The presidency of Jimmy Carter began on January 20, 1977 at noon Eastern Standard Time, when Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 1981. A Democrat, he took office after defeating Republican incumbent President Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential election. His presidency ended with his defeat in the 1980 presidential election by Republican nominee Ronald Reagan.
Carter, the 39th US President, sought to make the government "competent and compassionate" but, in the midst of an economic crisis produced by rising energy prices and stagflation, met with difficulty in achieving its objectives. At the end of his administration, Carter had seen a substantial decrease in unemployment and a partial reduction of the deficit, but the recession ultimately continued. Carter created the United States Department of Education and United States Department of Energy, established a national energy policy and pursued civil service and social security reform. In foreign affairs, Carter strongly emphasized human rights throughout his career. He signed the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) with the Soviet Union and, in an effort to end the Arab–Israeli conflict, initiated the Camp David Accords. With the Torrijos–Carter Treaties, he guaranteed the transfer of the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999. His administration also established official diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, while he signed the Taiwan Relations Act to define relations with Taiwan.
The final year of his presidential tenure was marked by several major crises, including the 1979 takeover of the American embassy in Iran and holding of hostages by Iranian students, an unsuccessful rescue attempt of the hostages, serious fuel shortages, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the 1980 presidential election, Carter defeated a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy, a prominent liberal Democrat. However, Carter lost the election in a landslide to Reagan. In polls of historians and political scientists, Carter is usually ranked as a below-average president.
Carter, who served as Governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975, decided to run for president after seeing the success of George McGovern during the 1972 presidential election campaign. Despite scant backing from party leaders, McGovern had won the 1972 Democratic nomination, largely due to his success at winning delegates in primary elections, and Carter's campaign would follow a similar course. Carter declared his candidacy for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination in December 1974. As Democratic leaders such as Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, and Ted Kennedy declined to enter the race, there was no clear favorite in the Democratic primaries. In addition to Carter, Mo Udall, Sargent Shriver, Birch Bayh, Fred R. Harris, Terry Sanford, Scoop Jackson, Lloyd Bentsen, and George Wallace all sought the nomination, and many of these candidates were better known than Carter.
Carter sought to appeal to various groups in the party; his advocacy for cutting defense spending and reining in the CIA appealed to liberals, while his emphasis on eliminating government waste appealed to conservatives. Iowa held the first contest of the primary season, and Carter campaigned heavily in the state, hoping that a victory would show that he had serious chance of winning the nomination. Carter won the most votes of any candidate in the Iowa caucus, and he dominated media coverage in advance of the New Hampshire primary, which he also won. Carter's subsequent defeat of Wallace in the Florida and North Carolina primaries eliminated Carter's main rival for Southern support. Despite the late entrance of Senator Frank Church and Governor Jerry Brown into the race, Carter clinched the nomination on the final day of the primaries. The Republicans experienced a contested convention that ultimately nominated incumbent President Gerald Ford, who had succeeded to the presidency in 1974 after the resignation of Richard Nixon due to the latter's involvement in the Watergate scandal. Unlike the Republican convention, the 1976 Democratic National Convention proceeded harmoniously and, after interviewing several candidates, Carter chose Mondale as his running mate. The selection of Mondale was well received by many liberal Democrats, who had been skeptical of Carter.
In the presidential election campaign, Carter continued to promote a centrist agenda, seeking to define new Democratic positions in the aftermath of the tumultuous 1960s. Above all, Carter attacked the political system, defining himself as an "outsider" who would reform Washington in the post-Watergate era. Carter and President Ford faced off in three televised debates during the 1976 election, the first such debates since 1960. Though Carter had led in the polls by thirty points after the Democratic convention, the polls showed a very close race by the end of October. On election day, Carter won the election with 50.1% of the popular vote and 297 electoral votes, while Ford won 48% of the popular vote and 240 electoral votes. The 1976 presidential election represents the lone Democratic presidential election victory between the elections of 1964 and 1992. Carter fared particularly well in the Northeast and the South, while Ford swept the West and won much of the Midwest. In the concurrent Congressional elections, Democrats increased their majorities in both the House and Senate.
In his inaugural address, Carter said, "We have learned that more is not necessarily better, that even our great nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems."
Carter had campaigned on a promise to eliminate the trappings of the "Imperial Presidency", and began taking action according to that promise on Inauguration Day, breaking with recent history and security protocols by walking up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House in his inaugural parade. His first steps in the White House went further in this direction: Carter reduced the size of the staff by one-third, cancelled government-funded chauffeuring for Cabinet members, and also put the USS Sequoia, the presidential yacht, up for sale. He also fulfilled a campaign promise by issuing an executive order declaring unconditional amnesty for Vietnam War-era draft evaders.
Among Presidents who served at least one full term, Carter is the only one who never made an appointment to the Supreme Court. Two of his Court of Appeals appointees – Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – were later appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton.
Carter appointed 56 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 203 judges to the United States district courts. Carter also experienced a small number of judicial appointment controversies, as three of his nominees for different federal appellate judgeships were not processed by the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee before Carter's presidency ended.
Carter successfully campaigned as a Washington "outsider", critical of President Gerald Ford, as well as the Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress; as president, Carter continued this theme. It was this refusal to play by the rules of Washington, however, which contributed to the Carter administration's difficult relationship with Congress. After the election, Carter demanded the power to reorganize the executive branch, alienating powerful Democrats like Speaker Tip O'Neill and Jack Brooks. During the Nixon administration, Congress had passed a series of reforms that removed power from the president, and most members of Congress were unwilling to restore that power even with a Democrat now in office. Unreturned phone calls, verbal insults, and an unwillingness to trade political favors soured many on Capitol Hill and affected the president's ability to enact his planned legislation as president.
During the first 100 days of his presidency, Carter wrote a letter to Congress proposing several water projects be scrapped. Among the opponents of Carter's proposal was Senator Russell Long, a powerful Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. Carter's plan was overturned and bitter feeling became a problem for him.
A rift grew between the White House and Congress. Carter wrote that the most intense and mounting opposition to his policies came from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which he attributed to Ted Kennedy's ambition to replace him as president.
A few months after his term started, and thinking he had the support of about 74 Congressmen, Carter issued a "hit list" of 19 projects that he claimed were "pork barrel" spending. He said that he would veto any legislation that contained projects on this list.
This list met with opposition from the leadership of the Democratic Party. Carter had characterized a rivers and harbors bill as wasteful spending. O'Neill thought it was unwise for the President to interfere with matters that had traditionally been the purview of Congress. Carter was then further weakened when he signed into law a bill containing many of the "hit list" projects.
Later, Congress refused to pass major provisions of his consumer protection bill and his labor reform package. Carter then vetoed a public works package calling it "inflationary", as it contained what he considered to be wasteful spending. Congressional leaders sensed that public support for his legislation was weak, and took advantage of it. After gutting his consumer protection bill, they transformed his tax plan into nothing more than spending for special interests, after which Carter referred to the congressional tax committees as "ravenous wolves".
Despite calling for a reform of the tax system in his presidential campaign, once in office Carter did very little to change it. President Carter reduced the top tax rate on capital gains to 28% from as high as 98%.
The government was in deficit every year of the Carter administration, with the national debt of the United States increasing by about $280 billion, from $620 billion in early-1977 to $900 billion in late 1980. However, because economic growth outpaced the growth in nominal debt, the federal government's debt as a percentage of gross domestic product decreased slightly, from 33.6% in early-1977 to 31.8% in late 1980.
