Born James Earl Carter, Jr. on October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter was raised in a peanut farming, Baptist family. In 1946 he graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and soon thereafter married Rosalynn Smith, with whom he would father three sons and a daughter. Carter served seven years as a naval officer and then returned to Plains. In 1962 he entered politics as a Georgia state senator, and in 1970 was elected Governor of Georgia.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Carter publicly classified himself as a “redneck” and pledged to invite the staunch segregationist and Alabama governor George Wallace to Georgia. Once elected, Carter said he was “proud” to have another segregationist, Lester Maddox, as his lieutenant governor, calling him “the essence of the Democratic Party.”
In 1972 Carter promised the newly crippled George Wallace that he would either nominate him or second him for President at that year's Democratic National Convention. Carter broke that promise; instead he jumped at the opportunity to give the nomination speech for Henry “Scoop” Jackson.
According to Carter's son, Jack, the governor had his surrogates lobby aggressively in an effort to persuade the ultra-leftist George McGovern to name Carter as his vice presidential running mate in 1972. Carter invited McGovern and Democrat fundraiser Morris Dees to the governor’s mansion, where, according to Peter Bourne's comprehensive 1972 biography of Carter, this self-professed “Southern moderate” soon “found himself much more compatible with George McGovern than he had expected.”
Carter’s self-described “campaign autobiography,” Why Not the Best? – which he wrote to advance his 1976 presidential run – was published by Broadman Press, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board. Carter admits, “They print all the Southern Baptist literature, and I had some influence with them as a member of the Baptists’ Brotherhood Commission.” During the North Carolina primary, Carter had his sister, Baptist evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, write a letter “to her extensive network of religious friends and contacts around the country” in which she declared:
“My reason for writing you is to acquaint you with an important facet of Jimmy, one that couldn’t possibly be pursued with any depth by the press and television, and that is his quality of deep personal commitment to Jesus Christ and his will to serve Him in whatever capacity he finds himself…please pray for Jimmy. And if you share my feelings that he is the best candidate, I urge you to actively support him.”
After finding that people responded positively to the term “Born Again,” Carter wore his religion on his sleeve as he persuaded evangelicals to enthusiastically support his campaign. Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye, and the vast majority of “fundamentalists” whom Carter would later deride, campaigned tirelessly for him in 1976. Carter actually won the Southern Baptist vote in the presidential elections of both 1976 and 1980.
After his 1976 election as President, Carter slashed defense spending by $6 billion (in 2003 dollars) during the first two years of his administration, canceling the B-1 bomber and decimating the U.S. fleet.
Carter would later boast that, as president, he set about “convincing the Soviets of our ability and resolve to respond.” But as political analyst Ben Johnson puts it, “Unfortunately, his response was naïvete and unilateral surrender.” Carter failed to consult either the Pentagon or the Kremlin before removing U.S. missiles from South Korea within hours of his inauguration, a move that Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev interpreted as weakness rather than conciliation. In 1979, Brezhnev refused to remove Soviet submarines and aircraft from Cuba.
Also during his presidency, Carter offered to remove all U.S. troops from South Korea.
Carter’s “positive inducements” and warnings about America’s “inordinate fear of Communism” led the Soviets and Cubans to believe the Third World was fair game. Though Carter would later praise himself for “establishing diplomatic relations” with Cuba in 1977, that policy consisted of standing by as Castro kept Cuban soldiers fighting in Angola and sent 16,000 more to Ethiopia.
Carter cut off aid to El Salvador, which was fighting a Communist insurgency, but gave more than $90 million in aid to the Marxist Nicaraguan Sandinistas. He soon halted diplomatic recognition of U.S. allies in Taiwan and recognized Beijing in their place. Though he declared that “human rights is the soul of our foreign policy,” he showered accolades upon Tito, Ceausescu, Ortega, and Kim il-Sung (the last, after his presidency).
Meanwhile, Carter’s brother Billy tried to open trade relations with Libya in 1978 after depositing a generous $220,000 “loan” from Mu'ammar Qadhafi. Billy Carter registered as an agent of a foreign government two years later.
On September 7, 1977, President Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty, which pledged to relinquish control of this vital strategic checkpoint to Panama by the year 2000. But in 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded a 25- to 50-year contract to Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd., a Hong Kong-based shipping firm with ties to Communist China's government and its People's Liberation Army. The contract authorized Hutchinson to control the two major ports on the Panama Canal's Atlantic and Pacific entrances.
Noting the ominous implications of this, Richard Poe observed, "China can now strike U.S. targets easily from their bases in Panama, Vancouver and the Bahamas."
President Carter’s CIA chief Stansfield Turner gutted the Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1970s, cutting 820 human intelligence positions. Without assets of its own, the CIA had to rely heavily on the intelligence agencies of foreign governments. This had enormous repercussions on American national security.
