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Former President Jimmy Carter talks about America’s role in the world today, the challenges facing the Obama administration, and insights from the detailed diary he kept during his White House years.
- President Jimmy Carter 39th President of the United States, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, founder of the Carter Center, and bestselling author.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Most people don't publish their diaries, but most diary keepers have not lived in the White House. In his edited, annotated and recently published "White House Diary," President Jimmy Carter offers personal, and often very frank, insights into the public and private battles of his White House years. President Carter joins me in the studio for a look back on his days in the White House and his perspective on the challenges facing our country today: the U.S. economy, Iran, North Korea. Of course, you are welcome to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome, Mr. President. How good to see you.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTERYes. Good to be with you again. Thank you.
REHMI was worried about you. We were all worried about you. You were supposed to be here in September.
CARTERI know. I was sick for one day, and, unfortunately, it was the day I was supposed to be with you. And that's what made it very grievous, but I was okay after that. If I'd have been at home, no one would have known about it. But they kept me in the hospital one extra day just to make sure they knew what it was. It was just a virus, a transient virus. If I had had it at home, no one would ever have known. But I got a lot of publicity and a lot of sympathy...
REHMYou sure did.
CARTER...and, I think, maybe even sold some extra books because books felt sorry for me.
REHMOh, I'm glad at that. Tell me about your thoughts on the president's meeting with the Republican leadership this morning. And if you were standing at his side, what would you say to the president?
CARTERWell, I think it's going to be a non-substantive meeting, just a brief review of what we've already seen in the news media, probably. And the Republicans are going to say they want to work with him if he'll just change his positions to accommodate their desires. And he's going to say, I hope that we're not going to change our position, and we'll fight it with you in the public consciousness around the nation. One of the good things that he has to look forward to in the next two years is that the Republicans will have to now be at least partially responsible. They've been completely irresponsible the first 20 months or so.
CARTERAnd I believe that -- as you know, they sometimes, on his major issues, which agreed with what the Republicans had advocated in the past, he hasn't got a single vote in the House or Senate. Now, though the Republicans will be responsible for one-third of the administrative elements of our government -- that is the House of Representatives -- so what they do in the House, they'll have to defend in the public debates. And my hope is that President Obama will state to the American people forcefully and without equivocation, this is what I proposed, this is what the Republicans are doing, you make your choice between us. And I think that's going to be a new development in the next two years, which, I believe, will be better than we've seen in the last part of (unintelligible).
REHMHow would you describe what we've seen in the last two years from the White House?
CARTERWell, I think there's been a lot of equivocation. In my opinion, maybe it's compromising too early on major issues -- on the Middle East, for instance, he made a wonderful speech in Cairo, Egypt, which gave a lot of people hope that he was going to be firm. I think he's basically changed his position on the -- I don't know -- really know what his present position is on, say, immigration or gay rights. I know he's for gay rights, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding.
CARTERAnd I think this same place would apply to global warming, and they fight over that. But I believe that what President Obama has proposed in his campaign and what his basic beliefs might be are compatible with the American people prefer. And my hope is that he'll go to the American people and say, choose between us. And I believe the choice will be with the president and his positions.
REHMAnd yet as you and I well know, he received what he called a shellacking in this last election.
CARTERYeah, well, I was surprised that the White House has not been able to present clearly and understandably to the American people the advantages of what he has been able to do in dealing with health care and in dealing with controlling some of the inappropriate performance on Wall Street and so forth. I think he's been able to accomplish some very good things, but that message did not get across. And even the Democratic members of Congress who voted for the health bill went back home in their districts and denied that they've ever heard of it.
CARTERThey didn't want to be associated with it when, actually, a cold and objective analysis shows that great strides forward were made. And I hope that in the future we'll see improvement. There's one change that has been made, and that is that Republicans will now have to responsible to the American people for specific action and not just for total inaction or obstruction of whatever President Obama proposes.
REHMThere are some who might argue that President Obama left himself wide open by not being strong enough, forceful enough, in his presentation following his, really, enormously successful campaign. But he didn't seem to follow through on that.
