When he told the press last week that the Bush administration had aroused antipathy around the world, he might have been uttering no more than a banality. But no, he had to try to invest it with a special signature flourish.
THIS "special flourish"--we'll view it in a moment, but let's see if we can describe it first--lies in calling the Bush administration "the worst in history" in terms of international impact. As a flourisher this leaves Carter somewhat short of John Hancock, and the qualification marks him as somewhat moderate:
I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history. The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including [those of] George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me.
Any response, Mr. Hitchens?
Leave aside the sophomoric slackness that begins a broken-backed sentence with the words "as far as" and then cannot complete itself...
Excuse me. I'm from the American Middle West, where we hate to interrupt, and where, despite the state of our public schools, we've been known to admire a well-placed praeteritio jes' like the folks who know which one is the dessert spoon, even if we do prefer them shaken, not slurred. But we generally reserve (sic)ing for the written word, or, at the outside, prepared speech, and refrain from trying to score pathetic debating points off the extemporaneous variety. I mention this, Mr. Hitchens, in case your present career arc continues to its apparent terminus and you wind up hosting a drive-time AM radio program in Muncie, with Dennis Miller as your sidekick. Where were we?
..."Worst in history," as the great statesman from Georgia has to know, has been the title for which he has himself been actively contending since 1976.
[A brief report on a failed experiment: I googled "Bush administration worst in history" intending to report how many such flourishes modern technology could turn up in 0.22 seconds. Instead I found the first three pages filled by headline writers and blog post titlers with reading comprehension problems profound enough to imagine Carter had called the Bush administration "the worst in history", Full Stop. That would include CBS, FAUX, and CNN. I gave up at that point, but I'm guessing the former President wasn't responsible for all 10,220 hits. I'm not sure whether the mistakes were intentional, but we needn't ask about Hitchens. He understands, broken back and all, that Carter was speaking of our global reputation. He also understands that Mr. Carter was entirely correct, that that international failure which is, among other things, Hitchens' adopted pet has, without question, drawn George W. Bush alongside the heap of domestic incompetents whose apex is James Buchanan.]
Willful misquotation aside, where has Carter been contending for "Worst President Ever"? An FDROurFirstCommiePresident.com poll? A straw vote at Billy Bob's Tinfoil Seed Hat Emporium? Results of a secret ballot of the Thank Jesus Reagan's Stiff So We Can Blow Him For Real Society? "Mediocre" as a general appraisal among public historians we'll accept. "Worst Ever" is just Anti-Fluoridation Dead Enders leftover hyperbole.
I once had quite an argument with the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who maintained adamantly that it had been right for him to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 for no other reason. "Mr. Carter," he said, "quite simply abdicated the whole responsibility of the presidency while in office. He left the nation at the mercy of its enemies at home and abroad. He was the worst president we ever had."
Here's a quarter. Go ahead and call everybody who cared what Gene McCarthy had to say in 1980, let alone today. Ran against him in '76, didn't he? Have they found the guy who voted for him yet?
I still think Richard Nixon has to be the prime candidate here, but you will notice that Jimmy Carter evinces nostalgia for that period, too. Apparently, the Christmas bombing of Vietnam, the invasion of Cambodia, the subversion of democracy in Chile, the raising of illegal slush funds, and the attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee offices were assertions of America's "basic values."
Speaking of nostalgia, Mr. Hitchens, don't you think you've relinquished your right to mount a moral soapbox about America's hidden illegal wars and secret support of torturers by your five-year support for America's overt illegal wars and open practice of torture? The rest of us do.
Many people in retrospect think Bush did a good job in assembling a large multinational coalition, under U.N. auspices, for the emancipation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
Sure, that was some fine assemblizing. But then anybody who bothered to assemble a coalition, avail himself of international diplomatic channels, or, for that matter, plan ahead looks pretty good in retrospect.
But Jimmy Carter used his prestige, at that uneasy moment, to make an open appeal to all governments not to join that coalition. He went public to oppose the settled policy of Congress and the declared resolutions of the United Nations and to denounce his own country as the warmonger.
The settled policy of Congress! Declared resolutions of the UN! And Carter blatantly ignored 'em! Just tell us, what did you do with the body of the first Christopher Hitchens?