In April 1976, while running for president, Carter proposed health care reform that included key features of the bipartisan bill for universal national health insurance[a] sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA). On taking office, Carter rejected Kennedy's healthcare proposal due to its cost to the federal government, and instead favored incremental reforms. Kennedy and Carter met repeatedly in 1978 to produce a compromise bill, but were unable to agree on a framework. In June 1979, Carter proposed more limited health insurance reform—an employer mandate to provide[b] private catastrophic health insurance[c] plus coverage without cost sharing for pregnant women and infants, federalization of Medicaid[d] with extension to the very poor[e] without dependent minor children, and the addition of catastrophic coverage to Medicare. In November 1979, Senator Russell B. Long (D-LA) led a bipartisan conservative majority of his Senate Finance Committee to support an employer mandate to provide[b] catastrophic-only coverage[f] and the addition of catastrophic coverage to Medicare, but abandoned efforts in 1980 due to budget constraints.
Some progress was made in the field of occupational health following Carter's appointment of Dr. Eula Bingham as Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Bingham drew from her experience as a physiologist working with carcinogens to raise and simplify standards, redirect the office's resources to industry groups with the worst records, while enacting occupational particulate, lead, and benzene exposure standards and regulations on workers' right to know about workplace hazards, including labeling of toxic substances. Bingham enacted many of these provisions over the opposition of not only Republicans, but also some in the Carter Administration itself, notably Economic Advisers Council Chairman Charles Schultze and her own boss, Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall; ultimately, many of her proposed reforms were never enacted, or were later rescinded.
In 1973, during the Nixon Administration, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reduced supplies of oil available to the world market, in part because of deflation of the dollars they were receiving as a result of Nixon leaving the gold standard and in part as a reaction to America's sending of arms to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. This sparked the 1973 Oil Crisis and forced oil prices to rise sharply, spurring price inflation throughout the economy and slowing growth. The U.S government imposed price controls on gasoline and oil following the announcement, which had the effect of causing shortages and long lines at filling stations for gasoline. The lines were quelled through the lifting of price controls on gasoline, although oil controls remained until Reagan's presidency. Carter told Americans that the energy crisis was "a clear and present danger to our nation" and "the moral equivalent of war" and drew out a plan he thought would address it. Carter said that world oil supply would probably only be able to keep up with Americans' demand for six to eight more years.
In 1977, Carter convinced the Democratic Congress to create the United States Department of Energy (DoE) with the goal of conserving energy. Carter set oil and natural gas price controls, had solar hot water panels installed on the roof of the White House, had a wood stove in his living quarters, ordered the General Services Administration to turn off hot water in some federal facilities, and requested that all Christmas light decorations remain dark in 1979 and 1980. Nationwide, controls were put on thermostats in government and commercial buildings to prevent people from raising heater temperatures in the winter above 65 °F (18 °C) or cooling in the summer below 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26 °C) through 1980.
In reaction to the energy crisis and growing concerns over air pollution, Carter also signed the National Energy Act (NEA) and the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA). The purpose of these watershed laws was to encourage energy conservation and the development of national energy resources, including renewables such as wind and solar energy. However, Carter opposed a DoD program to commercialize photovoltaics.
However, during 1979 and 1980, Carter began a process of deregulation of the oil industry. Carter did this by phasing out government control of oil allocation. During his "malaise" speech he asked Congress to impose a "Windfall profits tax". One of the main reasons Carter called for the tax was due to the deregulation of the oil industry, which in the eyes of members of the Carter administration, would increase the profits of oil companies to an "undeserving" level. Enacted in 1980 on domestic oil production, the tax was repealed in 1988, as prices had collapsed in the 1980s oil glut.
When the energy crisis set in, Carter was planning on delivering his fifth major speech on energy; however, he felt that the American people were no longer listening. Carter left for the presidential retreat of Camp David:
His pollster, Pat Caddell, told him that the American people simply faced a crisis of confidence because of the 1960s assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Vietnam War; and the Watergate scandal. On July 15, 1979, midway in his term, Carter gave a nationally televised address in which he identified what he believed to be a "crisis of confidence" among the American people. This came to be known as his "malaise" speech, although Carter never used the word in the speech.
I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy... I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might. The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation...
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning....
I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel.... I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy-secure nation. . . .
Carter's speech was written by Hendrik Hertzberg and Gordon Stewart. Though it is often said to have been ill-received, The New York Times ran the headline "Speech Lifts Carter Rating to 37%; Public Agrees on Confidence Crisis; Responsive Chord Struck" later that week.
Carter's use of rhetoric was one of the main reasons that his speech was memorable. Specifically his use of juxtaposition in the line "It is a crisis of confidence", which is the main line of the speech. Carter juxtaposed "crisis" and "confidence" to explain how overconsumption in the United States was leading to an energy crisis. Although at first this resonated with the public and he went up in the polls, there was a boomerang effect and the speech prompted the public to backlash against him. The "malaise" speech was criticized later on; many perceived Carter as too reliant on the American people, and as having announced little effort to fix the oil crisis himself. Others felt that Carter was blaming the American people for the oil shortages and other economic problems in the country instead of looking for a long-term solution on how to fix them. Carter mentioned energy so much in the speech that he may have overwhelmed the American public with it.
His later election loss may have discouraged future politicians from asking Americans to conserve energy in a similar way. Three days after the speech, Carter asked for the resignations of all of his Cabinet officers, and ultimately accepted those of five who had clashed with the White House the most, including Energy Secretary James Schlesinger and Health, Education and Welfare chief Joseph Califano, known as a supporter of Senator Ted Kennedy. Congressman Charlie Wilson said of Califano's firing, "Good grief! He's cut down the tall trees and left the monkeys."
After campaigning that he would never appoint a Chief of Staff, Carter appointed Jordan as a new White House Chief of Staff. Many in the administration chafed when Jordan circulated a "questionnaire" that read more like a loyalty oath. "I think the idea was that they were going to firm up the administration, show that there was real change by these personnel changes, and move on," remembers Mondale. "But the message the American people got was that we were falling apart." Carter later admitted in his memoirs that he should simply have asked only those five members for their resignations. In 2008, a U.S. News and World Report piece stated:
We would also do well to remember the sort of complexity and humility that Carter tried to inject into political rhetoric... Carter was unwilling to pander to the people... What Carter really did in the speech was profound. He warned Americans that the 1979 energy crisis – both a shortage of gas and higher prices – stemmed from the country's way of life. "Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns", the president said. Consumerism provided people with false happiness, he suggested, but it also prevented Americans from re-examining their lives in order to confront the profound challenge the energy crisis elicited. Despite [some failures] Carter left behind a way of talking about the country's promise and its need to confront what is undoubtedly one of its biggest challenges – to solve the energy crisis in a way that takes seriously both our limits and our greatness.
The economic history of the Carter Administration can be divided in two roughly equal periods. The first two years were a time of continuing recovery from the severe 1973–75 recession, which had left fixed investment at its lowest level since the 1970 recession and unemployment at 9%. The second two years were marked by double-digit inflation, coupled with very high interest rates, oil shortages, and slow economic growth. The nation's economy grew by an average of 3.4% (at par with the historical average) and more private sector jobs were created per month during the Carter Administration than during any other presidency since 1950 except for the Clinton Administration. Each of these two-year periods, however, would differ dramatically.