CARTERWell, that -- I think that's true, and I don't know the inner reasons for this. I think that what President Obama was trying to do -- and I certainly give him credit for this -- is to have a bipartisan approach to those major issues. He went overboard to try to accommodate Republican inclinations. And sometimes he would just adopt their own specific proposals, put them forward as his, and then the Republicans would vote against the same things they had advocated earlier. I think a major test is going to come quite early on the so-called Bush tax cuts. He has said firmly he will not accept tax cuts for the richest people on America, and so I hope that we'll see this position prevail.
REHMI wonder if there might be a compromise there, that if you were in the White House, you might accept tax cuts on those making up to $1 million as opposed to $250,000. Do you think that might satisfy all sides?
CARTERI think that if he has to do that to get enough Democratic votes, yes. Because the Senate is where it's going to be faced, and if he has to do that just to get enough Democratic votes to prevail, then I would go along with the compromise. But a much, much weaker compromise is, okay, I'll accept all the tax cuts for two years when he'll be maybe going out of office or three years, when he may not even be president again. I hope he will be president again. But that long delay in changing means that the Bush tax cuts will stay in effect for the richest people in the world, in the nation, and also for the others.
REHMJimmy Carter, the nation's 39th president. We now have an account of his years in the White House, written by none other than the president himself. It's titled "White House Diary." Of course, Jimmy Carter is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 and the author of many bestselling books, including "Our Endangered Values." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. When you began writing this diary, did you know that you would someday publish it?
CARTERNo. I had no idea about that. As a matter of fact, I didn't write it. I had a little tape recorder on my desk at the White House. And seven or eight times every day, I would just dictate what I thought about past events and future events, my disappointments, my successes, my plans, my impressions of people who just left my office. I just put in there things that I knew would not be in the weekly summary of everything the president does publicly. And I was -- and I -- when I would finish up with a tape, I would throw it in the out basket. And my secretary would later type it up when she had time. And I was amazed when I got home to discover I had 5,000 pages of typed diary notes.
CARTERAnd by the way, in this book, I haven't changed the meaning of a single word. Nothing has been changed in the extracts that I've made. But I had about a million words, and I've cut that down about 80 percent, so there's about 20 percent of the original. But the 20 percent have not -- has not been changed. And after about a year, at the Carter Center Library, the presidential library, I'm going to make the entire, unexpurgated typo-filled document available to scholars and others who want to come there, just to make sure they know I never changed anything.
REHMAnd the parts that were taken out...
REHM...were they taken out for particular reasons?
CARTERNo. Well, I just extracted the ones that I thought would be most interesting, first of all, to a reader -- most clear explanations of how a president felt under those tremendous responsibilities and in that environment and also the issues that I saw that I had to deal with of a very serious nature that are still on the Oval Office desk for President Obama to address. And I made a list of those. There were over 40 of them. Obviously, the big ones are well-known: you know, North Korea and China and Russia and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Middle East and energy and environment -- things of that kind -- education. And so I saw all of those as being of interest because they would have a timely effect on today's news headlines, and apparently they do.
REHMAnd it's extraordinary that many of those very same issues remain with us today. President Jimmy Carter is with me. When we come back, we'll talk about some of those, take your calls, your questions. Stay with us.
REHMJust before the break, President Jimmy Carter mentioned some of the issues he was dealing with more than 30 years ago as president, which are still on President Obama's desk. One of them, right this very minute, is Afghanistan. President Carter, what do you say to the people of America who are beginning to weary of this war?
CARTERWell, this was a major issue for me because on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. They moved in 12,000 troops as we watched with a very great concern because I could see the Soviets taking over Afghanistan and then maybe moving from there into adjacent countries and ultimately dominating that entire region that's a major oil-producing region of the world. So it was a very great concern to me. And we began to give some help to the freedom fighters. It was done much greater -- on a much greater scale by President Reagan after I left office.
CARTERAnd I have been very much concerned because if you go back into the Middle Ages and look down through history -- which I have done -- you'll see that no invader of Afghanistan has ever succeeded. And most of them came out disgraced and in total defeat. I hope that the United States doesn't have the same experience, but I have deep concerns about why we have tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan since President Obama came into office. And, also, I understand from the news reports that the CIA says that there are only a hundred members of al-Qaida left in Afghanistan. The rest of them have moved into Pakistan.
