Sunday, May 20, 2007

Thinking About Presidents

Former President Jimmy Carter has made headlines by calling President Bush's international relations "the worst in history." I can't argue with him on the disastrous effects of the current president's foreign policy ineptitude, but his own track record on foreign relations could have been more even and given his comments more heft.

Granted, Jimmy Carter had some very hard knocks as president - not the least of which was the Iran hostage crisis that doomed his presidency. But we elect our presidents at least in part on our perceptions of how they will be able to handle world-class crises. In some ways, Carter was a forward-thinking and dynamic president: he brokered the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt that, so far, still keep a peace of self-interest between the two nations. He also orchestrated the transfer of the Panama Canal to Panamanian control, a move bitterly opposed and resented at home, but one which raised the standing of the United States in Latin America. I doubt whether George Bush could have had the capacity to take on these issues (not to mention the interest in doing so).

Were Jimmy Carter still president, I don't believe we would have invaded Iraq, and the United States would almost certainly be much more aggressively engaged in seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I also suspect that he'd have failed, given that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are able or willing to make the sort of compromises necessary to achieve a lasting peace.

I think Jimmy Carter, for all his faults, was a man of principle who was the president we needed at the moment. He projected an image that helped the nation get over the lingering stench of Watergate and enjoyed a few successes in foreign policy; unfortunately, he was undone by the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis that he was unable to deal with effectively. That failure set the stage for the election of Ronald Reagan, the end of the Cold War, and all the events, good and bad, which flowed from it.

As the nation gears up for next year's presidential election, I look around at the field of likely candidates and hope for a button on the voting machine that says "None of the Above." Our ideal president needs the compassion of a Jimmy Carter, the communicative skills of a Ronald Reagan, the intellectual prowess of a Woodrow Wilson, the political wiliness of a Franklin Roosevelt, and the foreign policy skills and - when necessary - pragmatically ruthless power of a Richard Nixon.

Unfortunately, that person's not out there. And that's too bad...for the nation and the world.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


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