human rights.”

Critics have rightly pointed out that Carter’s support for human rights was selective.  He was harder on the Soviet Union and its satellites, and he notoriously praised the Shah of Iran not long before the uprising there.

And yet.  Carter’s outspokenness did prompt changes.  In 1976, the Indonesian dictator Suharto, an American ally, still held 100,000 political prisoners, including that country’s leading writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.  Over the next four years, most of them were released.  When I met Pramoedya and other dissidents in Jakarta a few years later, they were thankful for Carter’s pressure.

Similarly, Freud Jean, a human rights priest in Haiti, later told me that the pressure from the dictatorship of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier started to ease once Carter was in the White House.

No one in the worldwide struggle for human rights will remember the first years of the Obama administration with the same gratitude.  There was mushmouthed waffling over Israel’s murderous attack on Gaza, and its piracy on the high seas.  There has been nothing memorable said about the brave dissidents in Chinese prisons.

And now, Egypt.  Obama’s weaselling started even before the hundreds of thousands of nonviolent Egyptian citizens streamed into their streets demanding democratic change. The United States had already toned down critical language about the regular mass arrests and the rigged “elections” late last year. 

Even the George W. Bush administration was more outspoken.

Posted in Egypt, Israel/Palestine

{ 36 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. “Weaseling”.

    You don’t have a clue what was spoken behind closed doors. During Carter’s administration, he sided with Somoza, remember, the Shah, others.

    He was the centrist candidate, the proponent of the trilateral commission.

    He made changes, and was always a human being in the white house, but was still in the white house.


    I was in DC in 1980, working for a progressive daily. The difference between Carter’s time and Reagon’s was night and day.

    • Donald says:

      Richard, try and remember what point it is you’re trying to make. You start out saying that Carter sided with Somoza and the Shah and then you end by saying that the difference between Carter and Reagan was night and day. There’s the usual cliched Richardism about “you don’t have a clue what was spoken behind closed doors.” Neither do you, Richard. That’s why people close doors, you know.

      Now if you wanted to say Carter’s record was mixed, that’s fine, but it’s really not clear and you might want to acknowledge that James already said so.

      I also think Carter’s record was mixed–he did some good things, he had Pat Derian in office, but he also had that scumbag Richard Holbrooke. (Ray Bonner has a chapter on the conflict between their points of view in his book “Waltzing with a Dictator”, which is about Marcos.) One of the worst things Carter did was support the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, which was genocidal in the late 70′s, but Carter was no different than Ford before him or Reagan, Bush I or Clinton (until 1999) after.

      Reagan’s record is also mixed. Pure vicious hypocrisy in his support of killers like those in Central America and in Angola. Finally stopped supporting Marcos, but not out of any high ideals (probably similar to Obama with Mubarak). Sincerely concerned, possibly, about human rights if commies violated them, but ideologues are like that.

      • Avi says:

        For the most part, American foreign policy post WWII has been rather expansionist and imperialistic. No sooner did the British Empire collapse than the United States assumed that same role. I’ve come to the conclusion that the president is merely a figurehead, a symbol. Carter lured the Soviet Union into Afghanistan and Reagan moved in to support the Mujaheddin against the Soviets, thus achieving Carter’s objective of bringing down the USSR through proxy wars of attrition.

      • The term to describe Obama was “weaseling”. The terms to describe Carter were angelic.

        Neither is true.

    • “I was in DC in 1980, working for a progressive daily.”

      Washington Star??

      Do you remember Bob n Ray on WMAL?

      • PROUT Daily.

        Montague Street NW, near Rock Creek Park.

        We printed 300-500 copies/day, distributed the paper by posting on bus stops and government elevators. The theme of the paper was a progressive social ecological one. We had four editors. I was one for the last 4 months that I was there.

        The editorial approach of the four varied. We published material that was supportive of Latin American liberation movements (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala), Iranian students (their center in 1980 was two blocks away), cooperative movement, sustainable economy.

  2. seafoid says:

    Carter will remembered as a man before his time. He worked on the rights of Palestinians , healthcare and green energy 35 years ago. Ronald Reagan wiped everything out. The US is now reaping the whirlwind.

    Obama is a prostitute.