CARTERWhy we are mounting such a tremendous military effort in Afghanistan is a little beyond my understanding, but I haven't been briefed on the detailed needs. And my belief is that we will not prevail militarily in Afghanistan. And I think that in the next few years -- maybe three, four, five years -- we will be withdrawing from Afghanistan, as others have done. And we'll constantly lower our claims on what we wanted to accomplish to match what we have actually accomplished. So we kind of make excuses as we go along for less and less ability to take over and control Afghanistan.
REHMThinking back to 9/11...
REHM...and the response of President George W. Bush to first attack Afghanistan and then move into Iraq, what was your gut reaction?
CARTERI was -- I supported going into Afghanistan because that was the origin of the attack on America. And I was very glad when he -- when our military force had some quick success there. The move into Iraq was one of the worst foreign policy mistakes that our nation has ever made. It was unjustified. It was based on false premises, as everyone knows now, and basically abandoned Afghanistan.
CARTERIf we had just spent a tiny portion of funding on the rebuilding of Afghanistan after we were successful there with roads and hospitals and schools and so forth and established an honest government there with the help of the United Nations, then I think that we would have a completely different Afghanistan now from what we would have had. But we should have left Afghanistan in control of the Afghans, with America being the great savior of Afghanistan with our economic aid to help them rebuild after the Soviets withdrew and after we removed al-Qaida from Afghanistan.
REHMAnd what about the removal of Saddam Hussein?
CARTERI think that was -- well, just his removal, I think, was a good step forward. But the cost to America in the removal was not worth what we achieved.
CARTERI think it was a serious mistake in Iraq for many reasons. The tremendous loss of life, I understand, has cost now maybe 3 trillions of dollars, which doesn't count the long-term care for wounded and psychologically disturbed returning soldiers and so forth. And we have now, with that war in Iraq, primarily escalated the stature and influence of Iran enormously higher than it was if we had stayed out of Iraq to start with.
REHMAnd there is this threat from Iran of nuclear power.
REHMWhat do you make of that? How should the U.S. be dealing with Iran now?
CARTERWell, Iran is one of those issues that I faced myself in a much different context. That is, they were holding my hostages, I'll call them, and they finally came home safe and free. And we had good relationships with the revolutionary government before they took our hostages. I wish that we had -- soon after I left office, if Iran would have been amenable, I think they would have -- I wish we had established diplomatic relations with Iran so we could have had a continued diplomatic conversation with them and shared ideas with the revolutionary government.
CARTERWe didn't do that. And, I think, in the meantime, we've become quite deeply alienated from Iran. They have a right, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as you know, to develop their own peaceful nuclear capability to produce power. That's what they claim they are doing, but I have very serious doubts about that. I think there are powerful forces in Iran that want to go to a military capability -- that is, with nuclear weapons. There's no doubt in my mind that this is what some of them have in mind.
CARTEROne thing that concerns me -- and this may not be a popular thing to say -- is that the more we threaten them with military attack -- even we have said that we would reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against Iran -- if that's what they hear incessantly in Iran, that either we or the Israelis are going to attack them, that's one of the major factors that might induce them to go ahead with nuclear weaponry, even if they had not planned to do it originally. And I don't think that we should abandon the effort, still, to negotiate with Iran.
CARTEROne thing that I think we made a mistake on, by the way, just to be -- just to conclude this answer, is that when Brazil and Turkey worked out an arrangement with Iran so that they turned over their nuclear fuel to be processed to 20 percent and then returned, I think instead of just deriding it and condemning it and vetoing it, we should have accepted it as a major step forward, but not adequate. And we should have said we congratulate the three parties on doing this. It's not adequate, and we hope that we can negotiate with Iran to continue to a more fulfilling accommodation in accounting for their nuclear fuel.
REHMThere is news this morning that talks with Iran will resume next week.
CARTERI hope so.
REHMI hope so as well.
CARTERI think in almost every case in the world -- first of all, talks are beneficial -- some kind of communication, either direct or indirect, just to keep the avenues of exchanging ideas alive. And, secondly, sanctions, almost invariably, are counterproductive, particularly if they are sustained for long periods of time, like our stupid sanctions against Cuba. We are punishing 13 million people in Cuba. We haven't accomplished anything in the last 50 or 60 years.
CARTERThe Castros are still in power. They can blame all of their self-imposed economic problems on the United States, and we are really punishing American people. We're the ones who are deprived of a right to go to Cuba when we want to. And the same thing maybe applies to other countries as well, where the sanctions have not worked. So, in general, communication is good. Sanctions are bad.
