| Pat Reber and Peer Meinert |
WASHINGTON (dpa) – In August, in the midst of the violent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former president Jimmy Carter called for the United States and European Union to recognise Hamas “not just as a military but also political force”.
His article in Foreign Policy magazine was symptomatic of Carter’s post-presidency life – one of mediating, peace-making and speaking out, and one that belies that he will turn 90 on October 1.
After failing to win his second term in office in 1980 following an ineffectual, one-term presidency, Carter went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting human rights, democracy and peace, and became one of the globe’s most respected elder statesmen.
As with his call for formal recognition of Hamas, which the US government designates a terrorist organisation because it calls for the destruction of Israel, Carter did not stay silent on the National Security Administration (NSA) spy scandal.
In March, the former president criticised the NSA for what had been revealed by leaker Edward Snowden in 2013, saying alleged protections against domestic spying had been “abused by our own intelligence agencies”.
Former US president Jimmy Carter (R) and his wife Rosalynn attend the opening of the ‘USA in Eyes of Chinese Artists – Contemporary Chinese Painting Exhibition’ at the Yan Huang Museum in Beijing, China on September 5 – EPA
Carter said he avoids using email when communicating with foreign leaders, because he fears “that my own communications are probably monitored”.
Instead, he writes or types all his own communications to foreign leaders and mails them through the post office.
Were he still president, he said he would pardon Snowden from the espionage charges the government has filed against him.
Armed only with goodwill, empathy, a disarming, toothy grin and his well-known faith in God, Carter and his Carter Center have travelled the globe mediating conflicts, monitoring elections and denouncing injustice: Bosnia, Haiti, Sudan-Uganda, Eritrea.
In 1994, he even convinced then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung to engage in talks with South Korea.
The post-presidency successes of the one-time peanut farmer and nuclear physicist stand in stark contract to his years in the White House, from 1977 to 1981. They were overshadowed by the 1979 hostage drama in Iran, the invasion of Afghanistan by the then-Soviet Union, the fall of the US dollar and rampant inflation.
Above all, the seizure of 52 American diplomats and citizens by Iranian students in Tehran for 444 days weighed heavily on his campaign for reelection in 1980.
The captors marched the blindfolded hostages before TV cameras, adding to the humiliation of the Carter presidency. The final blow was the failed rescue mission in April 1980 that ended with eight US servicemen dead.
Carter’s presidency began full of hope, as the outsider from the southern state of Georgia clinched the Democratic Party nomination and won the election over incumbent Republican Gerald Ford.
The country was ready for change after the malaise of the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, and the whimpering withdrawal from Vietnam. And Carter had some triumphs.
In September 1978, after nearly two weeks of secret negotiations at the US presidential retreat Camp David, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a historic framework agreement that led to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
Egypt became the first Arab state to officially recognise Israel. The treaty ended the state of war that existed since 1948 and saw Israel withdraw its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula.
Carter’s free-wheeling post-White House travels took him to the Gaza Strip in 2009, where he met with the radical militant Hamas leaders – a “no no” in official Washington.
And in 2002, he travelled to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro and demand an end to the US embargo against the Caribbean island – another “no no”.
“I found out in my own life that apparent failures can actually lead to true happiness, a different kind of happiness,” Carter once told Forbes magazine.