The U.S. economy, which had grown by 5% in 1976, continued to grow at a similar pace during 1977 and 1978. Unemployment declined from 7.5% in January 1977 to 5.6% by May 1979, with over 9 million net new jobs created during that interim, and real median household income grew by 5% from 1976 to 1978. The recovery in business investment in evidence during 1976 strengthened as well. Fixed private investment (machinery and construction) grew by 30% from 1976 to 1979, home sales and construction grew another one third by 1978, and industrial production, motor vehicle output and sales did so by nearly 15%; with the exception of new housing starts, which remained slightly below their 1972 peak, each of these benchmarks reached record levels in 1978 or 1979.
The 1979 energy crisis ended this period of growth, however, and as both inflation and interest rates rose, economic growth, job creation, and consumer confidence declined sharply. The relatively loose monetary policy adopted by Federal Reserve Board Chairman G. William Miller, had already contributed to somewhat higher inflation, rising from 5.8% in 1976 to 7.7% in 1978. The sudden doubling of crude oil prices by OPEC, the world's leading oil exporting cartel, forced inflation to double-digit levels, averaging 11.3% in 1979 and 13.5% in 1980. The sudden shortage of gasoline as the 1979 summer vacation season began exacerbated the problem, and would come to symbolize the crisis among the public in general; the acute shortage, originating in the shutdown of Amerada Hess refining facilities, led to a lawsuit against the company that year by the Federal Government.
Carter, like Nixon, asked Congress to impose price controls on energy, medicine, and consumer prices, but was unable to secure passage of such measures due to strong opposition from Congress. One related measure approved by Congress during the presidency of Gerald Ford, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, gave Presidents the authority to deregulate prices of domestic oil, and Carter exercised this option on July 1, 1979, as a means of encouraging both oil production and conservation. Oil imports, which had reached a record 2.4 billion barrels in 1977 (50% of supply), declined by half from 1979 to 1983.
Following an August 1979 cabinet shakeup in which Carter asked for the resignations of several cabinet members (see "Malaise speech" above), Carter appointed G. William Miller as Secretary of the Treasury, naming Paul Volcker as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Volcker pursued a tight monetary policy to bring down inflation, which he considered his mandate. Volcker (and Carter) succeeded, but only by first going through an unpleasant phase during which the economy slowed and unemployment rose. Inflation did not return to low single-digit levels until 1982, during a second, more severe recession; President Reagan re-appointed Volcker to the post in 1983.
Led by Volcker, the Federal Reserve raised the discount rate from 10% to 12% within two months. The prime rate outstripped the Federal funds rate, reaching 20% in March 1980. Carter then enacted an austerity program by executive order, justifying these measures by observing that inflation had reached a "crisis stage"; both inflation and short-term interest rates reached 18 percent in February and March 1980. Investments in fixed income (both bonds held by Wall Street and pensions paid to retired people) were becoming less valuable in real terms, and on March 14, 1980, President Carter announced the first credit control measures since World War II.
The policy, as well as record interest rates, would lead to a sharp recession in the spring of 1980. The sudden fall in GDP during the second quarter caused unemployment to jump from 6% to 7.5% by May, with output in the auto and housing sectors falling by over 20% and to their weakest level since the 1975 recession. Carter phased out credit controls in May, and by July, the prime rate had fallen to 11%, with inflation breaking the earlier trend and easing to under 13% for the remainder of 1980. The V-shaped recession coincided with Carter's re-election campaign, however, and contributed to his unexpectedly severe loss.
Lower interest rates and easing of credit controls sparked a recovery during the second half of 1980, and although the hard-hit auto and housing sectors would not recover substantially, GDP and employment totals regained pre-recession levels by the first quarter of 1981. The S&P 500 (which had remained at around 100 since 1976), rose to nearly 140 by the latter part of the year. A resumption in growth prompted renewed tightening by the Fed, however, and the prime rate reached 21.5% in December 1980, the highest rate in U.S. history under any President. The Carter Administration remained fiscally conservative during both growth and recession periods, vetoing numerous spending increases while enacting deregulation in the energy and transportation sectors and sharply reducing the top capital gains tax rate. Federal budget deficits throughout his term remained at around the $70 billion level reached in 1976, while falling as a percent of GDP from 4% to 2.5% by the 1980–81 Fiscal Year.
A wide range of measures aimed at safeguarding the environment were introduced during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who has been dubbed as the 'environmentally conscious' president. On December 11, 1980, he signed into law "Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA)" commonly known as Superfund, a United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances.
On December 2, 1980, he signed into law Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The law provided for the creation or revision of 15 National Park Service properties, and set aside other public lands for the United States Forest Service and United States Fish and Wildlife Service. In all, the act provided for the designation of 79.53 million acres (124,281 square miles; 321,900 km2) of public lands, fully a third of which was set aside as wilderness area in Alaska.
Carter's reorganization efforts separated the Department of Health, Education and Welfare into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. He also pushed for and signed the Ethics in Government Act, which established ethics guidelines for executive branch officials and established the Office of the Independent Counsel, which could independently investigate corruption.
The Head Start program was expanded, with the addition of 43,000 children and families,  while the percentage of nondefense dollars spent on education was doubled. The Child Nutrition Amendments Act of 1978 introduced a national income standard for program eligibility based on income standards prescribed for reduced-price school lunches. The Act also strengthened the nutrition education component of the WIC program by requiring the provision of nutritional education to all program participants. A Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was also passed with the aim of prohibiting "abusive and unfair techniques of debt collection". The Housing and Community Development Act of 1977 set up Urban Development Action Grants, extended handicapped and elderly provisions, and established the Community Reinvestment Act of 1978, which sought to prevent banks from denying credit and loans to poor communities. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 was passed with the intention of enabling the coal industry to develop coal resources without damaging other natural resources in the process, while the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 was aimed at safeguarding mineworkers from harm in the workplace. Programs from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and women's programs were also strengthened and "common sense priorities" led to focus on major health problems. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibited companies or organizations from discriminating against pregnant employees while providing protection in the areas of childbirth and medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. The National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act of 1978 sought to put funds aside for low-interest loans to start cooperatives. Minimum wage coverage was extended to farmworkers, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act Amendments of 1978 increased the upper age limit on coverage against age discrimination in non-federal employment and in the private sector from 65 to 70 as a means of extending safeguards against age discrimination. In addition, the purchase requirement for food stamps was abolished, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was introduced to assist families with their heating costs, and the first-ever national youth employment law was enacted.
Also under Carter's watch, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 was passed, which phased out the Civil Aeronautics Board. He also enacted deregulation in the trucking, rail, communications, and finance industries.
Carter signed into law legislation known as the Social Security Amendments of 1977, which raised Social Security taxes and reduced Social Security benefits. The act corrected a technical error made in 1972 and ensured the short-term solvency of Social Security.
Carter was the first president to address the topic of gay rights. He opposed the Briggs Initiative, a California ballot measure that would have banned gays and supporters of gay rights from being public school teachers. His administration was the first to meet with a group of gay rights activists. He has stated that he "opposes all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and believes there should be equal protection under the law for people who differ in sexual orientation".
Carter initially departed from the long-held policy of containment toward the Soviet Union. In its place, Carter promoted a foreign policy that put human rights at the forefront. This was a break from the policies of several predecessors, in which human rights abuses were often overlooked if they were committed by a government that was allied, or purported to be allied, with the United States.
