Jimmy Carter's Modest Quest for Global Peace: The Missionary Man

Courtesy Reuters

Jimmy Carter has won public accolades for his high-profile parachutes for peace into North Korea, Haiti, and Bosnia. But the former president has also been roundly criticized by those who feel he blurs U.S. foreign policy with a personal agenda and complicates diplomacy with his ever-changing and unorthodox licenses of authority. "He is both of the American system and separate from it," a human rights activist in Haiti complained earlier this year. "I just don't get it. In September [1994] he came as a representative of President Clinton. Now it's February, and he claims just to be a university professor. To me he is an unguided missile."

The press, meanwhile, has either mythologized Carter and his accomplishments, painting him as a 70-year-old "peace outlaw" who prevails through his personal wisdom, inner drive, selfless style, and uncanny timing, or caricatured him as a vain and sanctimonious interloper searching for political redemption via a Nobel Peace Prize. Such concerns about Carter's last-resort diplomacy, particularly in the Balkan war, may say more about the inadequacies of America's post--Cold War foreign policy than about Jimmy Carter.

His critics have too often overlooked the preparations that have underpinned his diplomacy. Using the Camp David accords as a model of successful peace negotiation, Carter has worked hard to master conflict resolution theory and election monitoring, digesting mountains of information from an array of foreign policy and economic experts, many of whom were eventually employed by his center in Atlanta. The wide-ranging projects of the Carter Center itself have been made possible by his organizational and fund raising talents, attributes often overlooked in the continuing fascination with his personality.

Carter has been involved in the diplomacy of an impressive list of foreign disputes, civil wars, and political transitions in recent years, including Panama, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, North Korea, Haiti, and Bosnia. He has helped mediate and observe elections in Panama (1989), Nicaragua (1989-90), Haiti (1987, 1990), the Dominican Republic (1990), Suriname (1991), Guyana (1990-92), Paraguay (1993), and Mexico (1992-94). But why has Jimmy Carter

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