Term Paper: Jimmy Carter and Human Rights the Great

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Jimmy Carter and Human Rights

The great democracies are not free because we are strong and prosperous. I believe we are strong and influential and prosperous because we are free." -- Jimmy Carter

In foreign affairs, Carter said human rights were "the soul of our foreign policy." As the Grolier's Encyclopedia says in its article on Jimmy Carter and the Presidency, "His frequent criticism of nations that violated basic human rights and his pleas in behalf of Soviet dissidents angered the Soviet government" (the Presidency 294).

In 1977, Carter began a focus on human rights through his presidential powers, beginning with the campaign to give back Panama Canal without negative repercussions. In 1977 the public was clearly against "losing" the Panama Canal. Carter's honeymoon after a successful preesidential election was spent on a serious campaign to change America's attitude toward the Third World. This campaign sent Andrew Young's on many trips to Africa, and set forth a new human rights policy, a softened American traditional sponsorship of right-wing dictators. Removing America' from owning a colonial outpost in Panama was necessary to such a program (Wills, 334).

Carter managed to secure congressional ratification by one vote after an extended and angry debate, of two Panama Canal treaties in 1977, establishing a timetable to pass control of the canal over to Panama.

When Carter came into office, he focused on global interdependence and North-South cooperation rather than East-West conflict. He conceived foreign policy as being radically different from that of his predecessors. He believed in maintaining a free society to set an example for the rest of the world, and that this was more important role than being the policeman of the world, as the U.S. was considered a superpower. In essence, he was suggesting America maintain a role in world politics as a society not as a superpower.

Carter wrongly assumed that deterrence was a flawless strategy; believing that nuclear power was a weapon of denial and deterrence, and its existence made conventional arms less likely to be used, because of the danger of escalation. He also believed that low profile politics and honorable dealings with domestic issues were as important, if not more important, than high politics and foreign policy. It appeared that Carter was placing importance on socio-economic issues, rather than foreign policy, when he was elected. This set the tone for America being a model democratic society which had simply strayed away during the violence and power politics of Nixon and Kissinger. Carter and Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance's attitude toward foreign policy differed immensely from their predecessors.

All seemed to be going well during Carter's presidency, with success after success in the foreign policy arena. But a terrible thing happened during the last part of his campaign to establish relationships with the Soviet Union. The Soviets began an aggressive military campaign in the Middle East. Carter began negotiations over weapons limits. The U.S. tried to set limits on the numbers of Soviet and U.S. nuclear-weapons systems through a senate bill. Although Jimmy Carter and Leonid

Brezhnev signed the Salt II treaty, it was uncertain that it would be ratified by the Senate, and Carter shelved it in Jan., 1980, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. demanded they withdraw.

When the U.S.S.R. refused to withdraw, Carter initiated a trade embargo. In his final year of administration, Carter's main goal, a foreign policy based on human rights, was dwarfed by the disturbing

Iran hostage crisis, in which Iranian students invaded the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and took 55 hostages. When negotiations for release failed, Carter arranged a secret military rescue mission which failed miserably, in April of 1980.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 also resulted in Carter's insistence on an American boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow.

Carter countered a lot of criticism during his presidency and afterward over his foreign policy. When he made an agreement with Baby Doc Duvalier to not accept the asylum claims of Haitian refugees and initiated a joint U.S.-Thai operation in 1979 known as Task Force 80 which propped up the notorious Khmer Rouge for ten years and declared the U.S. owed no debt to Vietnam because of Agent Orange birth defects and villages being napalmed, he garnered harsh criticism over his stance on human rights (Mickey Z. 1).

During his term, Carter established relations with China and cut ties to Taiwan by doing this. This also created controversy. "Carter inaugurated full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979, thus cutting formal U.S. ties with the Nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan. Conservative forces severely criticized the treaties as a 'sellout' of vital American interests" (the Presidency 256).

In a speech many years later, he commented on China and explained:

It's important that we make progress toward normalizing relations with the People's Republic of China. We see the American and Chinese relationship as a central element of our global policy and China as a key force for global peace. We wish to cooperate closely with the creative Chinese people on the problems that confront all mankind. And we hope to find a formula which can bridge some of the difficulties that still separate us (Carter 952).

In spite of his policy of "international co-operation based on international law," the Carter Administration's dealings with Afghanistan had repercussions that took the U.S. into future conflicts in the middle east. As the site of the Soviet invasion in December of 1979, Carter and Brzezinski aligned themselves with the anti-Communist elements in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and, it was claimed, exploited Islam in order to arouse the Afghani to action. The CIA coordinated the effort, as $40 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars and recruited "freedom fighters" such as Osama bin Laden. It is not recalled with pride that Osama bin Laden was once an ally of the United States (Mickey Z. 1)

However, few presidents in modern times have been as devoted to the goal that American foreign policy should reflect the nation's highest moral ideals as Jimmy Carter. At a time when the United States was still grappling with its own problems of race relations and human rights, Carter advocated a policy that held other countries to the highest standard possible, a standard by which, he believed, Americans would want themselves to be judged. In 1980, for example, following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, the Carter administration cancelled American participation in the summer Olympics scheduled for Moscow as a protest against the invasion.

In a commencement speech given at Notre Dame University in June 1977, Carter reviewed what he believed should be the ideals and realities of American foreign policy.

I believe we can have a foreign policy that is democratic, that is based on fundamental values, and that uses power and influence, which we have, for humane purposes. We can also have a foreign policy that the American people both support and, for a change, know about and understand (Carter 954).

Carter also claimed to admire Anwar Sadat and Yitzak Rabin, as they inspired him in his efforts to bring peace to the middle east.

Like these two heroes, my first chosen career was in the military, as a submarine officer. My shipmates and I realized that we had to be ready to fight if combat was forced upon us, and we were prepared to give our lives to defend our nation and its principles. At the same time, we always prayed fervently that our readiness would ensure that there would be no war.

As President and as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he bore the responsibility of "maintaining global stability during the height of the Cold War, as the world's two superpowers confronted each other" (Nobel Lecture 1) There had to be constant balancing of the United States' military strength with aggressive diplomacy, seeking to build friendships with other nations, large and small. Carter talks about this dilemma he faced during his presidency:

In those days, the nuclear and conventional armaments of the United States and the Soviet Union were almost equal, but democracy ultimately prevailed because of commitments to freedom and human rights, not only by people in my country and those of our allies, but in the former Soviet empire as well. As president, I extended my public support and encouragement to Andrei Sakharov, who, although denied the right to attend the ceremony, was honored here for his personal commitments to these same ideals (Nobel Lecture 5).

As the speeches at Carter's funeral reminded us, Carter was a man of high morals, who wanted to lead the United States out of the mess that the Nixon administration had left it in. His honesty and efforts to do good was refreshing and brought a sense of upright steadfastness by the United States in spite of overpowering odds and political aggression on the part of powerful nations in the world of that day. The Soviet Union was throwing its weight around by invading Afghanistan and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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