REHMHere's an e-mail from David in Indianapolis, who says, "Knowing what you know today, would you still have approved the hostage rescue mission?"
CARTERWell, the answer is, yes. I would have approved it. But I think if I had known that it was going to have the problems that it engendered, I would have sent one more helicopter. And it would have been successful. So I'm equivocating on my answer. But if I'd known everything in advance, instead of sending eight helicopters, I would have sent nine because we had to have six, and we lost three. And I would have sent nine helicopters, we would have wound up with six, and the hostages would have all come home free in April. I would have been re-elected president and so forth, so that's the answer to the question.
REHMThat must have been just a stunning event for you.
CARTERWell, it was. As a matter of fact though, when it happened, I went back to the White House. I went to bed. I went to sleep. I slept for about three-and-a-half hours. I got up and went on television and told the American people what happened. And so I was grieved, obviously, at the fact that our hostages had to stay incarcerated over there and that we had the collision between our sixth helicopter and one of the DC-6s there that were there to take -- to bring out – actually, C-130s to bring out our people.
REHMHow effective a president do you believe Ronald Reagan was?
CARTERWell, I think, in many ways, he was effective. He abandoned, pretty much, any inclination on the part of American people to conserve energy. We had a skyrocketing resumption of dependence on foreign oil after we reduced it by 50 percent after I went into office. He removed from the American consciousness any inclination to get away from excessive consumption. We had the worst increase in deficit spending in history under Ronald Reagan. It was just a propagate waste of money. And so I would say that, as far as establishing some of the principles that the Republican Party has now adopted, he was successful. So -- although I'm a Democrat and I don't think he was a success -- I'm sure the Republicans think he was.
REHMAnd what about the presidency of George H. W. Bush?
CARTERHe's been one of my favorites. I think he was extremely knowledgeable and maybe the best qualified president who ever served, based on what he had done previously in international affairs. And he and his Secretary of State, James Baker, I think were wise in almost every decision they made. He was firm in the Middle East. I think the Madrid talks broke the ice in permitting the Palestinians for the first time to have a voice in international affairs. He extracted us from the Reagan-initiated war between the Contras and the government in Nicaragua, and we were able to end that and turn Nicaragua around. And so I think that, in every way, George H. W. Bush was a good president.
REHMJames Baker was also very closely involved with the election in the year 2000.
CARTERYeah, that's -- well, he knows I don't agree with him on that issue, but he and I have become very close friends. As a matter of fact, after the 2000 election, I was partnered with Gerald Ford in changing the American election laws. And then after the 2004 elections, since President Ford was not able to serve, I served as a partner with James Baker. And I got to know him quite well, and I still consult with him often. Just recently, I gave him a call after we returned from a Middle East trip.
REHMWhat was your reaction to the election of 2000?
CARTERI thought it was one of the worst mistakes and most indefensible rulings that the Supreme Court has ever made. In my opinion, the five Republican-oriented justices voted their partisan opinions. And I think that the vote count that was going on in Florida, which would have been definitive -- that is, a complete vote count for the entire state -- would have shown that Al Gore was elected president. And I think the Supreme Court interceded and prevented the truth of the Florida vote to be revealed and elected the wrong president.
REHMFormer President Jimmy Carter is with me. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There is one detail there, President Carter, which is that Al Gore himself could have asked or demanded a full state of Florida recount.
CARTERWell, my memory of it is that they were in the process of conducting the entire state recount, which was approved by the Florida Supreme Court. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that recount on an entire state basis could not be continued and forced it to be terminated.
REHMSo, from your perspective, George W. Bush was not a legal president?
CARTERWell, he was legal in that the ruling of a Supreme Court is final and becomes the legality as defined by our laws and our Constitution. So I can't say he wasn't legal because the Supreme Court made it legal. But he didn't get the most votes in Florida, and he didn't get the most votes in the entire nation.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Tamara, who says, "How do you reconcile your Baptist beliefs with your tolerance for gay rights and support of the military? Thank you for giving back the Panama Canal. And when are you back in Plains so that I can go to your Sunday school class?"
