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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Jimmy C. Rehab 

We all know (and all too well) what Ronnie Rehab looks like (I first experienced it in John Lewis Gaddis' Kenneth Branaugh's "The Cold War" class as an undergrad). But you rarely see any Carter Rehab. I've always been a bit interesting in his presidency, mainly because I know less about it than any administration since Harding (or maybe even Coolidge). I do know that, regardless of what they think of him as a person, many, many people agree with the CW that states that the Carter administration was a failure (See Kevin Drum, my parents, etc.). So, it's nice to see Iraq and Middle East expert Juan Cole defend Carter:
There is, by the way, a throwaway line in Richter's piece from a Neocon lamenting that Bush may come to be seen as the worst president since Carter. That is ridiculous. Jimmy Carter was a far better president than W. can ever hope to be. Carter made peace between Israel and Egypt. He resolved the Panama Canal issue to everyone's satisfaction, and we've never heard any more about it because there haven't been subsequent problems. He avoided a potentially disastrous US attempt to prevent or roll back the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He used the foreign aid carrot to begin the process of pushing the Latin American military regimes to democratize (a process that has been wildly successful). He raised human rights as a foreign policy issue. Carter is a quick study and a bright engineer. He was president at a time of post-Vietnam and post-Watergate doldrums, at a time when Iran and Afghanistan spun out of control, at a time of high petroleum prices, continued stagflation, and high inflation. I am not entirely sure what he could have done about any of these problems, most of which were beyond his control (and most of which remained beyond the control of his successors).

Reagan did not overturn Khomeini, rather he sold him arms. Although Reagan got the Soviets out of Afghanistan, he did it at the cost of creating a radical Islamist international and destabilizing Pakistan and Afghanistan--i.e. Afghanistan continued to spin out of control, with fateful consequences. The price of petroleum declined from $40 a barrel in 1980 to less than $10 a barrel in 1986, helping Reagan quite a lot, but it had nothing to do with any policy pursued by Reagan. (Europe cut its energy consumption by a third after the 1970s oil shock, and OPEC has a tendency to overproduce over time). After Carter retired, he spent his time building houses for disadvantaged people. He also was key to the elimination of a painful and debilitating parasite in Africa, improving the lives of millions. The vilification of Carter and the hero worship of W. is a sign of how morally warped the American Right really is. Carter's political and economic environment made it impossible for him to be a great president, but he was a damn sight better than W. any day of the week.
Now, I have no idea if he's right, and I certainly think that maybe we could have done better in Iran if our CIA had any idea what was going on there, but this sounds reasonable to me.

UPDATE: Looking at this post, it looks like the title refers to a person with first name "Jimmy"; middle initial, "C."; and last name "Rehab." It shouldn't be read that way.

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