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I have to say I was somewhat astonished that my colleague to the left of me here came out recently and downright rejected George W. Bush and much of his presidency.
I’m referring to Dr. John Barnhart, who of course is to the left of me only in the layout of this page. As he himself would be quick to state, he’s to the right of me in every other way.
The good doctor (my honorary title for him) stated plainly that he was no “fan” of Bush’s, and he cited the war in Iraq, the snooping provisions of the so-called Patriot Act, and Bush’s penchant for promoting his cronies to high offices.
These are all good reasons to pass a negative judgment on this president, as so many other Americans have done. But he couldn’t accomplish it without taking a swipe at a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, whom he suggested might be the worst president ever.
While the basic diagnosis on Bush is correct, the bashing of Jimmy Carter requires a second opinion. I’ve noticed over the years that Republicans still love to lambaste poor Carter.
Yes, Carter’s presidency was ultimately a failure. Whenever an incumbent seeks another term, the essential question before voters is whether to re-hire or fire. In 1980, Carter got fired. But any fair analysis of it would show that he was largely a victim of not just some bad decisions of his own, but of the consequences of very bad U.S. foreign policies enacted long before he was president.
Carter had the bad luck to be in office at the time of the Iranian Revolution, when the Shah of Iran, a U.S. puppet in the Cold War, was overthrown.
Most Americans at the time may not have cared that we had once overthrown a democratically-elected government in Iran, but it meant a great deal to the Iranians. They saw the hypocrisy involved in a nation that preaches democracy and elections yet sponsors a violent coup against an elected government. Even today, this is still a legitimate sore point that Iran has with us.
When the American hostages were taken in 1978, Jimmy Carter was like most of the rest of the country. He couldn’t think of any legitimate grievances Iran might have against us, not even our long financial support for the Shah’s increasingly repressive regime.
But his conservative critics were even worse. They seemed to want some Rambo-type solution, believing that somehow the Marines could just show up and the hostages would be free in half an hour. But that’s the stuff of Hollywood, not reality.
Jimmy Carter couldn’t free the hostages, but he did keep us out of war with Iran. The hysteria over the matter was also whipped up by the media. Ted Koppel started a nightly program on ABC that began the irritating tradition of counting the days of a crisis: “America held hostageee.day 42,” and so on.
Carter was also inept in his handling of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But he brokered a peace deal between Israel and Egypt, a bond that has lasted until this day. Unlike Bush, he never cooked up a package of lies in order to get us into a war.
He shouldn’t have cared who was using the White House tennis courts. But he was absolutely right to insist that a commitment to basic principles of human rights should forever be a key part of U.S. foreign policy.
He had some successes, but failed some key tests before him. But there is no way he belongs in the sorry company of George W. Bush, who has already won for himself the title he so richly deserves: Worst President Ever.
Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com