CARTEROh, I like part of that question. Well, I've said to many people that the only conflict I've found in my -- between my Christian belief and my duties as a president was on the subject of abortion because I've never believed that Jesus Christ would approve abortion, except in the case of a mother's potential death to save her life or if the pregnancy was caused by incest or rape. But other than that, I think I have always been against abortion. As far as gay rights are concerned, I see this as something that doesn't conflict with my belief in my Christian faith. As a matter of fact, Jesus never mentioned anything about gay rights. And when Paul and others did mention it -- which is mentioned in the New Testament -- they generally put it in the same category as selfishness or gossip and so forth.
CARTERIt was just one of those things that they listed on a long series of things that we should avoid. And so I look upon gay rights issue as similar to what we had in my earlier life with civil rights for African-Americans. This country went almost 100 years with the Supreme Court and the Congress and everyone else believing that black people should be inferior to white people under the laws of our country with a separate but equal ruling of the Supreme Court. And we changed that, and I think that the same thing applies to sexual preference. And I would hope that President Obama will stand firm in his expressed, publicized comments that he's for the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and let gays serve on an equal basis with others.
REHMAnd what about gay marriage, would you favor that?
CARTERWell, I think -- I'm a Baptist that believes in the individuality and the autonomy of each congregation. And if my little church wanted to have approval of gay marriage, I would be in favor of it. If the majority of our members of our church said no, I would be against it. So I think that each church congregation ought to have a right for gay marriage. But as far as civil ceremonies and so forth, I'm in fair vote.
REHMPresident Jimmy Carter. We're talking abut many things, including his new book "White House Diary." Stay with us.
REHMAnd, now, your calls for President Jimmy Carter. We'll start right in our own neighborhood of Arlington, Va. Good morning, Louise. You're on the air.
LOUISEGood morning. And, President Carter, it's an honor to talk to you. I've never spoken to a president or anybody as important before. And I wish that it were in a church context. Maybe I'd feel a little bit more relaxed if you were my deacon. But I enjoyed -- I finished your book yesterday, and I loved every single page of it. I wish that more presidents had the insight to write on a daily basis because history is so much easier and enjoyable to read when it's written this way.
LOUISEI would like to ask you about President Ford. I noticed throughout the book that you said you established a relationship and friendship with him. And yet at times, President Ford would go out and say things that were not accurate or really were not nice. And then he would either call you or come to the White House, and you -- it seemed like you put it -- your arm around him and said, oh, that's okay, I understand. My question is, how can you understand when somebody's going out and saying things about you that are not true? How can you forgive? And how can you become a friend to somebody like that?
CARTERWell, I'm going to intercede first to say that anybody that wants to come down to Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains and hear me teach the Bible, just look up, you know, the Maranatha Church or Plains, Ga. or the Carter Center on the website, and you can see what Sundays I'll be there. I teach every Sunday that I'm home, about 35 or 40 times a year. Well, President Ford turned out to be the closest friend that I ever had in politics. In fact, when I celebrated the 200th birthday of the White House, historians got up on two different occasions and said of all the presidents that have served, the closest personal relationship was between me and Gerald Ford.
CARTERAnd he was a frequent guest of mine in the White House. We would have lunch together. Every time I saw or found out that he was going to be in the Washington area, I always invited him to come by and have lunch with me. And we discussed the -- you know, the important issues of the day from a -- maybe from a partisan point of view. But when he did make a harsh comment about me at a Republican convention or gathering of some kind, either before or afterwards, he would give me a private call and say, Jimmy, you know, I have to say this because of my audience, and I'm the head of the Republican Party.
CARTERAnd you are free to say things about me if you want to when you meet -- talk to Democrats, so he and I had a very good understanding there. And I didn't resent what he said because I knew that he was a titular head of the Republican Party then, and he couldn't get up in front of a Republican audience and brag on an incumbent Democratic president.
REHMBut what you have to have in politics is a very thick skin.
CARTERWell, I learned that when I was in the State Senate and when I was governor. So by the time I got to the White House, I already knew that fact.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Kent, Ohio. Good morning, Jim.
JIMYes, sir. President Carter, I always thought you had the highest integrity of any president in my lifetime anyway, and I've always admired you for that. But I would like to know what your opinion is of Gary Sick's book "October Surprise" and if you still -- if -- why you have such a high opinion of George H. W. Bush in light of the fact that he and Bill Casey were instrumental in negotiating with the Iranians to keep the hostages until after the election?
