At 89, Jimmy Carter Reminds Why He Was A Poor President

HE MAY BE DECREPIT, but he remains lucid enough to be a menace; Jimmy Carter — at an ominous and dangerous point in global affairs — has served up a salutary reminder of why he was such an ineffectual, impotent and downright dangerous President of the United States. His vacillation over a hypothetical pardon for traitor Edward Snowden is typical, and shows that 34 years after losing to Ronald Reagan in a landslide, Carter still doesn’t get it.

I have read an article in The Age this evening that has me shaking my head, and it’s not possible for me to sleep on it without making some comment. Even in his dotage, Jimmy Carter seems to have learnt little from the passage of time.

The presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) might not have ever occurred, had Richard Nixon not fallen so spectacularly from grace — and office — in August 1974; certainly the 1976 presidential election was one of the closer races, with replacement President Ford and his running mate, Bob Dole, carrying a majority of states but not votes in the United States’ electoral college. The unfancied peanut farmer and former Governor of Georgia became President, and his shortcomings paved the way for the popular actor and national security hawk , Ronald Reagan, to win the Presidency in 1980 in a canter.

Carter’s presidency was marked by economic torpor in the United States, and characterised by confused foreign policy at a time (similar to that which exists today) of great international unrest, and flux in the order of global security; Carter was faced with a militarily resurgent USSR led by Leonid Brezhnev, which invaded Afghanistan on Carter’s watch in late 1979.

Under Reagan, of course, the USA and the USSR came arguably nearer to direct conflict than they had since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, although Reagan’s strategy of engaging in profligate military spending and expansion he knew the Soviets couldn’t match but were obliged to attempt to do so eventually achieved its aim of busting the USSR from within.

Even so, the seeds for what in retrospect was the dangerous decade of the 1980s were sown on Carter’s watch, with a passive and unconfrontational foreign policy that was tantamount to appeasement of the Soviets, and decades later it is clear that Carter still doesn’t get it.

In even considering a pardon — in a hypothetical sense — for US traitor Edward Snowden, Carter has neatly shown the world that the same shortcomings that cruelled his period in the White House persist today, and whilst he was at pains to specify that even as a hypothetical question he was unsure as to whether he would grant a pardon, the fact he would even consider it at all beggars belief.

Carter is right to point out that the question of pardoning Snowden is to some extent obsolete, given Snowden has neither been tried nor convicted for the allegations and accusations he faces. This, however, is where the rectitude of his position begins and ends.

Snowden’s alleged misdemeanours — that he leaked thousands of pages of highly classified material about sensitive internal processes and the intelligence activities of the United States and its allies — may not have found their way into a court of law. And they are unlikely to ever do so, with the fugitive traitor currently being shielded in Russia by the Russian government, which refuses to countenance his extradition to face what would be a certain death sentence for treason if he were to be convicted.

Snowden himself, meanwhile, has virtually admitted responsibility for the leaks he stands accused of, and has shown no remorse in those of his utterances that have been published.

It’s telling that Carter — who as readers will see from the Fairfax article I have linked — vacillates in the interview over the question of a pardon, but then says he would “certainly” consider one were Snowden to face a capital penalty despite initially trying to dismiss the question as a hypothetical.

Of course, the question is hypothetical. But Carter’s answers highlight the same pusillanimous confusion on national security matters that marked his administration and inform American voters, at the very least, of how fortunate they are not to have such a dangerous idiot in charge of their defence at a time their country one again faces a militarily resurgent Russia bent on mischief and expansion.

Not that Barack Obama is any better, mind; in fact, I can recall having quite a heated debate in London in August 2008 with learned friends who were starstruck by Obama and his soaring rhetoric. I said it was of “paramount importance” that John McCain beat Obama in November that year; he didn’t. And it is now that the US might truly rue the outcome of the 2008 election.

Carter, for his part, at least acknowledges that he thinks “Putin has to be stopped” but of course offers no ideas as to how this can be done beyond suggesting that Obama throw his weight behind whatever proposed course of action Secretary of State John Kerry (another dodgy Democrat, beaten to the White House in 2004 by a re-elected George W. Bush) cares to put forward.

But back to Snowden.

It has to be remembered that Edward Snowden has already caused the US enormous diplomatic embarrassment. His activities have also impacted America’s friends — the stoush between Australia and Indonesia over activities undertaken by the Rudd government is a case in point, the can for which is being carried by Prime Minister Tony Abbott — and Snowden has made it known that the material he has released to date represents a mere fraction of the total amount he was able to sequester from the NSA prior to going on the run.

And it must be remembered that the likes of Snowden and his Australian counterpart Julian Assange are quite capable of starting international incidents that can escalate into wars: there are good reasons the material they steal and leak are subject to secrecy provisions, and in most cases those secrecy arrangements are not incompatible with notions of open and accountable government.

Very simply, and to simplify the point, if governments are unable to conduct certain business and engage in certain conversations behind closed doors then of course international ramifications will folllow. Yet that doesn’t bother these idiots, and the proof in the pudding of their despicable actions is the fact that the leaks they perpetrate are targeted against selected governments: their objectives of “open government” are not universal, with the political Right in democratic Western countries almost invariably being the primary targets of their activities.

