Jimmy Carter: "America is the World's No. 1 Warmonger"
April 11, 2014
David Daley / Salon
In a interview with Salon editor David Daley, former President Jimmy Carter observes: "The rest of the world, almost unanimously, looks at America as the No. 1 warmonger. That we revert to armed conflict almost at the drop of a hat -- and quite often it's not only desired by the leaders of our country, but it's also supported by the people of America."
(April 10, 2014) -- DAVID DALEY: You very clearly call out the speed with which the United States jumps into military action. You write that, "more than any nation in the world, the US has been involved in armed conflict and has used war as means of resolving disputes …"
JIMMY CARTER: That's correct, and I list some of the wars. I listed 10 or 15 and I could have listed about 10 or 15 more.
We also rarely acknowledge the loss and suffering that our policies have caused around the world. You're specifically critical of our drone wars, and of the innocent people we've killed as almost collateral damage. You've traveled to so many countries through the Carter Center: At home, we talk of American exceptionalism, of this duty to bring our great democracy to the rest of the world. Do we see ourselves accurately and understand our own history? And how does that square with how the rest of the world perceives us?
(laughs) No. The rest of the world, almost unanimously, looks at America as the No. 1 warmonger. That we revert to armed conflict almost at the drop of a hat -- and quite often it's not only desired by the leaders of our country, but it's also supported by the people of America.
We've also reverted back to a terrible degree of punishment of our people rather than the reinstitution of them back into life. And this means that we have 7.5 times as many people now in prison as when I left the governor's mansion.
We're the only country that has the death penalty in NATO; we're the only country in this hemisphere that has the death penalty, and this is another blight on our country as far as unwarranted, unnecessary and counterproductive violence are concerned.
John Kerry goes on "Meet the Press" after the Russian actions in Crimea and says, with a straight face, that "it's the 21st century, you can't just invade another country anymore." And I think a lot of us said, "Well, wait a second. That sounds a lot like something we did in Iraq, you know, during the 21st century."
Right. We did. We do it all the time. That's Washington. Unfortunately. And we have for years.
One of the criticisms of President Obama is also something that was often said about your administration: You didn't socialize enough in Washington. People didn't invite Republicans over to the White House for cocktails. There's this whole sort of myth of the heroic president twisting arms over drinks, the myth of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill getting things done at happy hour.
It seems to me that these myths are told by a Washington establishment that wants to protect itself from outsiders, and to suggest that it's dangerous, or ineffective, to put anyone other than themselves in charge. Why do you think this myth persists, and would things really be different for President Obama if he had Republicans to the White House?
Well, I don't think anyone had Republicans over the White House more than I did -- maybe not for cocktails, but to help draft legislation and to prepare helpful congressional action and to induce them to vote for my bills. As a matter of fact, I had the best batting average with the Congress, both Democratic and Republican, than any president since the Second World War except Lyndon Johnson.
It took heroic efforts on my part to get two-thirds of the Senate to vote for the Panama Canal treaty. That was the most courageous vote that the Senate ever passed. Aside from serving cocktails, we had them over -- there were no Republican House members or senators that weren't at the White House several times when I was there. And the committee chairmen were there quite regularly.
You were elected governor and president as a white male Southern Democrat, which is a segment of the population that has deserted the Democratic Party. In some Southern states now it will be maybe 30 percent of white Southern males who back the Democrats.
This is something your grandson Jason is dealing with now, certainly, as he runs for governor of Georgia. But why do you think this is? The economy only gets tougher, inequality only worsens, and the response of white men in the South is to back the party of the 1 percent. Is it race? Gender? Fear?
No, it's race. It's race. That's been prevalent in the South, except for when I ran, I secured every Southern state except Virginia. Ever since Nixon ran -- and ever since Johnson didn't campaign in the deep South, the Republicans have solidified their hold there. And even this year, as you may know, the Republicans have put forward a proposal that we have a license plate made available in Georgia with a Confederate flag on it.
Well, those kinds of things, the subtle things and the appeal to richer people, which is almost always white people, and the derogation of people that get food stamps and that sort of thing, which are quite often poor people. And the allegation that people who go to jail are just guilty people, when they're mostly black people and Hispanics and mentally ill people. Those kind of things just exalt the higher class, which is the whites, and they draw a subtle, but very effective racial line throughout the South.
What role do you think Fox News has played in exacerbating divides across the political culture and in harming our ability to come to consensus on these complicated issues that you've talked about, by stoking fear or racial animosity.
Well, CNN was founded when I was president and I thought it was the most fulfilling offering to the whole world. But I think now that the news media are fragmented. I think Fox News goes very heavily toward the Republican and conservative side, and I think MSNBC goes very heavily to the other side -- which is perfectly all right with me. Well, now anybody can choose what they want to watch. And so I think CNN kind of tries to come down the middle -- and they suffer financially because of that sometimes. But I don't have any criticism; it's a free press.
The religious leaders you discuss, across all faiths, who interpret religious texts in ways that encourage the subjugation and oppression of women: Do you think this is a deliberate misreading of the texts on their part, or that they come to these interpretations honestly?
Well, they actually find these verses in the Bible. You know, I can look through the New Testament, which I teach every Sunday, and I can find verses that are written by Paul that tell women that they shouldn't speak in church, they shouldn't adorn themselves and so forth.
But I also find verses from the same author, Paul, that say all people are created equal in the eyes of God. That men and women are the same before God; that masters and slaves are the same and that Jews and Gentiles are the same. There's no difference between people in the eyes of God.
And I also know that Paul wrote the 16th chapter of Romans to that church and he pointed out about 25 people who had been heroes in the very early church -- and about half of them are women.
So, you know, you could find verses, but as far as Jesus Christ is concerned, he was unanimously and always the champion of women's rights. He never deviated from that standard. And in fact he was the most prominent champion of human rights that lived in his time and I think there's been no one more committed to that ideal than he is.
When you look across the globe and across history, at the wars that have been fought in the name of religion, and the subjugation and violence that continues today, but also weighing that against the heroic human rights leaders you discuss, many of them who were transformative religious figures -- has religion been a net-plus or a net-minus for the world?
I think it's been a net-plus, because the basic religions we just mentioned, like Islam, Christianity, Judaism and also Buddhism and Hinduism, they all have a basic premise of peace, justice, compassion, love and so forth. So if we stick to those basic principles, then I think religion is going to benefit.
David Daley is the editor-in-chief of Salo
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