  3. Chu says:

    What can be said about Obama? He sold us on hope and change, but behind it was just a vacuous name brand.
    He fails to see the forest for the trees. He puts his spirit aside when he’s in Washington, and misses every opportunity to stand up as a leader (esp of human rights). That’s in part for fear of being tarred a liberal- and what chicken shit he is, when boehner openly cries for being elected to his new perch (new Ed Muskie).
    I thought Barack was listening and learning from the cesspool he is surrounded in, but we’ve waited quite some time for the promises to manifest themselves through policy. In the least, he’s gotta stand up to Israel. They have made him a laughing stock internationally, and Eqypt’s latest slap in the face is proof of this.

  4. Omar says:

    Egypt’s Dirty Hands in Egypt (or Just who are these “pro-Mubarak supporters”?)

    “Netanyahu did not omit an assurance — that sounded more like a heavy hint — that Israeli had put unspecified “security arrangements” in place: “A peace agreement does not guarantee the existence of peace, so in order to protect it and ourselves, in cases in which the agreement disappears or is violated due to a regime change on the other side, we protect it with security arrangements on the ground,” he said. He gave no further details about these “security assurances” – and was apparently not even asked.

    link to

  5. Sin Nombre says:

    Speaking of Jimmy Carter I see in the J-Post a little blurb that he and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, are being sued by some lawyers (who seem to be linked to some Israeli law center) over Carter’s Middle East book. There’s five plaintiffs suing, at least two of whom are Israeli-Americans, they want to turn it into a class action suit, and it’s based on the idea that the book constitutes a “consumer fraud” kind of thing by allegedly misrepresenting facts about the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. Here’s the link:

    link to

    Boy you’d sure think that such a direct attack on a political book would have attracted the attention of some *American* newspaper, no? Apparently though the First Amendment isn’t so important with some issues….

    • Donald says:

      Maybe the press doesn’t take it seriously. It’s hard to believe a lawsuit like that could get anywhere in the US. If it does, then we’re living in a bigger loony bin than I would have guessed. I’m no lawyer, but if authors could be sued on those grounds the courts would be full of lawsuits from all sides and publishers would run away from any book with a controversial political theme.

      • marc b. says:

        i saw that too, donald. i haven’t yet read the complaint, but maybe as you suggest, if successful, publishers would run away from any controversial book. it does seem absolutely insane on its face given the bald faced lies regularly published as ‘history’.

    • David Samel says:

      Sin Nombre – I saw it in the Arts Section of the NY Times yesterday (may be only on-line and not print), and it was reported at greater length in Tablet. Perhaps the single most frivolous lawsuit I’ve ever seen. One of the complaints is that Carter’s history is untrue because it conflicts with Dennis Ross’s book on the 2000-1 negotiations. Mind-boggling.

      • Philip Weiss says:

        David do you know who those cats are that are upset? I need to send them our Goldstone book

        • David Samel says:

          Phil – The link to the Tablet article is here: link to`apartheid’-book/

          The suit was filed by an attorney from Montgomery AL namd David Schoen: link to
          Please autograph the book before sending.

        • annie says:

          i’m beginning to see this as a good thing. let them try to play their helen thomas outrage on jimmy carter.let them challenge jimmy vs ross. seriously, taking down a beloved (by many many) american president. this is so disgusting it reeks of putridity.

          is their no limit to the hole some people want to dig for israel grave. this will not end pretty.

      • Avi says:

        One of the complaints is that Carter’s history is untrue because it conflicts with Dennis Ross’s book on the 2000-1 negotiations. Mind-boggling.

        I recall Ross also complaining about Carter’s maps, accusing him of stealing one of Ross’s.

        Then, in one of the debates between Professor Chomsky and the Dersh, one person in the audience stood up during the Q&A portion and accused Chomsky of getting his facts wrong on the negotiations in Taba, Egypt. When Chomsky provided him with sources, the guy in the audience claimed that they were wrong alleging that he was present at those negotiations as a member of the delegation sent from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

        How’s that for weaselly tactics?

  6. Dan Crowther says:

    Noam Chomsky calls Nixon our last liberal president……Im gonna go jump off the B.U. Bridge now……

    • Avi says:

      Dan Crowther February 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm

      Noam Chomsky calls Nixon our last liberal president……Im gonna go jump off the B.U. Bridge now……

      Chomsky said that? That’s odd, to say the least.