He nominated civil rights activist Patricia M. Derian as Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, and in August 1977, had the post elevated to that of Assistant Secretary of State. Derian established the United States' Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, published annually since 1977, and made their findings a factor in military aid determinations, effectively ending such aid for five Latin American countries for the remainder of Carter's tenure. The Carter Administration ended support to the historically U.S.-backed Somoza regime in Nicaragua and gave aid to the new Sandinista National Liberation Front government that assumed power after Somoza's overthrow. However, Carter ignored a plea from El Salvador's Archbishop Óscar Romero not to send military aid to that country; Romero was later assassinated for his criticism of El Salvador's violation of human rights. Generally, human rights in Latin America, which had deteriorated sharply in the previous decade, improved following these initiatives; a publisher tortured during Argentina's Dirty War, Jacobo Timerman, credited these policies for the positive trend, stating that they not only saved lives, but also "built up democratic consciousness in the United States".
Many in his own administration were opposed to these initiatives, however, and the more assertive human rights policy of the Carter years was blunted by the discord that ensued between, on one hand, Derian and State Department Policy Planning Director Anthony Lake, who endorsed human rights considerations as an enhancement of U.S. diplomatic effectiveness abroad, and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who held Cold War considerations as paramount. These policy disputes reached their most contentious point during the 1979 fall of Pol Pot's genocidal regime of Democratic Kampuchea following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, when Brzezinski prevailed in having the administration refuse to recognize the new Cambodian government due to its support by the Soviet Union. Carter was also criticized by the feminist author and activist Andrea Dworkin for ignoring issues of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.
Carter convinced Congress to repeal the Byrd amendment, thus effectively re-imposing sanctions on white-ruled Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe Rhodesia, currently Zimbabwe), and, after Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected Prime Minister, protested the exclusion of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo from participating in the elections. Strong pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom prompted new elections in Zimbabwe Rhodesia, which saw Robert Mugabe elected as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe; afterwards, sanctions were lifted, and diplomatic recognition was granted. Carter's focus on helping facilitate the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe reflected his desires to both prevent Soviet Cold War gains and advance racial equality. His Zimbabwe policy benefited from his close cooperation with black African leaders such as Kenneth Kaunda, the president of Zambia. Carter was also known for his criticism of Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner, Augusto Pinochet (although both Stroessner and Pinochet, along with other Latin American dictators of whom Carter was critical, attended the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty), the apartheid government of South Africa, Zaire (although Carter later changed course and supported Zaire, in response to alleged – albeit unproven — Cuban support of anti-Mobutu rebels) and other traditional allies.
Carter's Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski paid close attention to the Arab–Israeli conflict. Diplomatic communications between Israel and Egypt increased significantly after the Yom Kippur War and the Carter administration felt that the time was right for comprehensive solution to the conflict.
In mid-1978, Carter became quite concerned as there were only a few months left before the Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Treaty expired. As a result, Carter sent a special envoy to the Middle East. The American Ambassador flew back and forth between Cairo and Tel Aviv in search of ways to narrow the disagreement between the two countries. It was then suggested that the foreign ministers meet at Leeds Castle, England where they could discuss the possibilities of peace. They tried to come to an agreement, but the foreign ministers failed. This led to the 1978 Camp David Accords, one of Carter's most important accomplishments as President. The accords were a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt negotiated by Carter, which followed up on earlier negotiations conducted in the Middle East. In these negotiations King Hassan II of Morocco acted as a negotiator between Arab interests and Israel, and Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania acted as go-between for Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, the unofficial representative of the Palestinian people). Once initial negotiations had been completed, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat approached Carter for assistance. Carter then invited Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Anwar El Sadat to Camp David to continue the negotiations. They arrived on August 8, 1978. Upon their arrival, neither leader had addressed one another since the Vienna meeting. President Carter inevitably became the mediator between the two leaders. He spoke to each leader separately until an agreement was reached. Almost a month had passed, but no resolution had been reached. President Carter decided to take the two of them on a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to break this deadlock. He showed the two leaders the battlefield and gave them a history lesson about one of the battles that had taken place during the U.S. Civil War. Carter emphasized how important it was to have peace in order to bring prosperity to the people. A lesson was learned, and when Begin and Sadat returned to Camp David, they finally agreed that something had to be signed.
On September 12, 1978, President Carter suggested dividing the negotiations over the peace treaty into two frameworks: framework #1 and framework #2. Framework #1 would address the West Bank and Gaza. Framework #2 would deal with Sinai.
The first framework dealt with the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza). The first point stated that the election of a self-governing authority would be allowed to provide full autonomy to the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. This government would be elected by the Palestinians and would only look after municipal affairs. The second step would be to grant Palestinians autonomy mainly on those municipal matters. Five years down the road after having gone through steps one and two, the status of Palestine could then be negotiated. Framework No. 1 was not very well received; the Palestinians and Jordanians were furious. They objected to the fact that Begin and Sadat were deciding on their ultimate destiny without consulting them or their leaders. Framework No. 1 for that reason was not going to work; it was essentially a dead end.
The second framework dealt with the Sinai Peninsula. This framework consisted of two points:
1. The two parties, Egypt and Israel, should negotiate a treaty over a period of six months based on the principle of Egyptian sovereignty over Sinai and the withdrawal of Israel from that region. 2. This treaty would be followed and included in it would be the establishment of diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural relations between Egypt and Israel.
President Carter admitted that "there's still great difficulties that remain and many hard issues to be settled." This would be a peace that would establish normal relations between the two states. This was the basis of the two frameworks, but it had yet to be approved.
The reaction to this proposal in the Arab world was very negative. In November 1978, there was an emergency meeting held by the Arab League in Damascus. Once again, Egypt was the main subject of the meeting, and they condemned the proposed treaty that Egypt was going to sign. Sadat was also attacked by the Arab press for breaking ranks with the Arab League and having betrayed the Arab world. Discussions pertaining to the future peace treaty took place in both countries. Israel insisted in its negotiations that the Israel-Egypt treaty should supersede all of Egypt's other treaties, including those signed with the Arab League and Arab states. Israel also wanted access to the oil discovered in the Sinai region. President Carter interjected and informed the Israelis that the U.S. would supply Israel with whatever oil it needed for the next 15 years if Egypt at any point decided not to supply oil to Israel.
While framework #1 was already approved by the Israeli Government, the second framework also needed approval. The Israeli Cabinet accepted the second framework of the treaty. The Israeli Parliament also approved the second framework with a comfortable majority. Alternatively, the Egyptian Government was arguing about a number of things. They did not like the fact that this proposed treaty was going to supersede all other treaties. Egyptians were also disappointed that they were unable to link the Sinai question to the Palestinian question.
On March 26, 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in Washington, D.C. Carter's role in getting the treaty was essential. Aaron David Miller interviewed many officials for his book The Much Too Promised Land (2008) and concluded the following: "No matter whom I spoke to — Americans, Egyptians, or Israelis — most everyone said the same thing: no Carter, no peace treaty."
Statement on the Panama Canal Treaty Signing
Jimmy Carter's speech upon signing the Panama Canal treaty, September 7, 1977.
Hoping to ease tensions with Latin American countries, Carter negotiated the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, two treaties which provided that Panama would gain control of the Panama Canal Zone in 1999. Carter's initiative faced wide resistance in the United States, and many in the public, particularly conservatives, thought that Carter was "giving away" a crucial U.S. asset. Conservatives formed groups such as the Committee to Save the Panama Canal in an attempt to defeat the treaties in the Senate, and Carter made ratification of the treaties his top priority. In March 1978, the Senate ratified both treaties by a margin of 68-to-32, narrowly passing the two-thirds margin necessary for ratification.