Snowden and Assange are not heroes. They are not agents of liberty and freedom, or openness and accountability. They are traitors, enemies, and what the North Koreans might call “despicable scum,” a commodity North Korea is well and truly familiar with the perpetration of itself.

I would say to Jimmy Carter that if Snowden, Assange, or anyone else who sees no problem peddling national secrets with a view to creating international trouble and otherwise compromising the host country are ever brought to justice and tried for treason, then a capital penalty is exactly what they deserve.

Treacherous dogs of their kind do not merit leniency, or sympathy, or indeed forgiveness, and the question of pardoning Snowden for his crimes against the USA — if he is ever able to be convicted for them — should be an open and shut exercise in outright refusal.

The fact a death sentence might be involved, to me, is neither here nor there. Yes, I support capital punishment, and I accept many others worldwide do not.

But if the penalty for treason in the United States is execution, then so should it be: and the grotesque spectacle of a one-time holder of the Presidency even contemplating the prospect of a pardon should send a shudder down the spine of any American citizen who cares whether or not their country survives, prospers, or indeed progresses.

Cater hasn’t changed. And whilst I have close to nothing favourable to say about Barack Obama as a leader in any way, shape or form, at least he isn’t Jimmy Carter.

Eyeball to eyeball with a nuclear-armed Russia whose renewed expansionist objectives remain unclear, Americans — and everyone else in the free world — can at least be thankful for that tiny mercy.

 

 

Able Archer: 30 Years On From Nuclear Near-Miss

SPARE A THOUGHT for the nuclear Armageddon that so nearly, yet inadvertently, destroyed civilisation 30 years ago; a routine military exercise at a time of heightened cold war tensions, this day in 1983, came dangerously close to triggering a colossal Soviet strike on the USA and Western Europe.

I thought it appropriate to note the 30-year anniversary of Operation Able Archer given its significance as a turning point in the Cold War, and representing as it did the time at which the world arguably came closer to devastating nuclear wipeout than at any other.

To some extent, the same issues are pertinent in the world today: thousands of nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, with a window of mere minutes for a nuclear-armed nation under apparent attack to assess the threat and strike back.

Then, as now, it represents the potential for miscalculation,with catastrophic consequences.

The world, obviously, has changed; yet in some respects, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Russia — depending on who you listen to — is a nuclear threat, either due to rearmament and modification of its nuclear arsenal and a determination to reclaim the international strength and prestige of superpower status, or because of ageing and decrepit missile and control systems that are increasingly susceptible to malfunction or accidental launch.

The USA — on President Obama’s watch, at least — seems determined to realise further steep cuts in the number of strategic nuclear warheads that remain actively deployed on high alert. Yet there is little concrete evidence to suggest America’s moves in this area are reciprocated by Russia, and in any case, stories of demoralised US nuclear forces have also found their way into the international media over the past few years.

And of course, there are the “rising threats” posed by other nations and rogue states who have either acquired nuclear weapons capability or seek imminently to do so: India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, for instance, all deepen the complexity of the nuclear equation and add to the general instability posed by nuclear weapons in a multipolar world.

The point of this post isn’t to scare anyone, or even to make a case for or agin when it comes to the world’s nuclear armaments. Rather, at what is unquestionably a significant time in the modern history of the world, I seek merely to note, and to commemorate.

To this end, just a single reference: a very good documentary that aired on Channel 4 in the UK a few years ago, dealing specifically with Able Archer, but which also provides a fascinating glimpse into the international politics and threats of the day — particularly where nuclear weapons and the politics of the Cold War are concerned.

For those unfamiliar with the background and nature of the Operation Able Archer exercises, this article (although dating to 2007) should give a broad overview of what was involved and the international environment in which the exercises took place.

The thing that struck me most in reviewing Able Archer at the weekend wasn’t the near-miss the world had with a nuclear Armageddon in 1983; rather, it was the consideration that apparently restrained the USSR from launching an all-out attack: the memory of Russia’s ambush and invasion at the hands of Nazi Germany in 1941.

And whilst I have read extensively on Able Archer over the years (nuclear politics being a bit of a pet interest), it surprises me that fewer people know about it. Everyone knows of the weather satellite launch that confused a Russian radar crew in 1995 and saw then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin open his nuclear briefcase in readiness to retaliate against the strike that proved a false alarm, but relatively few people know about this.

I support the continuing deployment of a Western nuclear deterrent; as Margaret Thatcher once observed, you can no more “disinvent” nuclear weapons than you can “disinvent” dynamite, a reality that I believe really ought to be accorded greater consideration in the arms control and arms reduction politics of the present day.

And I note that 30 years on from the near-catastrophe of Able Archer, the present generation of world leaders is largely unrestrained by the atrocities of the second world war: certainly, we all know how that disastrous conflict played out, but the key international figures of 2013 are the children of those who witnessed it first-hand, whilst the WWII generation itself is, literally, dying — and their memories with them.