      • crone says:

        Don’t jump yet Avi…

        This is the context in which Chomsky called Nixon our last liberal president:

        “… While Clinton’s Colombia Plan was being formulated, senior administration officials discussed a proposal by the Office of Budget and Management to take $100 million from the $1.3 billion then planned for Colombia, to be used for treatment of U.S. addicts. There was near-unanimous opposition, particularly from “drug czar” Barry McCaffrey, and the proposal was dropped. In contrast, when Richard Nixon—in many respects the last liberal president—declared a drug war in 1971, two-thirds of the funding went to treatment, which reached record numbers of addicts; there was a sharp drop in drug-related arrests and number of federal prison inmates, as well as crime rates. Since 1980, however, “the war on drugs has shifted to punishing offenders, border surveillance, and fighting production at the source countries,” John Donnelly reports in the Boston Globe. One consequence is the enormous increase in drug-related (often victimless) crimes and an explosion in the prison population, reaching levels far beyond any industrial country and possibly a world record, with no detectable effect on availability or price of drugs.

        The Colombia Plan: April 2000
        Z Magazine, June, 2000–.htm

        Rachel Maddows spoke the night after Obama’s SOTU address; here is an excerpt:

        “The Republican Party platform of Eisenhower‘s 1956 called for expansion of Social Security, broadened unemployment insurance, better health protection for all of our people. It called for voting rights—full voting civil rights for D.C. It called for expanding the minimum wage to cover more workers. It called for improved job safety for workers, equal pay for workers regardless of sex.

        This is the Republican Party circa 1956. The Republican Party.

        The story of modern American politics writ large is the story of your father‘s and your grandfather‘s Republican Party now being way to the left of today‘s leftiest liberals. If Dwight Eisenhower were running for office today, he would have to run, I‘m guessing as an independent, and not as some Joe Lieberman, in between the parties, independent. He‘d be a Bernie Sanders independent.

        In 1982, who passed the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history? That would be Ronald Reagan.

        Who called for comprehensive health reform legislation during in a State of the Union address in 1974, a program that was well to the left of what either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama ultimately proposed? That would be Richard Nixon.

        Eisenhower and Reagan and Nixon—they were not the liberals of their day. They were the conservatives of their own time.

        But the whole of American politics has shifted so far to the right in the last 50 years that what used to be thought of as conservative, what used to be thought of as a conservative position, is now considered to be off-the-charts lefty.

        Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out this whole phenomenon of American politics shifting to the right when he told “The New York times” this—he said, quote, “Including myself, every judge who‘s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell in 1971 has been more conservative than his or her predecessor, except maybe Justice Ginsburg.” That was the one exception he could come up with.

        link to

        Read the entire piece for clarity regarding her point.

        imo, I think this was what Chomsky was alluding to in his remarks in 2000. YMMV

  7. I recall reading somewhere that in the mid-1990s Netanyahu was actively trying to figure out how to make Americans less concerned about human rights. Perhaps he came up with a solution that has been fairly effective.

  8. David Samel says:

    James – You make an excellent comparison which casts the decline of our country into sharp focus. I recall approving of Carter’s new focus on human rights, but being quite disappointed in his inconsistency in certain instances mentioned here already. Still, 35 years later, his performance appears light-years better than the current Prez. I thought that Carter spinelessly bowed to political considerations in abandoning human rights in those areas, but by comparison, Obama doesn’t even have the proverbial backbone of a banana. Surrender is his first option, domestically as well.

    • Danaa says:

      David, how right you are. Obama, unfortunately turned out to be simply too timid for the momentous times at hand. As you say, on all fronts – anything to avoid confrontation.

      Others have said it several times over but Obama’s is the tragedy of the process-man. One whose first allegiance is to the appearance of doing “something” rather than to any specific direction. That’s where his fondness for that elusive “bi-partisanship” comes from as well as his disdain for the “sanctimonious left”. That’s why he is such a pitch-perfect foil for the corporatocrats who are really the ones running the show. His timidity is what makes him safe. It is why he’ll be re-elected.

      It is all of our tragedy that we wanted to so believe in grand words – that in the face of the sad corporate reality in which all political structures are embedded. To know that this is so is one thing. To hope that it can be changed is another. And Obama was clearly not the man for that change (or, to quote the man himself “change is hard”…)

      But that being said, there’s hope for the people of Egypt. Since we only get to have what the corporatocracy will allow us to have, there’s some evidence that The-Powers-that-be are beginning to realize that it is not in their interest to keep Mubarak up for much longer. Once they decide that he is more cost than benefit- and the grand global plutocrats do abhor instability and threats they cannot manage more than anything – then the word will go out and Mubarak will be sent on his way. We’ll know what the verdict is when Obama swings a tad more decisively that way. Because “a tad” is all he is capable of, that great man of “baby steps”, that’s how we have to read it.

      • MRW says:


        Can you check Maariv and see if the quotes in this article are accurate? No rush.

