News & Politics

Nobel Committee Honors Carter, Disses Bush

The chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee says the selection of Jimmy Carter is also a criticism of current U.S. foreign policy.
Friday's announcement that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize represents a pointed challenge to the unilateralist foreign policy advocated by rightwing hawks in the Bush administration.

While the announcement itself cited Carter's "vital contribution" to the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt -- one of the stellar achievements of Carter's four-year tenure (1977-1981) -- as well as his subsequent peace-making and human rights activities, the criticism of the Bush regime was implicit in its wording.

Reading out the announcement written by the five-person Nobel Committee, Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said, "In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development."

But the chairman of the Nobel Committee, Gunnar Berge, was far more direct in his statements to the press. He said the award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States."

Over the past year, the former president has emerged as one of the most articulate and eloquent critics of the ultra-rightwing trend in U.S. foreign policy. He has publicly assailed a wide array of Bush policies, including the planned war on Iraq, handling of the Middle East crisis, relations with Cuba and its failure to provide substantially increased aid to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.

In a Sept. 5 Washington Post article, “The Troubling New Face of America,” Carter took aim at Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, accusing them of leading a "core group of conservatives who are trying to realize pent-up ambitions under the cover of the proclaimed war against terrorism." In the same article, he also flatly rejected the Cheney-Rumsfeld push to launch a unilateral war with Iraq.

The article was a detailed indictment of the administration's record: "Peremptory rejections of nuclear arms agreements, the biological weapons convention, environmental protection, anti-torture proposals, and punishment of war criminals have sometimes been combined with economic threats against those who might disagree with us."

"Belligerent and divisive voices now seem to be dominant in Washington," Carter wrote. "It is crucial that the historical and well-founded American commitments prevail: to peace, justice, human rights, the environment and international co-operation."

Carter's most significant accomplishments as a president built on these same principles. His major foreign policy achievements included the Camp David agreement of 1978, the ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty, the establishment of full diplomatic relations with China, and a major nuclear arms agreement with the Soviet Union. He is perhaps best remembered, however, for his championship of human rights, especially in Latin America, as well as his denunciation of Washington's "inordinate fear of communism."

After retirement, Carter threw himself into international diplomacy and humanitarian work, mostly organized through the Carter Center, which he and his wife Rosalynn founded in 1982. In some cases, his mediation efforts were supported by the U.S. government, as when he and the current secretary of state, Colin Powell, helped arrange the peaceful intervention of U.S. troops into Haiti to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994. In other cases, such as his dramatic trip that same year to Pyongyang to defuse a major crisis between the U.S. and North Korea over nuclear inspections, government officials saw him as meddlesome, even as they later built on the progress and trust he had established.

In his public writings over the past year, Carter has become increasingly outspoken against Bush's unqualified support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In a column last April, he called for withholding aid to Israel if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not withdraw his troops from West Bank towns and charged that Sharon's "ultimate goals" were "to establish Israeli settlement as widely as possible throughout the occupied territories and to deny Palestinians a cohesive political existence." Carter strongly deplored Bush's alignment behind Sharon in June, and attacked Rumsfeld, in particular, for undermining Bush's own commitments to a Palestinian state when he referred to the "so-called occupation" and predicted there would eventually emerge within his lifetime "some sort of (Palestinian) entity."

Like Colin Powell, whom he has publicly supported, Carter is in favor of returning the United States to a true mediation role whose ultimate aim should be the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions that require the exchange of "land for peace." He said Bush's Middle East policy "indicates a radical departure from policies of every administration since 1967, always based on the withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories and a genuine peace between Israelis and their neighbors," Carter noted.

Carter has also not been afraid to challenge the Bush administration on its Cuba policy. In May, he became the first former American president to visit the island since the Revolution, not only calling for an end to the embargo but also contradicting statements by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Strategy John Bolton that Cuba may possess a biological weapons program. He told reporters none of the briefings he had received from the administration before his trip contained any mention of such concerns.

The White House seemed flustered by the announcement of the Nobel award and at press time, had yet to issue a formal statement. "We don't know if we'll have anything to say on it," a press officer told AlterNet, "and if we do, it will probably be later this afternoon."

Bush did call his predecessor to congratulate him and the two spoke for a few minutes.
"It was a friendly conversation," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, when asked by reporters. But he declined to respond to prize committee chairman Berge's statement. "The president thinks this is a great day for Jimmy Carter and that's what he's going to focus on," he said.

Carter has also declined to comment on the implied criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the crisis with Iraq. "I hope this award reflects a universal acceptance and even embrace of this broad-based concept of human rights," he said. But in a CNN interview on Larry King, he clearly stated that he would have voted no on Thursday's congressional resolution allowing the president to use force against Iraq.

Few doubt that Carter will soon be using his renewed celebrity to press his case against the excesses of the uber-hawks. And many around the world would certainly want him to do just that.

"I think the world will generally accept this award as being a very positive sign from the rest of the world about how we would like to see the U.S. behave in world affairs," noted Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham.
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