For example, on New Year’s Eve 1977, Carter toasted the Shah’s Iran as “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world … [due] to the respect, admiration and love which your people give to you.” Eight months later, the CIA issued the report Iran in the 1980s, in which Carter’s intelligence experts surmised, “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a ‘prerevolutionary’ situation.” As tensions mounted, Carter withdrew U.S. support from the Shah, turning Iran into a beacon of hope for jihadists around the world. Before admitting the exiled Shah to America, Carter accepted Iranian guarantees that the U.S. embassy in Tehran could be kept secure -- one of the costliest miscalculations in the history of American foreign policy. As the subsequent 14-month-long hostage crisis dragged on, Carter ultimately agreed to pay a ransom of $8 billion (of which Iran netted $3 billion), although Ronald Reagan’s toughness and resolution was the decisive factor in ending the crisis.
Carter’s presidency was the lowest point of American prestige in modern history. The missteps he made during those critical years continue to threaten the United States and the West.
Without Carter’s policies, the Iran-Iraq war would not have raged for nearly a decade; the United States would not have had to form an unsavory alliance of convenience with Saddam Hussein, in order to hem in the mullahs of Iran; Hezbollah would not have received $100-$200 million per year from Tehran’s coffers; al-Qaeda would not have received training in Iran in 1992; and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, if they existed, would have been of no consequence to the West.
According to Steven Hayward (of the American Enterprise Institute and the Pacific Research Institute), Carter's worldview is consistent with what Malcom Muggeridge called "the great liberal death wish." Said Hayward:
"I recently reread James Burnham's classic 1964 book, Suicide of the West, and it reads like a perfect description of the Carter ... worldview that holds our own national interests in great suspicion and sympathizes with our enemies out of guilt. Burnham wrote the following: 'If he [the liberal] thinks that his country's weapons or strategy menace peace, then Peace, he feels, [and] not his country's military plans, should take precedence.' This certainly explains ... Carter's own policy about arms during his Presidency."
On the domestic front, Carter ran annual deficits more than twelve times larger than those of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, increasing the federal debt by 42 percent -- more than any previous president who had not fought a world war. Had Carter's full agenda been implemented (he proposed a national health insurance plan in 1979), that figure would have been higher yet.
Average gas prices more than doubled during Carter’s presidency, reaching $1.25 a gallon by election day 1980. Carter’s price controls led to gas lines, shortages, and rationing of fuel. Prices continued to rise until Reagan abolished price controls by executive order. Rather than stand up to OPEC during the 1979 gas crisis, Carter cracked down on the U.S. auto industry and blamed the American people for their “crisis of confidence” in his leadership.
By 1980, interest rates in the U.S. stood at 21 percent, inflation at 13.5 percent, unemployment at 7 percent, and the “misery index” (a term coined by Carter during the 1976 presidential campaign) at 20.5 percent.
During his 1980 re-election bid, Carter told American voters, “I'll be a better president in the next four years.” The New Republic (which endorsed John Anderson that year) editorialized:
“He [Carter] has made our society less prosperous without making it more generous. He has made this country less respected and feared abroad without making it more loved.”
In his quest to win re-election, Carter dispatched Armand Hammer to negotiate for Soviet interference in his race against Ronald Reagan. (Hammer told Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, “Carter won't forget that service if he is elected.”)
Carter lost the 1980 election to a Ronald Reagan landslide; the electoral vote margin was 489 to 49.
Steven Hayward was asked, "Let us suppose that you were invited to a political history conference in which the top scholars were asked to rate Carter as a President on a scale of 1-10 (10 being a superb President, 0 being an absolute disaster) and then to give a short verdict on his Presidency and legacy, what would you say?" Hayward replied:
"He would get a zero. He has already been identified as such. Nathan Miller, author of The Star-Spangled Men: America's Ten Worst Presidents, ranks Carter number one among the worst. Miller wrote that 'Electing Jimmy Carter President was as close as the American people have ever come to picking a name out of the phone book and giving him the job.' I concur. Everyone old enough recalls the high inflation under Carter, and his foreign record was just as bad. Henry Kissinger summarized it this way: 'The Carter administration has managed the extraordinary feat of having, at one and the same time, the worst relations with our allies, the worst relations with our adversaries, and the most serious upheavals in the developing world since the end of the Second World War.'"
In 1982 Jimmy Carter and his wife, in partnership with Emory University, established the Carter Center to fight for “human rights and the alleviation of human suffering,” and “to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.” The Carter Center has been a longtime recipient of funding by Arab donors whose philanthropy is encouraged by Mr. Carter’s consistently pro-Arab, anti-Israel perspectives regarding the Mideast conflict. There are no corresponding contributions to the Carter Center from Israeli sources.
