22 December 2006

Der Spiegel Interview with Jimmy Carter

August 15, 2006
"The US and Israel Stand Alone"

Former US president Jimmy Carter speaks with DER SPIEGEL about the danger posed to American values by George W. Bush, the difficult situation in the Middle East and Cuba's ailing Fidel Castro.

Former US president Jimmy Carter: "I don't think that Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Carter, in your new book you write that only the American people can ensure that the US government returns to the country's old moral principles. Are you suggesting that the current US administration of George W. Bush of acting immorally?
Carter: There's no doubt that this administration has made a radical and unpressured departure from the basic policies of all previous administrations including those of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

SPIEGEL: For example?

Carter: Under all of its predecessors there was a commitment to peace instead of preemptive war. Our country always had a policy of not going to war unless our own security was directly threatened and now we have a new policy of going to war on a preemptive basis. Another very serious departure from past policies is the separation of church and state, which I describe in the book. This has been a policy since the time of Thomas Jefferson and my own religious beliefs are compatible with this. The other principle that I described in the book is basic justice. We've never had an administration before that so overtly and clearly and consistently passed tax reform bills that were uniquely targeted to benefit the richest people in our country at the expense or the detriment of the working families of America.

SPIEGEL: You also mentioned the hatred for the United States throughout the Arab world which has ensued as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Given this circumstance, does it come as any surprise that Washington's call for democracy in the Middle East has been discredited?

Carter: No, as a matter of fact, the concerns I exposed have gotten even worse now with the United States supporting and encouraging Israel in its unjustified attack on Lebanon.

SPIEGEL: But wasn't Israel the first to get attacked?

Carter: I don't think that Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon. What happened is that Israel is holding almost 10,000 prisoners, so when the militants in Lebanon or in Gaza take one or two soldiers, Israel looks upon this as a justification for an attack on the civilian population of Lebanon and Gaza. I do not think that's justified, no.

SPIEGEL: Do you think the United States is still an important factor in securing a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis?

Carter: Yes, as a matter of fact as you know ever since Israel has been a nation the United States has provided the leadership. Every president down to the ages has done this in a fairly balanced way, including George Bush senior, Gerald Ford, and others including myself and Bill Clinton. This administration has not attempted at all in the last six years to negotiate or attempt to negotiate a settlement between Israel and any of its neighbors or the Palestinians.

SPIEGEL: What makes you personally so optimistic about the effectiveness of diplomacy? You are, so to speak, the father of Camp David negotiations.
Carter: When I became president we had had four terrible wars between the Arabs and Israelis (behind us). And I under great difficulty, particularly because Menachim Begin was elected, decided to try negotiation and it worked and we have a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt for 27 years that has never been violated. You never can be certain in advance that negotiations on difficult circumstances will be successful, but you can be certain in advance if you don't negotiate that your problem is going to continue and maybe even get worse.

SPIEGEL: But negotiations failed to prevent the burning of Beirut and bombardment of Haifa.

Carter: I'm distressed. But I think that the proposals that have been made in the last few days by the (Lebanese) Prime Minister (Fuoad) Siniora are quite reasonable. And I think they should declare an immediate cease-fire on both sides, Hezbollah said they would comply, I hope Israel will comply, and then do the long, slow, tedious negotiation that is necessary to stabilize the northern border of Israel completely. There has to be some exchange of prisoners. There have been successful exchanges of prisoners between Israel and the Palestinians in the past and that's something that can be done right now.

SPIEGEL: Should there be an international peacekeeping force along the Lebanese-Israeli border?

Carter: Yes.

SPIEGEL: And can you imagine Germans soldiers taking part?

Carter: Yes, I can imagine Germans taking part.

SPIEGEL: ... even with their history?

Carter: Yes. That would be certainly satisfactory to me personally, and I think most people believe that enough time has passed so that historical facts can be ignored.

SPIEGEL: One main points of your book is the rather strange coalition between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party. How can such a coalition of the pious lead to moral catastrophes like the Iraqi prison scandal in Abu Ghraib and torture in Guantanamo?

Carter: The fundamentalists believe they have a unique relationship with God, and that they and their ideas are God's ideas and God's premises on the particular issue. Therefore, by definition since they are speaking for God anyone who disagrees with them is inherently wrong. And the next step is: Those who disagree with them are inherently inferior, and in extreme cases -- as is the case with some fundamentalists around the world -- it makes your opponents sub-humans, so that their lives are not significant. Another thing is that a fundamentalist can't bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality. And so this administration, for instance, has a policy of just refusing to talk to someone who is in strong disagreement with them -- which is also a radical departure from past history. So these are the kinds of things that cause me concern. And, of course, fundamentalists don't believe they can make mistakes, so when we permit the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, it's just impossible for a fundamentalist to admit that a mistake was made...

Read the reast of the interview at the link above.

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