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Jimmy Carter: U.S. on a path of nuclear confrontation with North Korea

Former President Jimmy Carter says faith in each other is key to our existence, and we're losing it. In the first part of a wide-ranging interview with Judy Woodruff, Carter discusses his latest book, America in the age of Trump, his grave concerns about nuclear conflict with North Korea and John Bolton, the president’s pick to be the next national security adviser, and the Mueller investigation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 40 years have passed since a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, captured the White House, amid a moment of national upheaval.

    Former President Jimmy Carter served just one term, but has spent the decades since playing many roles, statesman, peacemaker, humanitarian, and author.

    The 39th president is out now with his 32nd book, a meditation he calls "Faith, A Journey for All."

    I spoke with him yesterday in New York in a wide-ranging interview about the book and his concerns in the age of President Trump.

    President Jimmy Carter, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    It's a great pleasure. Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you point out in your book "Faith: A Journey for All," this is the third book that you have written out of, what, over 30 that has the word faith in it.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    That's true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why did you want to write this one?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    This kind of encapsulates my deep feelings about my religion and my background in politics, my attitude towards peace and human rights, and the truth and integrity, and all the things in which you have faith, democracy, freedom.

    And it combines the various meanings of faith, which is the foundation of confidence in yourself and in your fellow human beings. And I think it's a key to our existence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's pretty powerful, the key to our existence.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    It is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you mean?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, there's a verse in the Bible that says, when Jesus returns to Earth, will he find faith on Earth?

    And, you know, if we lose faith in ourselves and our fellow human beings, then I don't know if we can continue to exist, particularly with the threat of nuclear warfare and the threat of global warming and things of that kind, where human beings for the first time in history have brought about a threat to the existence of all living things on Earth.

    So we're going to have to learn how to live in peace, and that's a long way to go.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The people who study this say we're having fewer wars, people — fewer people are dying in conflicts proportionally than centuries ago.

    But — but is it harder today to have faith than it was 1,000 years ago?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Yes, I think, to a great extent, even in the United States, we have lost faith in democracy. We have lost faith in the integrity of our human beings. We have lost faith in ourselves. We have lost faith in the future. We have lost faith in the truth.

    We have much greater division of American people than we ever had before. And we have lost faith in the future being better for our children than it has been for ourselves.

    So, there's a lot of things in which we have lost faith, including — including God.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why has that happened?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    We now have a development in America where the massive influx of money into campaigns has elevated rich people, powerful people above the average person.

    So, we are moving toward an oligarchy of a powerful element of rich people compared to a true democracy.

    And I think the other thing, besides the massive amount of money we have put into elections, is the gerrymandering of districts, which guarantees a continued polarization of people.

    We have a situation now where people who are in power impose a lot of punishment on unfortunate people. We have seven times as many people in prison now as we did when I left the White House, for instance. We have got a much greater disparity of income among Americans than we have ever had before.

    In fact, eight people in the world — six of them are from America — own as much money as half of the total population of the world, 3.5 billion people.

    In America, we have the same problem, maybe even in an exaggerated way. We have marginalized the average person, for the benefit of the wealthier people in America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's a lot of conversation about President Trump and his influence on our democracy today. What role has he played in all this?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I think we now have much less respect for the truth.

    We have a much more careless approach to threats to human existence, that is, nuclear weapons, with our confrontation with North Korea. We have abandoned the commitment that other nations have made in Paris to do something about global warming.

    So, I think some of the problems have been escalated under Trump. But the vast array of problems that we have in our American political system long preceded when Trump entered the political arena.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe his election was in part a result from all of those changes?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I do. I think — I think there was a kind of a feeling among average working people in America that they weren't getting a fair deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's also a conversation, President Carter, around the coarsening of American politics, the language that's used, the invective.

    President Trump, of course, is noted for his very forceful language in his speeches and in his tweets.

    How do you see that, and is that something the country can heal, can be healed from?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I think we can heal it by a different elected top official.

    But I think that the personal attack on other candidates, and the acceptance of falsehoods, and the forgiving of lies has lowered the respect we have for truth and also for democracy in general.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's been a remarkably turbulent, tumultuous, some say, first 14 months in office.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you think he's doing?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I don't think he's doing well.

    He's made some very serious mistakes. I think the worst mistake he's made so far has been the appointment of John Bolton to be his national security adviser.

    I know Bolton from way back at a distance. I have never met him personally. But he has been very eager to go to war with different people, including North Korea and Iran. He's been in the forefront of every kind of radical enhancement the United States can make based on its own military prowess. He's — he's told lies about things where I knew the truth. And so I just have very little confidence in him.

    I'm not singling him out. But I think that I would get along quite well with General McMaster, and I was grieved to see him go. I have been talking to him several times about the North Korean situation.

    So, I think now he's surrounding himself, as everyone knows, with people who just agree with him almost entirely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can you give an example of one of the lies John Bolton told that — where you knew the opposite to be true?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, I was in Cuba, for instance, on one of my trips down there. And I had just been through the pharmaceutical plant, of which the Cubans are very proud. They make medicines for a lot of the countries in the Third World, for instance.

    And John Bolton went on television because I was down there and said that the pharmaceutical plant was making weapons to be used in warfare in a secret way.

    I had already — I had been through the entire plant with no restraints on where I went. And so I knew that that wasn't true. And he had a false interpretation of what the security in the United States had put forward then. And I knew that he wasn't telling the truth, and he knew he wasn't telling the truth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What's your worry about the people the president is now surrounding himself in foreign policy, Mr. Bolton, Pompeo?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, we're already on a pathway with North Korea of a nuclear confrontation, but what they want is a guarantee that the United States will never attack them unilaterally, as long as they remain at peace.

    And I hope that, with that commitment — and we might have to make some commitments on our part as well concerning armed forces in South Korea — this might be beneficial to both countries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you think that's feasible under this president, with John Bolton and Secretary…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I'm not sure now. That's where the problem comes. I don't know.

    John Bolton has advocated several times that we go to war on a peremptory basis against North Korea and also against Iran, as a matter of fact. And so — and he was one of those who precipitated George Bush's decision to go into Iraq. The war is still not over.

    And so he's just been very warlike in his attitudes. And I hope that that doesn't sway President Trump to go to a warlike basis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, you were quoted as saying you hope that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, would wrap up his investigation soon.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Yes, I did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At this point, it's five or six months less than the Watergate investigation. Why not let him finish his work?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, I think he will finish his work, regardless of what I think.

    I just wish that he would finish his work earlier, rather than later, so that we could see if there is anything legally to be brought forward about President Trump and his involvement in the 2016 election, because I think the future of the politics in America is dependent on what Mueller will have come forward to allege.

    And so I think, the longer this is postponed, the more damage we might see done, including with the issues that I have already described, that is, the nuclear weaponry and altercations with Iran and with — and with North Korea and also with the global environment.

    So, I think the sooner the Mueller that makes his report, the better off the country will be, one way or the other.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think he's taking too long?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I have a lot of trust in Mueller to expedite it as much as he can. I just hope that he will come to a conclusion as soon as possible.

    But it's up to him, of course, in whom I have complete confidence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, tomorrow on the "NewsHour," we will have more of my conversation with former President Jimmy Carter. He weighs in on the upcoming midterm elections and what he says is the greatest challenge facing the NRA's political influence in the last 20 years.

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