Carter Wins Nobel Peace Prize
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RAY SUAREZ: We get three perspectives on Mr. Carter, the peacemaker. Zbigniew Brzezinski was National Security Adviser to President Carter and was at his side throughout the Camp David negotiations. Historian Douglas Brinkley is author of a book about Mr. Carter’s post-White House years, “The Unfinished Presidency.” And Marshall Frady covered Mr. Carter in Georgia and has written several books about the South and southern political figures.
Well, in the Nobel citation from the committee, one of the first things they mention, Zbigniew Brzezinski is the Camp David agreement. What was essential about Jimmy Carter being the third member of that three-corner negotiation?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, he was essential. He really was essential. Without him, there would have been no agreement. To be sure, in different ways, both Sadat and Begin realized that they could achieve some strategic interest by accommodating, but they were so far apart, and they were so antagonistic towards each other that without Carter’s persistence, dedication, grasp of the issues but above all, persistence, willingness to press both, there would have been no accord.
He was essential. He was the one who was the true architect of that peace agreement and I must say a year or so later, when I briefed him as a I did every morning, early in the morning, I came to my office and I heard that Sadat and Begin were given the Nobel Peace Prize but not Carter, I was outraged. I was then the first person to see him and I remember to this day walking into that office and he was sitting in the arm chair by the fireplace in the Oval Office, reading the “New York Times” story. And I was sick to my stomach I was so furious. And I talked to him about it. And he was serene, wistful, but I think he was hurt. And this is wonderful compensation, and a really justified award. I was so happy this morning as if it was something directly involving me. It is just really great. It is nice to be on your show, first time ever not talking about some international crisis but about something that is in a human sense truly warming.
RAY SUAREZ: Douglas Brinkley, what at is it about Jimmy Carter’s personality that made him essential at Camp David?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: His tenacity. He did not want to give up or give into anything. He was able to at one point even able to have Begin up against the wall, essentially not letting him go when he wanted to leave. And his true belief that peace could be had in the Middle East, and he has continued that process during his post-presidency, using the Carter Center as his base.
RAY SUAREZ: We heard him quote St. Paul during that interview. Those kinds of things seem to come out of him more easily than most public figures in our history and in our contemporary politics. Genuine? Studied? What is it?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: It’s very genuine. Jimmy Carter does not wear his religion on his sleeve. It’s in his heart. When I was doing research and writing on him, I realized when he was in the Navy, and many people don’t realize, Carter has had the second longest military career of any president in this century after Dwight Eisenhower – that he would hold bible classes when he was in the Navy. Sometimes when other men were on leave, he was there and would talk about Christianity and Christ. And so the religion is a big part of his life. In many ways, he’s a Baptist missionary. And, remember, that his mother, Miss Lillian, worked in the Peace Corps to help people with leprosy. And he inherited that tradition from her also.
So I think it is a combination of his bedrock intelligence, his tenacity and the spiritual life, God and Christ mean a great deal to Jimmy Carter. And I’m just very pleased, like Mr. Brzezinski, that he finally got this award. I thought he would have gotten it in 1994. Every year he is on the short list. And it was time indeed. I hope he is enjoying this great, great honor. Now I think he is joining Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt as one of the three Nobel Peace Prize winning presidents and perhaps won’t be seen with the middle brow or low brow presidents. He has become a great American hero today all over the world.
RAY SUAREZ: Marshall Frady, you heard the Southern Baptist part of him talked about. You were covering him as a Georgia legislator. At the same time he is very much of the South and of the Church and of his times. Was he also an outsider?
MARSHALL FRADY: Well, in those times, those were the years of sulfur during the Civil Rights Movement and just his essential decency, which was conspicuously evident even at that time in the convulsions of the ’60s, set him apart. And he had a kind of Sunday school teacher’s earnestness about him that one could not imagine being translated or transferred then into the fearsome machineries of government and power.
And I’m not sure he did make that transfer all together that easily. And his administration, he carried that sort of Southern schoolteacher’s morality and earnestness and didacticism on into a culture of power in Washington, which did not receive it that hospitably. And the Presidency, his Presidency had splendid moments, one of which has certainly already been mentioned. It also happened to be the case that the principle of human rights, human rights, for the first time, emerged out of the Carter Administration as part of a vocabulary of discussion of international conduct – one of those invisible values that he cited.
