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    Middle East
     Jan 17, 2007
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Jimmy Carter's heart of dorkiness
By Spengler

Jimmy Carter's timing is dorky, as always. The same sanctimonious ineptitude that made him the least successful president in US history prompted him to wager the remains of his reputation on advocacy for the Palestinians, precisely when the Palestinians have shown themselves to be their own worst enemies. Carter's obsession with justice in Palestine has the same source as George W Bush's obsession with democracy in Iraq: horror in the face of the alternative has overwhelmed their better judgment.

Horror is the ultimate weapon of the Muslim world against the West, I long have argued. [1] Traditional society is crumbling, and

with it identities of peoples who comprise a good one-third of the world's population. Many rather would perish than give themselves over to a world that offers them neither hope nor consolation. Suicide bombing is the least expression of their despair, which impels them toward perpetual war. If entire peoples are bent on self-destruction, no outside agency can prevent it. But the destruction of whole peoples overwhelms the Western mind.

Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness gave us the archetype for fatal abhorrence: the degenerate Belgian colonial official Kurtz, who dies muttering, "The horror! The horror!" T S Eliot referred to Kurtz' horrible end in the epigraph to his poem "The Hollow Men", which concludes with the unpleasant thought: "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper." The difference between Bush and Carter is that Bush is horrified by the prospective fate of the Iraqis, whereas Carter is horrified by his own history. Bear with me, and I will try to make this clear.

Some of Carter's Jewish associates have broken with him loudly over his new book, Peace Not Apartheid, observing that it is unfair to Israelis. Carter, though, is more consistent than the Jewish liberals who now reject him. What is happening to the Palestinians is horrifying, by which I mean not simply unpleasant, but subversive of identity, in the sense of Sigmund Freud's das Unheimliche. It is not nearly as horrifying as what will happen next, however. Carter could not bring himself to confront Soviet aggression during the 1970s for the same reason that he cannot abide the predicament of the Palestinians. As he looked down the river to the end of the journey, the former president muttered, "The horror! The horror!" By deluding himself that the Palestinian predicament is something else than it really is, Carter attempts to keep the horror away.

It is easy to dismiss Carter as the most egregious dork in US politics. He nearly lost the Cold War, and nearly destroyed the US economy. By the most objective measurement of failure, namely margin of loss in a failed bid for re-election, Carter stands at the absolute bottom of the list of all US presidents. In 1980 he lost to Ronald Reagan with 49 electoral votes to Reagan's 489. The next-worst performer, Herbert Hoover, had a stronger showing against Franklin D Roosevelt during the depths of the Great Depression in 1932 (49 electoral votes to FDR's 472).

John Lewis Gaddis summarizes the Carter administration as follows:
Americans seemed mired in endless arguments with themselves, first over the Vietnam War, then Watergate, then, during Carter's presidency, over charges that he had failed to protect important allies like the Shah of Iran ... The low point came in November of [1979] when Iranians invaded the United States embassy in Tehran, taking several dozen diplomats and military guards hostage. This humiliation, closely followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few weeks later, made it seem as though Washington was on the defensive everywhere, and Moscow was on a roll. [2]
After Iran let the diplomats go, the provincial peanut farmer who stumbled into the presidency flew to the US air force base in Germany to meet them. He asked the Central Intelligence Agency psychiatrists who were debriefing the hostages, "Didn't the Iranians know what they were doing was wrong?" Call it the heart of dorkiness: Carter was so horrified by the Iranians' capacity for evil that he could not absorb the information, even when it grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him out of the White House.

Where the Palestinians are concerned, Carter keens the same trope. It is repulsive to think that a people of several millions, honeycombed with representatives of international organizations, the virtual stepchild of the United Nations, appears doomed to reduce its national fever by letting blood. The 700,000 refugees of 1948, hothoused by the UN relief agencies, prevented from emigrating by other Arab regimes, have turned into a people, but a test-tube nation incapable of independent national life: four destitute millions of third-generation refugees in the small and barren territories of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, which cannot support a fraction of that number.

The project of a Palestinian economy based on tourism and light manufacturing is a delusion in the globalized economy of Chinese-dominated trade in manufactures. The subsistence-farming fellahin should have left their land for economic reasons, like the Okies during the 1920s and 1930s, and dispersed into

Continued 1 2 

No-goodniks and the Palestinian shootout (Jan 9, '07)

If you so dumb, how come you ain't poor? (Jan 9, '07)

The coming Sunni-Shi'ite showdown (Dec 19, '06)


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