The Other J.C.

Reviewed by Steven F. Hayward

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
by Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster, 2006, 264 pages.

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ight in the first sentence of Jimmy Carter’s new book on the Middle East there is a seemingly throwaway phrase whose significance is easily missed en route to the web of distortions that follows: “One of the major goals of my life,” Carter begins, “while in political office and since I was retired from the White House by the 1980 election…” (emphasis added). Now, it is understandable that an ex-president would seek to couch his electoral humiliation in the least wounding terms, but is it really so hard to say, “since I lost the 1980 election”?
That Jimmy Carter—man of action, seeker of solutions, prophet of peace—would describe his electoral drubbing in the passive voice points to a persistent intellectual and character trait that has been evident throughout his long career: The presumption of his own self-evident superiority. This trait has led him to think that he could not possibly have been to blame when voters rejected him in favor of a B-movie actor. As Time magazine essayist Lance Morrow once wrote, Carter behaves “as if the election of 1980 had been only some kind of ghastly mistake, a technicality of democratic punctilio.”
This presumption perhaps explains why Carter, in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, can go from outrage to outrage and never feel compelled to answer arguments or acknowledge gross errors of judgment or fact. This is not a new facet of Carter’s character. One his earliest biographers, Betty Glad, noted that as governor of Georgia in the early 1970s, he “seemed to experience opposition as a personal affront and as a consequence responded to it with attacks on the integrity of those who blocked his projects. He showed a tendency to equate his political goals with the just and the right and to view his opponents as representative of some selfish or immoral interest.”
Indeed, Carter has been able to get away with this for so long that he probably thought his immunity to criticism was unassailable. But with his latest book, he has finally gone too far. He willfully distorts facts; he misrepresents the terms and conditions of treaties, United Nations resolutions, and diplomatic events; he traffics in dodgy anti-Semitic euphemisms. The book comes without any footnotes or source references, and Carter has never refuted the charge that he plagiarized maps that former President Clinton’s Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross developed for his own book on the Middle East. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid cannot be taken seriously as a commentary on the Middle East—and it has not been. But it is not useless. Properly understood, it reveals the tendentious and hostile mind of a man who has worked like few others to convince the world that he is a foremost repository of the very opposite traits: Objectivity and compassion....

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, and the author of The Real Jimmy Carter (Regnery, 2004).

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