Throughout American history, citizens have been duped. It’s a word as old as the republic itself. George Washington, in his “Farewell Address,” warned about “dupes”—that is, those who, unwittingly, allow themselves to be deceived or misled by active adversaries of the United States.
That process accelerated after the Bolshevik Revolution and into the Cold War, when duping was done on a remarkable scale by crass propagandists in the Communist movement, with America’s liberals/progressives the prime target. Yet, the story does not stop there: Many of the same Americans manipulated during the Cold War have resurfaced in the battle against radical Islam, although the periods, and processes, are quite different.
Indeed, there are many ways to be duped. Sometimes, it isn’t a matter of manipulation as much as severe gullibility. As to that, few figures seem as illustrative as Jimmy Carter.
In Carter, we see an unrelenting, longtime misplaced faith in some nasty dictators. He is trusting to a fault. More so, for Carter, this applies not only to Communist despots but to Islamist despots. Most disturbing about Carter is how, historically, he serves as a bridge from our battle against Soviet Communism to radical Islam, from the Cold War to the War on Terror.
For such reasons, we couldn’t resist putting Carter on the cover of my book on Dupes. He is a poster boy not only for what we wanted to describe, but, most soberly, what we want Americans to avoid electing.
It is difficult here to summarize the Carter record, but there are a half-dozen core incidents that typify Carter’s fatal naïveté during his presidency, specifically involving the USSR and Iran. The fall of the latter—the same year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan—birthed the modern Islamic terror state. While some of these incidents are remembered, most are forgotten, or were barely noticed to begin with. More telling, I went to Carter’s newly released diary to see if he regretted or attempted to explain them. Here they are, beginning with the Soviet Union and finishing with Iran:
On July 15, 1978, President Carter provided an enduring illustration of what was wrong with his leadership during the Cold War, and what his successor, Ronald Reagan, would dramatically change. You can find it in the official Presidential Papers, but it has eluded historical accounts.
Carter was in West Berlin. When asked by a West Berlin woman, “For how long, Mr. President, do you think we’ve got to live with the Wall?” a helpless Carter responded. “I don’t know. I hope that it will be removed in the future, but I have no idea when it might be. I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer, but that’s the truth.”
In response, on-lookers didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The matter-of-fact Presidential Papers gently inserted the word: “[laughter].”
As a stark contrast, consider another incident unseen by Americans at the time. It occurred four months later, in November 1978, when Ronald Reagan, a decade before he issued his decidedly un-Carter exhortation to tear down that wall, went to West Berlin as a private citizen. In a moment witnessed only by a handful of observers, Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall and firmly told his two colleagues, Richard V. Allen and Peter Hannaford, “We have got to find a way to knock this thing down.”
As president, Reagan would seek that goal, not to mention a wider objective to, as he recorded in his own presidential diary, “bring it [the USSR] to its knees.”
There, too, Jimmy Carter posed a grim contrast. This one came on February 15, 1980, and likewise has escaped our memory. Carter magnanimously made an explicit promise to the world: “We are not trying to bring the Soviets to their knees.”
In his diary, Carter makes no reference to this reassuring promise. It isn’t there. He does, however, mention his trip to the Berlin Wall in July 1978, and the Q&A with townspeople. Did Carter feel he made a faux pas? Not at all: “I had the town hall meeting,” Carter recorded, “answering questions for an hour…. It went off without a hitch, and I did not make a mistake.”
This would have been the perfect spot for Carter to correct any historical outrages made merely 11 years before the Berlin Wall collapsed. Alas, no comments are offered.
Rather than crumble their wall or drop the Soviets to their knees, Carter had another physical gesture in store.