Ford and Nixon had sought to reach agreement on another round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), which reduced the number of nuclear weapons possessed by both the United States and the Soviet Union. Carter hoped to extend these talks, but he also criticized the Soviet Union's record with regard to human rights, partly because he believed the public would not support negotiations with the Soviets if the president seemed too willing to accommodate the Soviets. Carter and Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev reached an agreement in June 1979 regarding SALT II, but Carter's waning popularity and the opposition of Republicans and neoconservative Democrats made ratification difficult. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ended any hope of ratifying SALT II.
Communists under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Taraki seized power in Afghanistan on April 27, 1978. The new regime—which was divided between Taraki's extremist Khalq faction and the more moderate Parcham—signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in December of that year. Taraki's efforts to improve secular education and redistribute land were accompanied by mass executions (including of many conservative religious leaders) and political oppression unprecedented in Afghan history, igniting a revolt by mujahideen rebels. Following a general uprising in April 1979, Taraki was deposed by Khalq rival Hafizullah Amin in September. Amin was considered a "brutal psychopath" by foreign observers; even the Soviets were alarmed by the brutality of the Afghan communists, and suspected Amin of being an agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although that was not the case. By December, Amin's government had lost control of much of the country, prompting the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan, execute Amin, and install Parcham leader Babrak Karmal as president.
Carter was surprised by the invasion, as the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community during 1978 and 1979—reiterated as late as September 29, 1979—was that "Moscow would not intervene in force even if it appeared likely that the Khalq government was about to collapse." Indeed, Carter's diary entries from November 1979 until the Soviet invasion in late December contain only two short references to Afghanistan, and are instead preoccupied with the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran. In the West, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was considered a threat to global security and the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the failure to accurately predict Soviet intentions caused American officials to reappraise the Soviet threat to both Iran and Pakistan, although it is now known that those fears were overblown. For example, U.S. intelligence closely followed Soviet exercises for an invasion of Iran throughout 1980, while an earlier warning from Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that "if the Soviets came to dominate Afghanistan, they could promote a separate Baluchistan ... [thus] dismembering Pakistan and Iran" took on new urgency. These concerns were a major factor in the unrequited efforts of both the Carter and Reagan administrations to improve relations with Iran, and resulted in massive aid to Pakistan's Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Zia's ties with the U.S. had been strained during Carter's presidency due to Pakistan's nuclear program and the execution of Ali Bhutto in April 1979, but Carter told Brzezinski and secretary of state Cyrus Vance as early as January 1979 that it was vital to "repair our relationships with Pakistan" in light of the unrest in Iran. One initiative Carter authorized to achieve this goal was a collaboration between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI); through the ISI, the CIA began providing some $500,000 worth of non-lethal assistance to the mujahideen on July 3, 1979—several months prior to the Soviet invasion. The modest scope of this early collaboration was likely influenced by the understanding, later recounted by CIA official Robert Gates, "that a substantial U.S. covert aid program" might have "raise[d] the stakes" thereby causing "the Soviets to intervene more directly and vigorously than otherwise intended".
In the aftermath of the invasion, Carter was determined to respond vigorously to what he considered a dangerous provocation. In a televised speech, he announced sanctions on the Soviet Union, promised renewed aid to Pakistan, and committed the U.S. to the Persian Gulf's defense. The U.S. military commitment to the Persian Gulf became known as the Carter Doctrine. Carter also called for a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which raised a bitter controversy. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher enthusiastically backed Carter's tough stance, although British intelligence believed "the CIA was being too alarmist about the Soviet threat to Pakistan". The thrust of U.S. policy for the duration of the war was determined by Carter in early 1980: Carter initiated a program to arm the mujahideen through Pakistan's ISI and secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia to match U.S. funding for this purpose. U.S. support for the mujahideen accelerated under Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, at a final cost to U.S. taxpayers of some $3 billion. The Soviets were unable to quell the insurgency and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, precipitating the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. However, the decision to route U.S. aid through Pakistan led to massive fraud, as weapons sent to Karachi were frequently sold on the local market rather than delivered to the Afghan rebels; Karachi soon "became one of the most violent cities in the world". Pakistan also controlled which rebels received assistance: Of the seven mujahideen groups supported by Zia's government, four espoused Islamic fundamentalist beliefs—and these fundamentalists received most of the funding. Despite this, Carter has expressed no regrets over his decision to support what he still considers the "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan.
Conspiracy theorists have alleged that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were beneficiaries of CIA assistance. This is refuted by experts such as Steve Coll—who notes that declassified CIA records and interviews with CIA officers do not support such claims—and Peter Bergen, who concludes: "The theory that bin Laden was created by the CIA is invariably advanced as an axiom with no supporting evidence." U.S. funding went to the Afghan mujahideen, not the Arab volunteers who arrived to assist them.
The main conflict between human rights and U.S. interests came in Carter's dealings with the Shah of Iran. The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had been a strong ally of the United States since World War II and was one of the "twin pillars" upon which U.S. strategic policy in the Middle East was built (the other being Saudi Arabia). However, his rule was strongly autocratic, was seen as kleptocratic at home, and in 1953 he went along with the Eisenhower Administration in staging a coup to remove the elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. On a 1978 state visit to Iran, Carter spoke out in favor of the Shah, calling him a leader of supreme wisdom, and a pillar of stability in the volatile Middle East.
When the Iranian Revolution broke out in Iran the administration was divided on how to help the Shah. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance argued that the Shah should institute a series of reforms to appease the voices of discontent while National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued in favour of a crackdown - the iron fist approach - and a military government. Unable to receive a direct course of action from Carter, the mixed messages that the Shah received from Vance and Brzezinski contributed to his confusion and indecision. The Shah went into permanent exile in January 1979 and Iran fell to Khomeini's forces the following month.
Although he was initially given the opportunity to reside in the U.S. for a period, the Shah opted to stay in the region. Following the revolution however Carter refused him entry to the United States, even on grounds of medical emergency. Upon learning of his illness, on October 22, 1979, Carter finally granted him entry and temporary asylum for the duration of his cancer treatment. The Shah left the U.S. for Panama on December 15, 1979. In response to the Shah's entry into the U.S., Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Tehran in November, taking 52 Americans hostage. The Iranians demanded:
Though later that year the Shah left the U.S. and died in Egypt in July 1980, the hostage crisis continued and dominated the last year of Carter's presidency. The subsequent responses to the crisis – from a "Rose Garden strategy" of staying inside the White House, to the ill-prepared and unsuccessful attempt to rescue the hostages by military means (Operation Eagle Claw) — were largely seen as contributing to Carter's defeat in the 1980 election. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, believing that the mission would be unsuccessful and endanger the lives of the hostages resigned.
After the hostages were taken, Carter issued, on November 14, 1979, Executive Order 12170 – Blocking Iranian Government property, which was used to freeze the bank accounts of the Iranian government in U.S. banks, totaling about $8 billion U.S. at the time. This was to be used as a bargaining chip for the release of the hostages.
In the days before President Ronald Reagan took office, Algerian diplomat Abdulkarim Ghuraib opened negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. This resulted in the "Algiers Accords" one day before the end of Carter's Presidency on January 19, 1981, which entailed Iran's commitment to free the hostages immediately. Additionally, Executive Orders 12277 through 12285 were issued by Carter releasing all assets belonging to the Iranian government and all assets belonging to the Shah found within the United States and the guarantee that the hostages would have no legal claim against the Iranian government that would be heard in U.S. courts. Iran, however, also agreed to place $1 billion of the frozen assets in an escrow account and both Iran and the United States agreed to the creation of a tribunal to adjudicate claims by U.S. Nationals against Iran for compensation for property lost by them or contracts breached by Iran. The tribunal, known as the Iran – United States Claims Tribunal, has awarded over $2 billion to U.S. claimaints and has been described as one of the most important arbitration bodies in the history of international law. Although the release of the hostages was negotiated and secured under the Carter administration, the hostages were released on January 20, 1981, moments after Reagan was sworn in as President.