I've got a dollar, if you've got a doughnut. Find me where Jimmy Carter called the United States, or George H. W. Bush, quote warmongers unquote. And as I recall, that same George H. W. Bush all but came out against his son's plans to top Daddy's Iraq adventure before that started, sending his closest aides instead.
And, after all, why not? It was he who had created the conditions for the Gulf crisis in the first place—initially by fawning on the shah of Iran and then, when that option collapsed, by encouraging Saddam Hussein to invade Iran and by "tilting" American policy to his side.
Wait, lemme guess...you buried it in the basement? In the Jersey swamps?
Fer cryin' out loud, I don't blame you for imagining Americans will swallow this sort of thing and ask you for more--considering who you comport yourself with these days--but sheesh, maybe we could go back to how the Shah wound up on the throne in the first place. Hint: it rhymes with "Wisenhower" and "Kritish Dimperialism", and "Betrolium". I'm old enough I can still spell "SAVAK", which makes me old enough to remember that Iran was Israel's only Islamic friend in the days before Jimmy Carter--yes, the Worst President Ever--separated Egypt, and the most powerful Islamic military, from the herd. What result has that had on the Middle East the past thirty years? What effect might it have had if later ideological Likudnik administrations hadn't done all they could to support Israeli hardliners rather than the peace process?
Carter let the Shah into the US for humanitarian treatment. He'd been in exile in Morocco and Mexico by that point, and Khomeini hadn't seized their embassy personnel. What's the mistake there? Surely not in refusing to let the Iranian Revolution dictate who we let into the country (one wonders whether, had the whole thing occurred during the following administration, we'd now be able to collect the "Reagan heroically defies the Ayatollah" first-class stamp, with Soviet-heroic Ronnie standing over Pahlavi's hospital bed). It was in not foreseeing that the Revolution could use America's response as a rallying point. It was impossible to understand ahead of time what an enormous success this would turn out to be. Or that it would prove particularly successful with the American Right, which was so fond of the act as a symbol of America's Pitiful Gianthood--which condition their continued support of the meat-grinding and prestige-draining Vietnam conflict had largely brought us to--it arranged to keep it going a few extra months so the release could coincide with the inaugural of Ronald Reagan.
And as I recall it, they all came home, which makes the whole experience a lot less satisfying than if some of them had been beheaded.
In the Carter years, the United States was an international laughingstock.
Could someone please point out, on a map, all those countries which only respect the United States when we're bombing the shit out of third-world villages?
This was not just because of the prevalence of his ghastly kin: the beer-sodden brother Billy, doing deals with Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi, and the grisly matriarch, Miz Lillian.
Oh, please. Did you recently suffer a head wound? I know they're common among people with your condition. As I recall it, people loved Miss Lillian, though I am handicapped by having, you know, actually lived here at the time.
It was because, whether in Afghanistan, Iran, or Iraq—still the source of so many of our woes—
Right. James Earl Carter, the President of the United States who failed to solve that little Middle East problem of ours. Shit. There were major wars in the Middle East during the Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon administrations--the latter occurring during the term Jerry Ford finished out. Since the Camp David Accords there've been none that involved Israel, and only one that didn't involve our sending troops.
His combination of naivete and cynicism—from open-mouthed shock at Leonid Brezhnev's occupation of Afghanistan
Let us note that Carter's shock over the Soviet invasion may have had something to do with what both he and Brezhnev knew--that the Soviet military machine was no longer up to the task, and that the war only hastened bankruptcy proceedings.
to underhanded support for Saddam in his unsleeping campaign of megalomania—
Again, forgive me for actually living here at the time, but most Americans cheered the Iran-Iraq War, loud and long. If nothing else it gave 'em a chance to get a little more use out of their "Ayatollah Assahola" and Mickey Mouse Flippin' Iran the Bird tee shirts.
had terrible consequences that are with us still. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that every administration since has had to deal with the chaotic legacy of Carter's mind-boggling cowardice and incompetence.
Okay, last call. You don't have to go home, but you know the rest. Hey, remind me again how the Reagan administration dealt with Carter's incompetent handling of Saddam Hussein.