Friday, January 19, 2007

Blogging Dr. Stein

Binah recently heard Dr. Kenneth Stein, professor of Middle East history and politics at Emory University and former head of the Carter Center there, speak on Jimmy Carter's new book and his own resignation from the Carter Center. His was a speech both impassioned and enlightening, about the errors, distortions, half-truths, and plagiarisms in Carter's book, and partly about the book's larger negative impact on Americans' understanding of the Arab-Israel conflict.

Stein had a somewhat different take on Carter and the book than that taken earlier on this blog. Stein might not agree with this concise reduction of his argument, but my impression boils down to one of Carter, increasingly over the last two decades, falling into the grip of delusions of grandeur. Starting from a seed in the early 80s, this delusion has since grown into a kind of monstrous fantasy: I'm Jimmy Carter, and in spite of what you think, I'm still president, and I'm the real peace negotiator. His post-presidential career has featured some - shall we say? - unusual level of interference in American policy and "I'm-really-still-president" criticism of later presidents. Carter's tendencies in this direction got worse after Clinton became the next Democratic president after himself. His receipt of the Nobel peace prize in 2002 inflated his delusions all the more. Apparently, part of these delusions interacted with his older dislike of Begin and other Israeli leaders to create, in his mind, a collection of bogeymen - in his faulty thinking, those really responsible for the lack of Middle East peace. He derives from this a "right" to change facts and rewrite history at will. See here for a detailed critique of some of Carter's most egregious errors, concerning the nature of UN resolution 242 (dating from immediately after the 1967 war) and what it does and does not require of all parties to the conflict.

Carter always believed that he had been turned out of office unjustly. Many people at the time - including much of his own party - believed his presidency to be a failure, and more people and certainly many historians have come to believe the same since 1980. But in his own mind, his failure was really a sign of a higher morality and purpose not shared by other presidents. This delusion enables him to sit in questionable judgment of other leaders and diplomats, read their minds, and tell them what they "really" did, said, and thought. His book is full of such embarrassing material.

A revealing example of this came recently in a radio interview in which Carter simply denied Hamas' publicly and repeatedly stated goal of destroying Israel. At first, he said, that's not true, they didn't say that - a bald falsehood. But he finished by saying, I didn't hear that. That's the real Jimmy Carter - he didn't hear that, and a lot else besides - not because it wasn't said, but because it doesn't fit his delusions.

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