Following the Iranian Revolution, the Carter administration continued to see Iran as a bulwark against Iraq and the Soviet Union, and therefore attempted to forge a strategic partnership with the new Interim Government of Iran under Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. "Acting head of the U.S. embassy in Tehran" Bruce Laingen realized that Iranian officials were acutely interested in U.S. intelligence on Iraq, and convinced Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Harold H. Saunders to approve an intelligence-sharing liaison with the Iranian government, culminating in an October 15, 1979 meeting between longtime Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer George Cave and the Iranian Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Amir-Entezam and Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi. Cave claims he briefed Entezam and Yazdi on Iraqi military preparations and covert operations "that could only be explained as preparations for a major invasion of Iran," although no final decision had been made. Cave urged his Iranian interlocutors to monitor the movement of Iraqi troops with "the IBEX listening posts the CIA had constructed in northern Iran" under the Shah. If Cave's account is accurate, neither Entezam nor Yazdi seem to have shared this information with other Iranian officials, perhaps out of fear that their relationship with a CIA officer would be misconstrued. However, "Cave remains the only source under the impression that an Iraqi attack was likely at any point in 1979." According to Bureau of Intelligence and Research analyst Wayne White: "The Iraqi army was doing little more than continuing its well-known annual schedule of primarily battalion and brigade-level training exercises ... Very little of the Iraqi military was anywhere near the Iraqi-Iranian frontier." Similarly, the head of the Iran desk at the State Department, Henry Precht, states: "I had no impression at the time that anyone believed Iraq was planning a major attack although we thought that [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] might be stirring up the Kurds. At the time I did not think he would take on his larger and still probably more potent neighbor." It is possible that Cave's briefing contained fabricated evidence intended to "highlight the mutual benefits of maintaining the intelligence facilities," but the most probable explanation for this discrepancy is that the evidence in question was "heavily disputed by other parts of the U.S. intelligence community" and therefore "not passed around" to the rest of the U.S. government.
Iraq's invasion of Iran in September 1980 was preceded by a long period of tension between the two countries throughout 1979 and 1980, including frequent border skirmishes, calls by Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini for the Shia of Iraq to revolt against the Ba'ath Party, and allegations of Iraqi support for ethnic separatists in Iran. On June 18, 1979, U.S. chargé d'affaires Charlie Naas asked Yazdi about the deterioration in relations; Yazdi stated he "does not know what might be bothering Iraq ... certainly we have done nothing to bother them." Khomeini had recently condemned Iraq's arrest of Shi'ite leader Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, but Yazdi claimed this had nothing to do with any effort to export the Islamic Revolution to Iraq: Iran was merely concerned with protecting the "religious centers in Najaf and Karbala." Nevertheless, in a subsequent conversation between Naas and Entezam it emerged that the latter was unaware of the anti-Iraq broadcasts "Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was sanctioning in his role as managing director of National Iranian Radio and Television." Continuing to seek good relations with Iranian authorities, U.S. officials uncovered considerable evidence of Iraqi support for Kurdish rebels in Iran under the leadership of Jalal Talabani (Fatah contacts told the CIA's Beirut station that "Saddam Hussein himself was directly involved in supervising these operations"); while these rebels were not considered capable of overthrowing the Iranian government militarily, they were undermining Iranian moderates, prompting Precht to broach the possibility of meeting with Iraqi officials to persuade them that Iraq's support for the Kurds was not in its best interest. Throughout this time, Iraq's intentions toward Iran were not entirely clear, as "the Iraqi government was continuing to put out diplomatic feelers, unsuccessfully inviting a delegation led by Bazargan to visit Iraq in July 1979," while the CIA concluded in November (despite Cave's warning the previous month) that Iraq intended "to settle its differences with Iran through negotiations." Muhammed Dosky, "a Kurdistan Democratic Party representative in Washington," also believed "Iraq's overriding goal was to persuade the new government in Tehran to live up to the conditions of the Algiers Accord ... Iraq was using Kurdish groups not out of a sense of opportunism, or as a prelude to the coming conflict, but in order to consolidate agreements made with the Shah." Saddam was willing to work with Iranian moderates such as Yazdi, whom he met in Havana in October, but "the mass resignation of the Bazargan government" following the November 4th seizure of the U.S. embassy and initiation of the Iran hostage crisis—and the resulting consolidation of power under Khomeini—"would profoundly change Saddam's decision-making calculus."
Iranian leaders, including Khomeini and his successor Ali Khamenei, have long espoused a belief that the U.S. gave Saddam Hussein a "green light" to launch the invasion of Iran—something U.S. officials "have unanimously and vociferously denied." Joost Hiltermann observes that a U.S. "green light" is also "the conventional wisdom in the Arab world." In fact, Iranian suspicions that the U.S. would use Iraq to retaliate for the hostage-taking predated the invasion, as Carter noted in his diary on April 10, 1980: "The Iranian terrorists are making all kinds of crazy threats to kill the American hostages if they are invaded by Iraq—whom they identify as an American puppet." There are several reasons for this perception, including some circumstantial evidence. First, although the Carter administration had long been interested in rapprochement with Iraq, prior to the hostage crisis the administration's preference for Iran as the "strategic choice" effectively rendered this impossible. After the dramatic break in Iran–United States relations, however, both American and Iraqi officials made a number of positive gestures towards one another, including "a speech by Saddam denouncing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan," and culminating in an April 10 statement by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David D. Newsom that "The United States is prepared ... to resume diplomatic relations with Iraq at any time." Saddam later acknowledged that Iraq had accepted Newsom's offer "during the two months prior to the war between us and Iran" but "when the war started, and to avoid misinterpretation, we postponed the establishment of relations." Moreover, the CIA—desperate for intelligence on Iran—maintained contacts with Iranian opposition figures including "the Shah's last Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar" and Gholam Ali Oveisi, who were themselves in touch with Iraqi officials and had encouraged Saddam to invade. Even though declassified documents state the U.S. "would not fund, assist, or guide [Bakhtiar's] movement, but [was] providing the channel as a means by which he could provide us information on his intentions and capabilities," and there is no evidence either Bakhtiar or Oveisi were acting at the behest of the U.S., "the Iranian militants occupying the embassy found dozens of documents detailing these contacts"—which began "even before the hostage crisis"—and "read them extremely selectively." What ultimately convinced the Iranian leadership of "American complicity in any Iraqi attack" was the July 9 Nojeh coup plot, a failed military coup d'état against Khomeini funded by Iraqi intelligence through Bakhtiar (the Iraqis may have informed the Iranian authorities in advance, as they understood "the damage the subsequent purge would inflict on the Iranian military"). Bakhtiar told the plotters the U.S. "had given [the coup] its blessing," but "he was lying" as the U.S. "knew nothing about the Nojeh operation and would likely have opposed it on the grounds that it would endanger the lives of the hostages." In August, Saddam made a trip to Saudi Arabia in which King Khalid "reportedly gave his personal blessing to the invasion and promised Saudi backing," which Bryan R. Gibson commented was "a very significant gesture, especially in light of the closeness of American–Saudi relations." United States Secretary of State Alexander Haig told Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, that it was during this visit that "President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through [Crown Prince] Fahd," as related to Haig by Fahd himself, but at a 2008 conference several academics and former U.S. officials questioned the veracity of this assertion as well as the motives of both Haig and Fahd in promulgating it. As described by Malcolm Byrne: "The American veterans were unanimous that no 'green light' was ever given, and that the Haig document, while intriguing on its face, leaves far too much room for interpretation to be definitive. In any event the Saudi comments did not address the various policy arguments that militated against an invasion—chiefly, the potential danger posed to the American hostages in Tehran—which the participants said held sway with most American officials."