I hope readers enjoy the material I have linked to and, as ever, encourage those interested to seek additional reading and media on the innocuous, routine exercise that very nearly triggered a third world war 30 years ago today.

Blast From The Past: Old-Fashioned Rhetoric, Or Simple Common Sense?

Late last night, with a little time to myself, I found myself watching clips of Ronald Reagan speeches; I thought that if we were all to take off our partisan and opinionated hats and have a look at these closely, there’s a story there — one which reflects on all of us pretty poorly.

Readers know that I have been following the US election closely; I also think most of you know that articles at The Red And The Blue have been very sparse owing to the disproportionate amount of time I have spent these past few months on a major project I’ve been working on with my media hat on. Often, it’s only after midnight that I get a little (if any) time to post, and whilst that will resolve fairly soon, it’s odd what turns up in the wee small hours.

I found some old clips of Ronald Reagan speaking last night, and have posted one here that I encourage everyone to watch. It’s only a few minutes long, and it will make sense of the comments I wish to make.

Just for a little perspective: the speech was given in 1964, two years before Reagan became Governor of California, and 16 years before he won the US Presidency; Reagan was speaking in support of that year’s Republican candidate for the Presidency, Barry Goldwater, who of course suffered one of the heaviest defeats of a Republican candidate in US history at the hands of Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.

It was the height of the Cold War, and two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962; and whilst the issues of the day were, in many ways, far more serious than what passes for retail politics today, there was still room for sloganeering.

Reagan makes a reference to “(knowing) in their hearts…” which is a direct lift from Goldwater’s election slogan, “In your heart, you know he’s right,” and which in turn was parodied by the Democrats to deadly effect — motivated by the Democratic position that Goldwater’s policies on the Soviet Union would ignite a nuclear war — as “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”

(But I digress…)

The reason I wanted to post this, having spent my short stipend of time last night looking for clips on YouTube of news digests from the USA covering the past few days of campaigning, is that it occurs to me that Reagan (and some of his contemporaries) exercised professional political communication as an art, not the degraded brawling drudge that the grind of politics has become today.

Reagan — the “Gipper,” the Great Communicator — was a masterful politician, with a skill for mass political communication as simple as it was devastating.

Have a listen again to the clip I’ve posted. These are complex (and to some extent, dangerous) ideas from a complex and enigmatic figure in Reagan, communicated in stark simplicity yet to great effect, and with the brutal import of the full weight of the message he seeks to convey present in every sentence.

It really doesn’t matter whether you stand on the left or right of the political spectrum (a divide broadly between Liberals and Conservatives/Democrats and Republicans in the US, and between Labor and Liberal in Australia); it isn’t even necessary to particularly like Ronald Reagan, or other politicians of his generation across the Western world.

The point is that our own politicians are shameful by comparison. Go back over the speech. Can anyone seriously imagine Julia Gillard droning boringly on, with her nasal twang and that frightful accent, and covering the issues Reagan speaks about with even a modicum of the effectiveness of the Reagan speech? Or Tony Abbott, aaah-ing and halting and smirking his way through a speech on the same terms?

More to the point, would anyone pay much attention to either of them in such a circumstance?

It’s little wonder that politics and politicians are sometimes held in such low regard these days for a range of reasons, but watching this old clip last night, it hit me right between the eyes that the most basic problem — at the most fundamental of levels — is that our politicians don’t speak to people.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? At least it sounds like a silly thing to say until you realise it’s actually true.

Politics is many things; the art of the possible, governed by the numbers, the way to change the world, or whatever other prism through which you care to look at it.

But politicians in Australia — on both sides of politics, at all levels of government, and across the country — are all guilty of transmogrifying into regurgitators of scripted remarks for television airtime opportunities rather than being the communicative link between the people and their governments that they should be.

The most imbecilic and moronic manifestation of this in recent years was that stupid “Moving Forward” line Gillard used during the last election campaign, even in sentences and contexts in which it was totally inappropriate.

Not to be outdone, however, Abbott scores a close second with some of his more shrill pronouncements on the carbon tax.

I’d like to hear what people think — if, after another involuntary hiatus in posting articles my readers are still here, that is! Seriously, though — I could have picked a clip from one of a dozen leaders from the 1960s instead of the one from Reagan; even our own Bob Menzies, or Britain’s Harold Wilson, are contemporaries of Reagan who  exemplify the point I’m making.

And in singling Australian politicians out — and some of them must rank among the worst in the democratic world in terms of communication skills — my point is borne out by the contrastingly reasoned, reasonable and authentic campaigns being conducted by Mitt Romney and Barack Obama for the US Presidency at present, weighed against what will almost certainly be a further onslaught of verbal diarrhoea from our own politicians in the run-up to next year’s federal election.

Would you pay more attention to politicians if they actually spoke to their audience — even if you disagreed with their message — instead of spouting slickly packaged spin lines?

Or when it comes to politics and politicians, is it literally a case of a pox upon both their houses for you…and best left at that?