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Jimmy Carter's No Real Humanitarian

by Gordon Smith


When former President Jimmy Carter speaks to the graduates of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on May 3, the listeners might bear in mind that Carter's reputation for principled concern for the downtrodden is open to question. Carter has done some benevolent things after 1981, as ex-President. He's built homes for the poor, spoken eloquently on behalf of human rights, helped the Haitian dictator Cedras resign, and presided over the negotiations ending the Yugoslav War.

While all of this is good, Carter presided over some serious war crimes in the Third World. Despite Carter's reputation as the President who placed human rights as the top priority for his foreign policy, any examination of the actual policies behind the public relations initiative reveals the Carter Administration's continuation of US support for monstrous Third World regimes.

  • Carter secretly supported the genocidal Pol Pot government ousted by Vietnam in 1979. This secret support was essential to further punishment of Vietnam for having successfully defended her own population against the American invaders. US Indochina strategy also intended to outflank the Vietnamese, who were aligned with the Soviet Union, and to back the Pol Pot forces, aligned with China.
  • Carter declared his support for the Shah of Iran-despite the rampant torture practiced by the Shah's secret police in close collaboration with the C.I.A.-more emphatically than Richard Nixon had: "There is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal friendship and gratitude."
  • Following the Indonesians' 1975 invasion of East Timor, Carter continued to arm Indonesia's army dictatorship as well as give diplomatic support (vetoing U.N. resolutions to end the atrocities in the former Portuguese colony). This war has killed more than 200,000 East Timorese, making it the worst genocide relative to population since World War II. Carter did nothing to pressure General Suharto (Indonesia's chief of state) to end the war. He was an ally and major supporter of the Indonesian military's repression of its own population, as well as the slaughter of the East Timorese people. The army's murderous stranglehold on East Timor will continue as long as the ruling military clique of Indonesia lets transnational oil companies have a good share of East Timorese oil profits.
  • During his watch, Carter aided and supported Nicaragua's then-dictator Anastasio Somoza, who murdered and repressed tens of thousands of his own people. When Somoza's forces were about to lose control of the main cities, Carter attempted to launch an invasion under the fig leaf of an intervention by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS refused and Carter then planned to send the US military to salvage Somoza's army, which was established by and beholden to the US government-but it was too late. Carter made sure that Somoza was ferried out of the country on a Red Cross-painted US aircraft. The C.I.A. under Carter helped to re-establish Somoza's army as a terrorist force against the people of Nicaragua. These "contras" assassinated social workers, doctors and civilians, burned crops, and tried to exterminate any possibility of social reform that the Sandinistas created.

These major crimes against the Third World warrant attention. As he is introduced to the assembled graduates and their families, there will doubtlessly be no verbal recollection of Carter's role in backing oppression and violence. Instead, the introduction will likely pay homage by echoing the major media's superficial trumpeting of Carter's devotion to human rights and his Christian beliefs and good deeds as ex-President. If Carter were more honest, instead of admitting to contemplating adultery as in his infamous 1976 Playboy interview, he would admit his support of war crimes to the thousands of Chapel Hill graduates.

  Gordon Smith is a Raleigh resident.  

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