On April 9, the Defense Intelligence Agency received information from a source considered reliable, predicting that "the situation is presently more critical than previously reported" and postulating a 50% chance Iraq would invade Iran. An April 11 CIA analysis is more blunt: "Evidence indicates that Iraq had probably planned to initiate a major military move against Iran with the aim of toppling the Khomeini regime"—and "had tried to use Kuwait as intermediaries for obtaining 'United States support or approval.'" Carter himself has confirmed that fear the U.S. hostages would be executed if Iraq attacked was one reason he approved a failed rescue mission on April 24. In light of these alerts, the claims of senior Carter administration officials involved with Iran—including White, Naas, Precht, and head of the National Security Council (NSC)'s Iran desk Gary Sick—that they were surprised by the invasion require some explanation. In all likelihood, these warnings went unheeded because "those who doubted they amounted to compelling evidence won the argument. In effect, they were right. Only in early July did U.S. observers note the movement of Iraqi assets out of garrison with war-related 'basic loads' of ammunition" and it was not until September 17 that the CIA indicated "the intensification of border clashes between Iran and Iraq has reached a point where a serious conflict is now a distinct possibility." Even then, as recounted by State Department official W. Nathaniel Howell, U.S. officials remained unsure what to make of Saddam's intentions: "We all followed Saddam's actions and rhetoric closely but most people I knew tended to believe he was posturing." When the invasion came on September 22, "it was unclear whether Saddam had simply fallen into a rage following a smaller skirmish." White recalls: "The outbreak of war did, in fact, come as a surprise to most of us because a decent portion of Iraq's ground forces were still in garrison. The hasty movement of the remaining units up to the front immediately after the beginning of major hostilities was the activity that tended to nudge me toward the abrupt scenario in which Saddam ordered the attack before all military preparations had been completed." Thus, in the view of Chris Emery, "it is unlikely that the United States was ever in possession of clear evidence of Saddam's intention to invade Iran. Although the Carter administration drastically underestimated the scale of Saddam's plans, the disorganized and apparently impetuous nature of the invasion, with much of the Iraqi army still in garrison, and occurring in the context of border skirmishes and aggressive propaganda, muddied the waters for U.S. observers."
Once the war began, the Carter administration's policy was broadly neutral and included several actions that favored Iran, although these could also be seen as aimed primarily at preventing a wider war. While many U.S. officials were initially optimistic that limited Iraqi gains would force Iran to agree to an arms-for-hostages deal (this proved unnecessary because Iran purchased adequate arms and equipment from Syria, Libya, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and Israel), a consensus soon emerged that the war had disrupted whatever progress had been made during negotiations with Sadeq Tabatabaei. When Iraq unilaterally attempted to station MiG-23 aircraft, helicopters, and special forces in several Persian Gulf states to use for operations against Iran, "most made frantic attempts to dissuade the Iraqi aircraft from landing; Bahrain even physically blockaded its runways." The Iraqi presence was initially tolerated in Oman (Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said "had been a close friend of the Shah and was probably convinced by Saddam that one decisive attack could bring the revolution down") and Ras al-Khaimah (which had designs on an island the Shah had seized from the United Arab Emirates in 1971), but U.S. officials were "horrified" by the prospect of a regional war, and "after a series of telephone conversations between the White House, Sultan Qaboos, and Sheik Saqr, the Iraqis were swiftly sent on their way." Likewise, when King Hussein informed "U.S. ambassador to Jordan" Nick Veliotes that Iraq was considering the annexation of Iran's Khuzestan Province, Veliotes stated: "The U.S. was unalterably opposed to any efforts to dismember Iran." On October 3, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski advised Carter that "we should actively seek new contacts with Iran to explore the possibility of helping it just enough to put sufficient pressure on Iraq to pull back from most, if not all, its current acquisitions," citing the need "to safeguard Iran from Soviet penetration or internal disintegration." The U.S. even tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the flow of weapons from Jordan to Iraq—prompting "Saddam to claim in December that it was supporting 'Iran's "aggression" against Iraq.'" Despite this, the U.S. tolerated the provision of weapons and intelligence from Egypt to Iraq, in exchange for Iraq's assistance in ending the diplomatic isolation Egypt had endured as a result of its Peace Treaty with Israel. In addition, the U.S. "took active steps to make sure that Iraq's ability to export [oil] through the Gulf was unimpaired and could be quickly restored after the cessation of hostilities, primarily by expediting the purchase and early placement of single point mooring buoys," although this "had only limited effect, given the scale of Iranian retaliatory strikes." Finally, "American AWACS planes" were deployed to protect Saudi Arabia at the Saudi government's request.
In Emery's judgement, claims that the Reagan administration's later "tilt" in favor of Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War was merely a continuation of Carter-era policies cannot be supported by available evidence: "The policy that emerged was characterized by a desire to preserve all options, while trying to avoid actions that would undermine the Carter Doctrine or establish an opening for the Soviet Union. The impetus for America to adjust its policy of neutrality, and take a definitive position on which side to back, came in 1982, when the Iranian military threatened to overrun Iraq." Indeed, "the State Department's transition team advised the incoming government" to avoid threatening Iran militarily or assisting the Iranian opposition, as doing so would "make an eventual rapprochement with Iran more difficult." In Carter's own account, "I despised Saddam Hussein, because he attacked Iran when my hostages were being held. It was President Reagan who established diplomatic relations with Saddam Hussein after I left office." Gibson averred: "If Washington had any foreknowledge of the invasion, logic would suggest that the timing would be postponed until after the hostages were successfully released." Regardless of whether the U.S. provided any express "green light" to Saddam, Iranians continue to view the failure of the United Nations Security Council to condemn Iraq's invasion—or to recognize Iraq as the aggressor until after Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait nearly a decade later—as a form of tacit complicity in Iraq's aggression against Iran—not just on the part of the U.S., but the entire world.
The Mariel boatlift was a mass emigration of Cubans who departed from Cuba's Mariel Harbor for the United States, authorized by U.S. president Jimmy Carter, between April 15 and October 31, 1980. The event was precipitated by a sharp downturn in the Cuban economy which led to internal tensions on the island and a bid by up to 10,000 Cubans to gain asylum in the Peruvian embassy. The Cuban government subsequently announced that anyone who wanted to leave could do so, and an exodus by boat started shortly afterward. The exodus was organized by Cuban-Americans with the agreement of Cuban president Fidel Castro. The exodus started to have negative political implications for U.S. president Jimmy Carter when it was discovered that a number of the exiles had been released from Cuban jails and mental health facilities. The Mariel boatlift was ended by mutual agreement between the two governments involved in October 1980. By that point, as many as 125,000 Cubans had made the journey to Florida. About fifty percent of the Mariel immigrants decided to reside in Miami permanently and this resulted in a seven percent increase in workers in the Miami labor market and a twenty percent increase in the Cuban working population. Castro publicly stated "I have flushed the toilets of Cuba on the United States."