It has long been an unwritten rule for former presidents not to criticize the incumbent officeholder, especially on foreign policy. As of mid-2009, Only Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover, and Bill Clinton had broken that law during the previous 100 years. And no former president had actively sabotaged the foreign policy of a sitting president before Jimmy Carter.
Carter began meddling in his successors’ affairs in 1984 by again suggesting that Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin interfere in a U.S. presidential election, this time on behalf of Democrat Walter Mondale. During his meeting with Dobrynin, Carter complained: “[T]here would not be a single agreement on arms control, especially on nuclear arms, as long as Reagan remained in power.” Carter and other Democrats – most notably Ted Kennedy – maintained relations with the Soviets out of concern that Reagan, and not the Soviet leadership, was dangerously extreme.
Before Operation Desert Storm was launched in January 1991, Carter wrote a letter to the United Nations' Security Council members, asking them to oppose the impending war. Five days before military operations were to commence, Carter again wrote to Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt: “I urge you to call publicly for a delay in the use of force while Arab leaders seek a peaceful solution to the crisis.”
It was during the Clinton administration that Carter’s personal diplomacy initiatives reached their zenith. Carter writes that in 1994, when North Korea began threatening to build nuclear weapons, he embarked on negotiations “with the approval of President Bill Clinton”; and indeed Clinton did allow Carter to visit, after Vice President Al Gore pushed for the trip. But while Clinton was trying to convince the North Korean government in Pyongyang that all options (including a U.S. military response) were on the table, Carter “unilaterally” promised that not even economic sanctions would be imposed. When asked about this discrepancy, President Clinton told reporters, “None of us have talked directly with President Carter. We don’t know what he said.” Carter’s behavior in North Korea led a Clinton administration Cabinet member to call him a “treasonous prick.”
During his 1994 trip to North Korea, Carter bolstered the image of the Stalinist enclave, saying that (contrary to widespread reports of mass starvation) he did not see any evidence of hunger, and remarking that the well-stocked groceries of Pyongyang reminded him of the “Wal-Mart in Americus, Georgia.” Soon, Carter worked out an agreement to give Pyongyang 500,000 metric tons of oil, many tons of grain, and a light-water nuclear reactor; meanwhile, he pressed the Clinton administration to consent to a weaker agreement yet. The unverifiable deal that Carter designed eventually allowed North Korea to develop, undetected, as many as half-a-dozen nuclear weapons.
Despite his previous betrayal, President Clinton sent Carter to Haiti in September 1995 to try to restore the Marxist Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. Carter's assignment was to tell Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras that an invasion would follow imminently if he did not step down. But Carter instead legitimized Cedras, allowed him to stay past the deadline, and then offered his own policy views on CNN – all before reporting to the White House. When Clinton finally launched “Operation Restore Freedom,” Carter said he was “distressed.” (The move worked; Cedras resigned, though Aristide proved no better than his predecessors.)
Carter has hobnobbed with murderous tyrants throughout his post-presidency. In 1990, for instance, he offered counsel to Yasser Arafat regarding a speech that the latter was slated to deliver before the United Nations Security Council. To maximize the international appeal of the PLO, Carter advised Arafat to present Palestinians as blameless victims of Israeli oppression:
"The objective of the speech should be to secure maximum sympathy and support of other world leaders, especially including Americans and Israelis. The Likud leaders are now on the defensive, and must not be given any excuse for continuing their present abusive policies…[You should refer to various reports of Israeli cruelty in the West Bank and Gaza.] Then ask: 'What would you do, if these were your children and grandchildren? As the Palestinian leader, I share the responsibility for them. Our response has been to urge peace talks, but the Israeli leaders have refused, and our children continue to suffer. Our people, who face Israeli bullets, have no weapons: only a few stones remaining when our homes are destroyed by Israeli bulldozers….' The thrust of the speech should be to bring, not only the world’s political ... leaders, but every parent and grandparent, into a realization of the excessively patient suffering of the Palestinians."
In 2002 Carter visited Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Opposing the American embargo of Cuba, Carter extolled “the benefits of Cuba’s superior services in education and health.” At this time, then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton stated that Castro was developing some form of biological weapons research -- an allegation dating back to the Clinton administration. From overseas, Carter called Bolton a liar and reported that he (Carter) had seen no evidence of such programs during his tour. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice quickly responded, “That’s not how biotech weapons work. And they’re actually very easy to conceal.”
In 2004 Carter certified the dubious election of pro-Castro strongman Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
Carter’s crusade to embrace tyrants around the world garnered him a 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded on political grounds, as Carter publicly opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom (America's impending invasion of Iraq). Ever since the end of his presidency, Carter had aggressively pursued the Prize, quietly lobbying behind the scenes for what he saw as a means of gaining official redemption for his 1980 humiliation at the hands of American voters. Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, said Carter's honor “should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current [Bush] administration has taken.”
