The Current Crisis

The Shadow of His Smile

Jimmy Carter always smiled at the most inappropriate moments. After the latest from North Korea, he must be grinning ear to ear.

By 10.23.02

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Washington -- I have always found something inscrutable about Jimmy Carter's smile. While President he would smile at the most inappropriate times. For instance, when he was delivering his famous nationally-televised lecture on America's national "malaise." At just the point when he had coaxed everyone in his audience into gloom, he SMILED. Why did he smile? What was on his mind?

I wonder if he smiled last week when he learned from the morning newspapers that the North Koreans, of a sudden, acknowledged they have been secretly developing nuclear weaponry notwithstanding their international agreements not to do so. Jimmy had been instrumental in hammering out those agreements back in 1994. The Bush Administration suspected the North Koreans of breaking their word. The North Koreans indignantly denied the Administration's charges. Then the other week Carter won the Nobel Prize for Peace, for his life-long commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict. Congratulations came in from all around the world. From North Korea came the insolent admission that the Bush Administration was right. North Korea had its own nuclear arms program, notwithstanding its promise to Jimmy.

Did Jimmy smile? Did the North Koreans? What do they have against the Nobel Committee? Carter is forever being admired for his piety. I admire him for his impudence and his ability to get away with it.

When in 1994 he went off to North Korea to insinuate himself into President Clinton's negotiations with the North Koreans over their illegal nuclear development program, his actions were historically without precedent. No former president had ever interfered with an incumbent president's foreign policy. Tension between Washington and Pyongyang was growing. The North Koreans had promised to allow international inspection of their nuclear programs in 1991, but in 1993 they reneged. The Clinton Administration was contemplating imposing sanctions. Out of the blue, in comes Carter.

Clinton was incensed. Democrats were incensed. Republicans were incensed. But Jimmy purred. On his own he negotiated with the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, and by the fall the Clinton Administration had an agreement from North Korea not to pursue nuclear arms.

James Taranto of OpinionJournal.com has dredged up a 1998 article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that pretty much encapsulates the doves' hauteur over Carter's impudent act, "Three and a half years ago, the United States very nearly blundered into war with North Korea. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton administrations wanted that outcome; but few senior officials were willing to take the domestic political risks to avoid it by making a nuclear deal with North Korea. It took a former president, Jimmy Carter, to defuse the crisis….Carter…obtained Kim Il Sung's personal pledge to freeze North Korea's nuclear program….The June 1994 crisis was a turning point in American nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. For three years the United States had tried to coerce North Korea into halting its nuclear arming, and failed. Then it tried cooperation and succeeded."

I wonder what the author of that bilge is thinking today. And back to my original point. What is Carter thinking? One of the amazing things about Carter is that he never learned from experience. He was the same shameless poseur at the end of his presidency as he was at the beginning. So, Mr. Carter, what went wrong from the day you got Kim Il Sung to "freeze" his nuclear program to the day his countrymen recommenced it? I do hope someone will ask. And when they do, will Carter smile?

Of Carter it has been said that he just cannot fathom the evil that exists in the world. He is simply too good to recognize the coarseness of Communist dictators or for that matter of dictators of any kind. This might be true, but his personal naiveté is not the only explanation for the trust he places in brutes. Carter is perverse. He likes to thumb his nose, and he thumbs it at official American policy.

That explains his recent outburst against the Bush Administration's policy toward Saddam Hussein. In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post he rebuked the Administration's "belligerent and divisive voices." He insisted "there is no current danger to the United States from Baghdad." How would he know? Did he have a conversation with Saddam similar to his conversation with the North Korean thug? And how would he characterize the North Koreans' insolent admission last week? Would he characterize it as "belligerent and divisive"? Or is this only the kind of language he reserves for American administrations? I bet it makes him smile.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.