CARTERWell, Jim, I have read that book earlier when Gary Sick produced it, and I have a lot of confidence in Gary Sick and his integrity. But I have never tried to find out for my own perspective if the allegations against George H. W. Bush were true. I never asked him personally, and I've never tried to get the information from another source because I don't think it's up to me to make that judgment. There's no doubt, however, in my mind that the Ayatollah Khomeini did do everything he could to delay the release of the hostages, not only past the election in November of 1980 but also for five minutes after I was no longer president. He (unintelligible) ...
CARTERI don't -- I never have known why. And -- to you and Jim, and I never have tried to find out, so I have not ever commented public on whether I think it was true or not. But I do have confidence in Gary Sick. And when he made that written documentary in his book about what the Reagan administration had done concerning retaining the hostages in captivity, I don't know if it's true or not.
REHMLet's go now to Providence, R.I. Good morning, Mary.
MARYGood morning, Diane, and good morning, President Carter. I'll just have to say what an honor to speak with you this morning, and I have a question. I am not Jewish. I have a great deal of respect for Judaism and for the state of Israel, and I'm very familiar with Judaism in my scholarly work. And here's what I'm seeing among -- and this is just anecdotal -- but here's what I'm seeing among friends, old friends, folks I went to high school with, folks I went to college with, who are Jews, American Jews, both living in Israel and living in the United States, and it's a sort of hardening. I've seen a hardening over the last, you know, five years or so of their attitudes towards Palestine and Palestinians.
MARYAnd it -- and then sort of it leading into an almost anti-Islamic attitude or a Muslim-phobic (sic) attitude, and it really concerns me. It's gotten to the point where I can't even post on my blog about these issues anymore because I just get, you know, called anti-Semitic and all these kinds of things. And so I -- this is a huge issue, but I'm just wondering if you can comment on the -- sort of the role Americans can play in enlightening folks about the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
CARTERThank you, Mary. That's a quandary in which I find myself. I would say that the number one goal of my life in international affairs for the last 30 years has been to bring peace to Israel. And I realized all through that era that this -- that's impossible unless you bring peace to Israel's neighbors. You can't have peace on one side and animosity and war and persecution on the other. The key change that has taken place in the last 25 years has been the Israeli decision among the top government leaders to retain control of the occupied territories. When I was a governor, I visited Israel for the first time in 1972.
CARTERAnd even when I was president, there was a general presumption that United Nations Resolution 242 did apply, that is that Israel was occupying territory in Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, East Jerusalem temporarily and that they would withdraw. Now, under the Netanyahu government and some of his predecessors, there's been, obviously, a decision in Israel, we will not withdraw from these occupied territories. And they have had a massive building of settlements, so-called facts on the ground.
CARTERThe fact is that in retaining this control of the territory and the people that live in it -- that is, the Palestinians -- Israel is in violation of the United Nations Resolutions -- 242 is just one of them. And also, Israel is in violation of the Geneva Conventions which forbid any occupying territory from building settlements on the land that they only hold as an act of war. And they also are violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their mistreatment of the Palestinians who live inside Israel, in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and also -- most horribly perhaps -- in Gaza, which is like an open-air prison.
CARTERSo the key to the peace process is that one major issue, and that is that Israel agree to withdraw from occupied territories, with some exceptions as negotiating some modifications in the pre-'67 lines. And on the other hand, the international community, including Israel's neighbors, have to make sure that Israelis know that if they do withdraw from the occupied territories, that Israelis can live in peace and security in their own nation.
REHMDo you think that will ever come to be?
CARTERFortunately or unfortunately, it depends on the United States, and that's one reason I have a great admiration for George H. W. Bush and Jim Bacon. They stood up and said no more settlements can be built. There was a major settlement being built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem -- a distance of only 6 miles. And President Bush withheld, I think, $700 million in U.S. aid to Israel, and they stopped building that settlement. As soon as President Bush left office and President Clinton came in, they finished building the settlement. It's finished now -- enormous settlement -- so the settlement's illegal. They're an obstacle to peace. And if we ever have peace, they're going to have to be abandoned by the Israelis, either destroyed or turned over to the Palestinians to use.
REHMI want to ask you about something that's been very much on the front pages in the last couple of days, and that is the leaks that have come from WikiLeaks, and how damaging you believe they are, how important you believe they are.