But to a great degree the presidency for Carter, some have said, that it is a splendid misery. But in many respects, it was nothing but misery for Carter. He just was not that agreeably received by that whole firmament of consequence and the establishment, that company town that he found himself isolated in and as an outsider, but when he was defeated, as sorely as he smarted over that, as it’s now whimsically wound up, it was like a liberation for what was deepest and had been deepest in him all along. And it was that earnest Sunday school– it’s that quality in the American character that Jane Kramer in a classic essay in the New Yorker many years ago cited, it was like a last– like the last cowboy, but the quality of the American character as she put it, expressing right. Acting right. And it is doubtful that any president has had a more distinguished and auspicious post-presidential season and career. It’s almost like he was liberated into what is his second term and a global ministry that is open ended, and he has really arrived now after this long and one of the most fantastic and fabulous and fascinating odysseys in American political history, has finally arrived now at his moment of truth, at his destiny.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me touch again on human rights, Marshall Frady mentioned it. It wasn’t just human rights but a really much more expansive reading of what was included under the rubric, wasn’t it?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Absolutely. And it also involved a sense of optimism about the future. Don’t forget that was a time when many people thought the Soviet Union was riding the crest of history and the United States was going downward. The commitment to human rights so deeply identified with the United States revitalized a sense of historical optimism about America’s mission in the world. But I would like to add a further dimension to what was so ably said by the two biographers. Carter was committed to human rights. Carter was deeply religious. But Carter also knew how to wield political power. He knew how to press Sadat and Begin to reach peace and he understood that peace would not be achieved by neglect, but could only be achieved by commitment. And he made that commitment and he stuck to it.
And when it was necessary, he was quite prepared to use force, even commit America to serious obligations in the face of potential conflict; for example, the Carter doctrine for the defense of the Persian Gulf area to react to the possibility of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and downfall of Iran. These were serious commitments. So he combined both the spiritual dimension and the idealistic and yet he had that appreciation for power when power ought to be used. He was willing to threaten Sadat; he was willing to threaten Begin – both of them — even in the face of domestic controversy, in order to achieve what he needed to achieve and what he did achieve in Camp David. And I feel that he got a short shrift historically, initially after the end of his presidency. But just as it was said, I think we are now reevaluating him and this award, in a sense, puts a new stamp on him; I think he is going to be viewed increasingly as a very, very successful important president.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Douglas Brinkley, you’ve called it the unfinished presidency, but the men who held the job while he was out fulfilling his destiny in the ’80s and ’90s, were they always happy about having a freelance diplomat on the road with also the clout and name recognition that a former President of the United States has?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: No, it was complicated. The Reagan Administration wanted nothing do with Jimmy Carter. It is true Ronald Reagan went to the opening of the Carter Center but Carter wasn’t invited to the White House, wasn’t consulted — wasn’t welcomed at our embassies abroad and wasn’t invited to the Reagan White House for the unveiling of his own portrait. But things changed when George Sr. came into the White House, things changed because James Baker developed a new relationship with Jimmy Carter. They used him very effectively for a while. Carter, remember in 1989, went to Panama to mediate the elections there.
And it was Carter who pointed a finger at General Manuel Noriega and called him a thief, somebody who was dishonest, who ran a fraudulent election. And Carter’s word was believed around the hemisphere. Some people were skeptical about the Bush Administration and what they were doing in Panama but everybody believed Carter because he was the broker of the Panama Canal treaties, and therefore, once again his presidency gave his post-presidency credibility.
Daniel Ortega had actually visited the White House and the Sandinistas came to Washington and Carter caught a lot of flack from the right for that, but in 1990, Ortega welcomed Carter to be a mediator and when Ortega lost, it was Jimmy Carter who went at midnight to see Daniel Ortega and said you lost; you could be do more for Nicaraguan history by bringing democracy to this country by admitting that you lost. After talking to Carter, Ortega stepped down.
But he got into trouble with the Bush Administration over Iraq, after — he was against Desert Storm, Jimmy Carter, and did everything he could to prevent that, including writing letters to various UN members urging them not to cooperate with the Bush Administration then. And that angered people like Dick Cheney and Brent Scowcroft some and they kind of cooled out on Carter. The Clinton relationship for eight years was difficult because Carter and Warren Christopher, who were very, very close, had a bit of a falling out but Carter had – I believe asserted himself very effectively in stopping a serious bloody intervention into Haiti and as earlier in the program was mentioned, in North Korea. I think his diplomacy in those two areas in 1994 was stellar — Bosnia less so.
But the Clinton Administration sort of froze him out after that because he was stealing too many headlines, was on the cover of the magazines, sometimes spoke to CNN prematurely. And Madeleine Albright in the second Clinton Administration would call and consult with Carter, but they tried to keep him at arm’s distance from even a country that was not significant to American security like Sudan, and this current administration has had nothing to do with Carter, although I was very pleased to see that President Bush called Jimmy Carter and spoke with him for a few minutes today. I thought that was a very gracious thing for the president to do.
RAY SUAREZ: Now Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter. Douglas Brinkley, gentlemen, thank you very much.