        Israel places resources at Suleiman’s disposal “to protect the Egyptian regime”
        link to

        • Danaa says:

          Sorry MRW, I couldn’t find the link in Maariv (it’ an awful paper to navigate through, BTW). None of the papers who had this story provided the link….. Let’s hope Haaretz or Yediot Ahronot (Ynet) picks up the story.

          I don’t find Israel sending crowd control gear to Egypt particularly incredible. I’d be surprised if israel did not make such an offer. Whether Egyptian security forces propping up Mubarak goes for it depends how desperate they get, no?

          Elsewhere when I looked I noticed some claims of El Al cargo planes downloading stuff at Mina airport. Have no idea how reliable the rumors are.

          Let’s see if there’s some corroboration coming in the next few days….

  9. Donald says:

    Off topic, but Macy Gray has finished her transition to Israel bootlicker–


  10. Jim Haygood says:

    Anyone who remembers Jimmy Carter’s emphasis on human rights, selective though it was, will realize how far we’ve descended since then in abandoning principle for expediency.

    Carter’s conduct since leaving office — working tirelessly into his eighties on international projects, such as observing elections — shows the sincerity of his personal commitment to social service. His book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was early and brave.

    Yet … how can we discuss Carter without mentioning his Israeli-Egyptian peace deal? For all that it seemed like a breakthrough, the mundane truth is that the US bribed Egypt to make nice to Israel. Thirty years later, the ugly downside is apparent: a troglodytic, kleptocratic, multi-billionaire dictator, tyrannizing 80 million people with US-conferred impunity.

    For all the great good that he’s done in the world, Jimmy Carter has been too reticent about letting this monument to his presidency go on far beyond its usefulness. As engaged as he is in international affairs, he couldn’t be unaware of the grim oppression which Egypt had fallen into.

    Carter’s acceptance of a Nobel peace prize, essentially bought for him by US taxpayers, strikes me as uncharacteristically sleazy. Both Carter and Obama should have had the character to decline a prize that frankly didn’t belong to them, and which neither merited.

    In terms of real-world results, Egypt’s popular rebellion against US-financed repression shows that the Nobel committee’s judgment was grossly flawed. If Pakistan explodes in due course against Obama’s wanton executive murders via drone strikes, the point will only be underlined: Carter was a failed peacemaker, and Obama was no peacemaker at all.

  11. bijou says:

    Off topic, but wanted to share this – compare all leaders around right now with this Feb 1 speech by Erdogan of Turkey:

    …. We have always said this: Countries that cannot solve their internal problems, that cannot put an end to their internal conflicts, that cannot achieve a consensus within themselves, cannot achieve a bright future or defend their interests outside. That is why we called for a national consensus in Palestine. That is why we tried to help bring about a political consensus in Lebanon. That is why we made efforts for the establishment of a democratic consensus in Iraq. We always supported the regional countries’ internal peace, national consensus, unity and integrity, and democratic development. We always stressed the importance of all that. This group has recorded its name in history as the voice of the oppressed in Turkey, in the region, and in the entire world.

    We must understand this well: There is no administration in history that remained in power by using oppression, intimidation, and fear. In all periods of history, sooner or later, human dignity has broken all chains, pulled down all walls, and the voice of the oppressed has been heard, even if slowly at first. Therefore, no government can remain indifferent to rights and freedoms. No government can remain indifferent to the people’s democratic demands….

    No government can remain in power in spite of the people. The state exists for the people. It gains meaning with the existence, will, and support of the people. Our basic philosophy is this: The people must live so that the state can live….

    From here, I would like to make a very sincere suggestion to Egyptian President Mr. Husni Mubarak and caution him: We are human beings. We are mortal. We are not immortal. We will all die and be questioned for what we have done in our lives. As Muslims, we will all end up in two-cubic meter holes. We are all mortals. What is immortal is the legacy we leave behind; what is important is to be remembered with respect; it is to be remembered with benediction. We exist for the people. We fulfil our duties for our people. When the imam comes to us as we die, he will not address us as the president, as the head of state, as the prime minister, or as the minister. I am now talking to the trillionaires: the imam will not address you as trillionaires. He will address us all as simple men or women. What will come with you will only be the shroud. Nothing else. Therefore we must know the value of that shroud; we must listen to the voice of our conscience and to! the voice of our people; we must be ready either for our people’s prayers or for their malediction. Therefore, I say that you must listen, and we must listen, to the people’s outcry, to their extremely humanitarian demands. Meet the people’s desire for change with no hesitation….