Comparing the foreign policies of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama has been like comparing apples to, well, apples.
Carter tried accommodating America’s enemies. He cut back on defense. He made humility the hallmark of American diplomacy. Sound familiar? It might be too much to argue that the current President’s doctrine plagiarized the peanut farmer. But it is not too much of a stretch.
Carter and Obama not only had similar styles of engaging with the rest of the world, but both of their presidencies fell into the same pitfalls. Enemies perceived their penchant for half-measures and exploited them.
Dinesh D’Souza wrote in 2007 Giving Radical Islam It’s Start that because Jimmy Carter and his liberal advisers helped the Ayatollah Khomeini to come to power in Iran a quarter of a century ago. Thus they gave radical Islam control of its first major state.
The importance of the Khomeini revolution is that it demonstrated the viability of the Islamic theocracy in the modern age. And to this day post-Khomeini Iran provides a viable model of what the Islamic radicals hope to achieve throughout the Muslim world.
Khomeini also popularized the idea of America as a “great Satan.” Before Khomeini, no Muslim head of state had said this about America. Khomeini was also the first Muslim leader in the modern era to advocate violence as a religious duty and to give special place to martyrdom. Since Khomeini, Islamic radicalism has continued to attract aspiring martyrs ready to confront the Great Satan. In this sense, the seeds of 9/11 were sown a quarter of a century ago when Khomeini came to power.
Khomeini’s ascent to power was aided by the policies of Jimmy Carter and his allies on the political left. Carter was elected president in 1976 by stressing his support for human rights. From the time he took office, the left contrasted Carter’s rights doctrine with the Shah’s practices. The left denounced the Shah as a vicious and corrupt dictator, highlighting and in some cases magnifying his misdeeds. Left-leaning officials such as Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, UN envoy Andrew Young, and State Department human rights officer Patricia Derian pressed Carter to sever America’s longstanding alliance with the Shah. Eventually Carter came to agree with his liberal advisers that he could not in good conscience support the Shah.
When the Shah moved to arrest mullahs who called for his overthrow, leftists in America and Europe denounced these actions. Former diplomat George Ball called on the U.S. government to curtail the Shah’s exercise of power. Acceding to this pressure, Carter called for the release of political prisoners and warned the Shah not to use force against the demonstrators in the streets.
When the Shah petitioned the Carter administration to purchase tear gas and riot control gear, the human rights office in the State Department held up the request. Some, like State Department official Henry Precht, urged the U.S. to prepare the way for the shah to make a “graceful exit” from power. William Miller, chief of staff on the Democrat-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee, said America had nothing to fear from Khomeini since he would be a progressive force for human rights. U.S. Ambassador William Sullivan even compared Khomeini to Mahatma Gandhi, and Andrew Young termed the ayatollah a “twentieth century saint.”
As the resistance gained momentum and the Shah’s position weakened, he looked to the United States government to help him. Carter aide Gary Sick reports that the Shah discovered many enemies, and few friends, in the Carter administration. Increasingly paranoid, the Shah pleaded with the United States to help him stay in power. Carter refused. Deprived of his last hope, with the Persian rug pulled out from under him, the Shah decided to abdicate. The Carter administration encouraged him to do so, and the cultural left celebrated his departure. The result, of course, was Khomeini.
The Carter administration’s role in assisting with the downfall of the Shah is one of America’s great foreign policy disasters of the twentieth century. In trying to get rid of the bad guy, Carter got the worse guy. His failure, as former Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, was the result of being “unable to distinguish between America’s friends and enemies.” Carter does not deserve sole discredit for these actions. This intellectual framework that shaped Carter’s misguided strategy was supplied by the political left.
By aiding the Shah’s ouster and with Khomeini’s consolidation of power, the left collaborated in giving radical Islam its greatest victory in the modern era. Seems the Obama Arab Spring looks a lot like the ousting of the Shah only this time the Muslim Brotherhood is the new Khomeini and those guys have an open invitation to the White house.