During an appearance tonight in Des Moines, former President Jimmy Carter defended his foreign policy record as others question whether recent events in Libya may wind up as President Obama’s “Jimmy Carter moment.” Carter discussed his decision to negotiate for the release of the American hostages in Iran.
“I had (advisors) — I wouldn’t even exclude my own wife — who thought that I should go and take military action because it would show the macho demeanor that many people like in an American president. Go to war and you’re kind of a hero. If you stay out of war and preserve peace, you’re too weak,” Carter said. “…We decided to negotiate…and eventually every hostage came home free and never did we lose any innocent lives.”
Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, spoke to a large crowd at Drake University for over an hour, spending about half the time answering questions.
“CNN just reported on the Libyan crisis and they called it ‘Barack Obama’s Jimmy Carter moment,” a student said, adding: “I was wondering your views on this.”
At first, Carter joked: “I think I understand the question. It’s the kind of question sometimes I don’t want to understand.”
Carter’s wife and the crowd laughed. Carter then told the crowd that, as president, he decided “tens of thousands of innocent Iranians” would have been killed if he had taken military action against Iran for taking the hostages.
“Many people still look on that as a symbol that I was a weak president,” Carter said, pausing before he added: “Sometimes it takes more courage to preserve the peace than it does to go to war.”
The crowd’s applause lasted until his wife, Rosalynn, chimed in by saying she didn’t like that criticism of her husband.
“But I don’t worry about it ’cause I’m so confident that Jimmy was a good president. Jimmy worked with the Republicans and the Democrats. He passed more legislation that any president since Lyndon Johnson including the ones up until today and I just wish Obama,” she said, pausing before saying: “good luck — and to have as much courage as Jimmy Carter had.”
Earlier this afternoon Carter and his wife met with about 150 Drake students and faculty. Carter was asked if he agrees with President Obama’s statement that Egypt is neither an ally nor an enemy.
“No, I think Egypt is an ally of the United States,” Carter said. “We know Egypt well…The Carter Center has been in Egypt since last September orchestrating or monitoring the conduct of the election.”
In an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo on Wednesday, President Obama said of Egypt that he didn’t “think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.” The State Department later issued a statement calling Egypt a “major non-NATO ally” and a White House spokesman called Egypt a “longstanding and close partner of the United States.”
Carter addressed other foreign policy issues during his classroom conversation, criticizing the use of unmanned drones to hit terror targets overseas.
“This includes former American citizens who we look upon as dangerous to us,” Carter said. “So in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen…we have and still are killing people with our drones — not just terrorists, but innocent participants in weddings and so forth who happen to be there.”
Carter, who is 87 years old, began his remarks tonight by mentioning a cartoon that featured a child who said he wanted to grow up to be a former president.
“I made former president, but I wouldn’t have done it if the people of Iowa hadn’t put me on the road to the White House, so thank you again,” Carter said.
Carter’s surprise finish ahead of all the other Democrats competing in the 1976 Iowa Caucuses catapulted him into national prominence. Rosalynn Carter also reminisced about that 1976 campaign.
“I love Iowa,” Rosalynn Carter said. “I came here in the campaign. We had no money. We didn’t know anybody…We had to ask somebody to have a coffee for us and then we had to ask somebody if we could spend the night.”
Jimmy Carter joked that he had been “involuntarily retired from the White House by the 1980 election.”