Any other ex-President would have refused to be a part of such an obvious anti-American intrigue, but not Carter, who viewed himself much more as a citizen of the world than as a citizen of the United States. Carter was most popular overseas in those nations that hated America the most, such as Syria, where throngs of people lined the streets cheering him when he visited. Moreover, Carter was happy to administer his criticism in a speech pointedly condemning U.S. policy on Iraq.
After receiving the Nobel Prize, Carter only escalated his criticisms of the United States. In a 2004 Hardball television interview, he told newsman Chris Matthews (Carter's former speechwriter) that Operation Iraqi Freedom was akin to the American Revolution because “in some ways the Revolutionary War could have been avoided. It was an unnecessary war.”
In 2005 Carter launched a book tour for his new bestseller, Our Endangered Values, wherein he sought to convince the American people that George W. Bush was leading the nation over the precipice; Carter also smeared the Southern Christians he once had courted. Throughout the book, Carter channeled his hatred of non-leftists, secular and religious, into a glut of slanders – charging his opponents with, among other things, countenancing female circumcision, defending the murder of federal judges, torturing innocent Muslims, and forcing North Korea to manufacture nuclear weapons. Our Endangered Values drips with Carter’s self-congratulation for his enlightened racial views, and with clear intimations that his opponents are bigots.
In May 2006 Carter penned an article for the International Herald Tribune, in which he condemned the United States for being "the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the [Palestinian] general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life." At issue was the U.S. government's decision, in the wake of Hamas's electoral victory earlier in the year, to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority that Hamas now dominated. "Innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals," wrote Carter, "with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime." He depicted Hamas (which steadfastly refused to recognize Israel's existence and had sworn itself to destroying the Jewish state) as an organization that was open to the possibility of forging a lasting peace with Israel.
Indeed, Carter has been one of the leading public figures promoting official recognition of Hamas. On one occasion he traveled to Damascus to meet with a number of terrorist leaders, including Khaled Mash'al, the exiled Hamas leader.
In December 2006 Kenneth Stein, a professor of Israeli Studies at Emory University and the first Executive Director of the Carter Center, stepped down from his position at the Center and issued a resignation letter in which he described Jimmy Carter as an incompetent, a liar, and a fraud. Stein said that Carter’s 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, whose title Stein classified as “too inflammatory to even print,” was “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.” More troubling than Carter’s attacks on Israel, Stein noted, were his outright misrepresentations. In particular, Stein called attention to “meetings where I was the third person in the room, and my notes of those meetings show little similarity to points claimed in the book.”
On January 11, 2007, fourteen members of the Carter Center’s 200-person Board of Councilors, responsible for building public support for the Center, also resigned to protest Mr. Carter's anti-Israel screed. “You have clearly abandoned your historic role of broker in favor of becoming an advocate for one side...” they wrote in their letter of resignation. "It seems that you have turned to a world of advocacy, including even malicious advocacy.... We can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position. This is not the Carter Center or Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support." Atlanta real estate developer Steve Berman, who was among those who resigned, said that he and his fellow board members had “watched with great dismay” as Carter defended the book, especially as the former President implied that Americans were reluctant to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict because they feared a powerful Jewish lobby.
In September 2009, Carter depicted as racists those critics who opposed President Barack Obama’s efforts to institute a system of government-run, socialized medicine for all Americans. Asserting that many disagreements with Obama were “based on the fact that he is a black man,” Carter said:
“I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people not just in the South but around the country … that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”
"There is an inherent feeling among many in this country," Carter added, "that an African-American should not be president."
In the early spring of 2011, Carter visited Cuba at the invitation of Raul and Fidel Castro. “We greeted each other as old friends,” Carter subsequently reported. Fidel Castro expressed his “respect and esteem” for Carter, while Raul Castro referred to Carter as “the best of all U.S. Presidents.” During his stay in Cuba, Carter took time to visit the families of “The Cuban Five,” five individuals convicted in 2001 by a U.S. jury for their participation in a brutal Castro spy ring and now serving time in American prisons. “I had the opportunity to meet the families of the five Cuban patriots,” said Carter during an interview with Cuban media, “with their wives and with their mothers.... I'm well aware of the shortcomings of the U.S. judicial system but hope that President Obama will grant their pardon. He knows my opinion on this matter, that the trial of the Cuban Five was very dubious, that many norms were violated.”
When Venezuela's socialist, anti-American president Hugo Chavez died in March 2013, Carter eulogized him as a man with a strong "commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen," and as a leader whose "positive legacies" included "especially the gains made for the poor and vulnerable."
Most of this profile is adapted from the article "A Failed Former President," written by Ben Johnson and published by FrontPage Magazine on November 18, 2005.