CARTERWell, I think there's been a change in American public official statements over the last 24 hours. At first, Secretary of State Clinton indicated that it was a very damaging blow to American diplomacy, almost irreparable in its impact. And then later I read in the paper this morning where America is saying, well, it didn't really make much difference one way or the other. I don't think it's going to be any seminal change in the capability of America to conduct foreign policy. I think it will, though, place a cautionary mark on reports that are made by our ambassadors overseas and probably will make foreign leaders much more reticent about expressing their personal views to American diplomats.
REHMHere we are in an age when nothing is truly private or secret anymore. That's a huge change, is it not...
REHM...from when you were in office?
CARTERIt certainly is a change. And I think this WikiLeaks exposure is going to be a reminder of foreign leaders to be very cautious in what you say. Most of the embarrassing things -- I read a list of them this morning in the paper -- were really gratuitous, where you make adverse comments about the chancellor of Germany or the president of France or even the leaders of North Korea, China and so forth or whether when some foreign king refers to Iran as a snake that needs to have his head cut off.
CARTERYou know, those kind of comments, off-hand -- the kind that you hear around a cocktail party or something -- and I think there's been a good deal of carelessness in making those kind of comments that might be recorded and later revealed. So I think we can have just as good a diplomacy in the future by being more cautious about the personal ad hominem comments about foreign leaders and so forth and not just believe that what you say to a foreign diplomat is going to be kept in utmost secrecy.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." However, the entire media landscape has changed. People point to the rise of the importance, for example, of the internet...
REHM...the rise and the importance of Fox News, the lack of -- I don't know, sort of general civic civil discussion.
CARTERThat -- you know, that began to change when I was president. That's when CNN was formed, the first cable news network, and it was formed in the last year that I was in office. So there was no 24 hours, seven days a week scrambling for headlines that quite often are derived from the most radical comments that you can make on television to titillate viewers and listeners. Back then, we had the three major networks. We had The New York Times. We had The Washington Post. We had the LA Times and so forth. And their evening news broadcasts -- and maybe some brief morning talk shows that were mostly entertainment -- were about the only news sources.
CARTERAnd during the day, you could get on the wire services if you had a ticker tape -- AP and UPI. And that was about it. Now, though, I think there is a radicalization of news presentation, not only with the news broadcast but with the commentators that are particularly vicious, I think, and damaging and irresponsible on Fox News, where they have presented an image that the American people have adopted to excessive degree, that President Obama is not even a citizen of our country, that he's a Muslim and that he's a socialist and things of that kind...
REHMBut why do you think the American people have been open to receiving that kind of information and believing it?
CARTERWell, the believing I can't explain 'cause I believe -- maybe it's some other side of the political spectrum that I shouldn't believe but just because I want to believe it. But I think that's -- nowadays, the responsible news broadcast -- I would include, still, the three major networks and maybe the Jim Lehrer show in the evening, which I always watch, and a few other commentaries are good.
CARTERBut I think the -- if you look at the news broadcast for entertainment, then what you want to hear is a radical, exciting, titillating reports, not only about the latest murders or kidnapping or sexual, you know, problems that people have, but the inclination on the part of the -- some of the channels just to make every news item as interesting in its presentation as possible. And that sometimes -- that deviates from the honest objective truth.
REHMAnd, of course, now the Republican leadership has said, it wants to defund all of public broadcasting.
CARTERI know because the public broadcasting networks on radio and television basically tell the honest, objective truth. And, I think, the Republicans who say that would like for everybody to have one channel that they can watch every day, and that's Fox News. And, I think, it is sort of a deviation from that presentation of (word?) news is inimical of what they want to achieve.
REHMLast question, very briefly, what do you think of the Tea Party movement?
CARTERYou know, I never have criticized the Tea Party movement because, strangely enough, I capitalized on the same kind of situation politically that has made the Tea Party successful -- that is, an extreme dissatisfaction with what was going on in Washington. Because I came along right after Watergate and right after the Vietnam lost and right after the assassination of the two Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., and so I capitalized on that, and I was elected over some very wonderful people who were U.S. senators and immersed in the Washington scene.
REHMJimmy Carter, our 39th president, his new book "White House Diary." What a pleasure to talk with you.
CARTERIt's been a pleasure for me that time goes away too fast.
REHMToo quickly. Thank you.
CARTERI'll do that.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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