During his first month in office, Carter cut the defense budget by $6 billion. One of his first acts was to order the unilateral removal of all nuclear weapons from South Korea and announce his intention to cut back the number of US troops stationed there. Other military men confined intense criticism of the withdrawal to private conversations or testimony before congressional committees, but in 1977 Major General John K. Singlaub, chief of staff of U.S. forces in South Korea, publicly criticized Carter's decision to lower the U.S. troop level there. On March 21, 1977, Carter relieved him of duty, saying his publicly stated sentiments were "inconsistent with announced national security policy". Carter planned to remove all U.S. troops from South Korea by 1982, with the exception of 14,000 U.S. Air Force personnel and logistics specialists, but after cutting only 3,600 men, he was forced by intense Congressional pressure as well as strong opposition from the military generals to abandon the effort in 1978.
Carter continued the policy of Richard Nixon to normalize relations with the People's Republic of China. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and China expert Michel Oksenberg who was serving on the National Security Council, traveled to Beijing in early 1978, where they worked with Leonard Woodcock, head of the liaison office there, to lay the groundwork for granting the People's Republic of China full diplomatic and trade relations. In the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations dated January 1, 1979, the United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The U.S. reiterated the Shanghai Communiqué's acknowledgment of the Chinese position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China; Beijing acknowledged that the American people would continue to carry on commercial, cultural, and other unofficial contacts with the people of Taiwan. The U.S. unofficially recognized Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act.
The Carter administration resumed and dramatically increased arms sales to the Indonesian Suharto government during its occupation of East Timor. In an interview, Carter's Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke described its interest to the United States: "Indonesia [...] is the fifth largest nation in the world, is a moderate member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is an important oil producer – which plays a moderate role within OPEC – and occupies a strategic position astride the sea lanes between the Pacific and Indian Oceans."
The Suharto regime invaded East Timor in 1975 to protest from the United Nations. Annual U.S. arms sales to Suharto, which began shortly before the invasion, was around $11 million for Ford's last two years. "Roughly 90%" of the arms belonging to the Indonesian military at the time of East Timor's invasion were U.S. supplied, according to State Department Deputy Legal Advisor George H. Aldrich's testimony at the 1977 House International Relations Committee.
By 1977, the Indonesian government's occupation drained its army of the resources supplied by Ford. The next year, the Carter administration sold $112 million in arms to the Suharto government. American arms sales to the Suharto regime averaged about $60 million annually during Carter's term, more than double the figure of Ford's yearly sales. The pattern of arms sales to the Indonesian occupation regime continued under Reagan, Bush and Clinton and completely finished after the East Timorese independence referendum in 1999. According to the United Nations, 84,000-183,000 East Timorese civilians were killed during the occupation, by methods including forced starvation, with Indonesian forces being responsible for 70% of the 18,600 unlawful killings.
In a 2007 interview with Amy Goodman, Carter discussed the actions of his administration regarding East Timor: "I have to say that I was not, you know, as thoroughly briefed about what was going on in East Timor as I should have been. I was more concerned about other parts of the world then."
On October 1, 1979, Carter announced before a television audience the existence of the Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF), a mobile fighting force capable of responding to worldwide trouble spots, without drawing on forces committed to NATO. The RDF was the forerunner of CENTCOM.
Carter made 12 international trips to 25 nations during his presidency.
|1||May 5–11, 1977||United Kingdom||London,
|Attended the 3rd G7 summit. Also met with the prime ministers of Greece, Belgium, Turkey, Norway, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and with the President of Portugal. Addressed NATO Ministers meeting.|
|May 9, 1977||Switzerland||Geneva||Official visit. Met with President Kurt Furgler. Also met with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.|
|2||December 29–31, 1977||Poland||Warsaw||Official visit. Met with First Secretary Edward Gierek.|
|December 31, 1977 – January 1, 1978||Iran||Tehran||Official visit. Met with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and King Hussein of Jordan.|
|January 1–3, 1978||India||New Delhi, Daulatpur Nasirabad||Met with President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Addressed Parliament of India.|
|January 3–4, 1978||Saudi Arabia||Riyadh||Met with King Khalid and Crown Prince Fahd.|
|January 4, 1978||Egypt||Aswan||Met with President Anwar Sadat and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.|
|January 4–6, 1978||France||Paris,
|Met with President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Prime Minister Raymond Barre.|
|January 6, 1978||Belgium||Brussels||Met with King Baudouin and Prime Minister Leo Tindemans. Attended meetings of the Commission of the European Communities and the North Atlantic Council.|
|3||March 28–29, 1978||Venezuela||Caracas||Met with President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Addressed Congress and signed maritime boundary agreement.|
|March 29–31, 1978||Brazil||Brasília
Rio de Janeiro
|Official visit. Met with President Ernesto Geisel and addressed National Congress.|
|March 31 – April 3, 1978||Nigeria||Lagos||State visit. Met with President Olusegun Obasanjo.|
|April 3, 1978||Liberia||Monrovia||Met with President William R. Tolbert, Jr..|
|4||June 16–17, 1978||Panama||Panama City||Invited by President Demetrio B. Lakas and General Omar Torrijos to sign protocol confirming exchange of documents ratifying Panama Canal treaties. Also met informally with Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez, Colombian President Alfonso López Michelsen, Mexican President José López Portillo, Costa Rican Rodrigo Carazo Odio and Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica.|
|5||July 14–15, 1978||West Germany||Bonn,
|State visit. Met with President Walter Scheel and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Addressed U.S. and German military personnel.|
|July 15, 1978||West Germany||West Berlin||Spoke at the Berlin Airlift Memorial.|
|July 16–17, 1978||West Germany||Bonn||Attended the 4th G7 summit.|
|6||January 4–9, 1979||France||Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe||Met informally with President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and British Prime Minister James Callaghan.|
|7||February 14–16, 1979||Mexico||Mexico City||State visit. Met with President José López Portillo. Addressed the Mexican Congress.|
|8||March 7–9, 1979||Egypt||Cairo,
|State visit. Met with President Anwar Sadat. Addressed People's Assembly of Egypt.|
|March 10–13, 1979||Israel||Tel Aviv,
|State visit. Met with President Yitzhak Navon and Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Addressed the Knesset.|
|March 13, 1979||Egypt||Cairo||Met with President Anwar Sadat.|
|9||June 14–18, 1979||Austria||Vienna||State visit. Met with President Rudolf Kirchschläger and Chancellor Bruno Kreisky. Met with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev to sign SALT II Treaty.|
|10||June 25–29, 1979||Japan||Tokyo,
|Attended the 5th G7 summit. State visit. Met with Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Masayoshi Ōhira.|
|June 29 – July 1, 1979||South Korea||Seoul||State visit. Met with President Park Chung-hee and Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah.|
|11||June 19–24, 1980||Italy||Rome,
|Attended the 6th G7 summit. State Visit. Met with President Sandro Pertini.|
|June 21, 1980||Vatican City||Apostolic Palace||Audience with Pope John Paul II.|
|June 24–25, 1980||Yugoslavia||Belgrade||Official visit. Met with President Cvijetin Mijatović.|
|June 25–26, 1980||Spain||Madrid||Official visit. Met with King Juan Carlos I and Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez.|
|June 26–30, 1980||Portugal||Lisbon||Official visit. Met with President António Ramalho Eanes and Prime Minister Francisco de Sá Carneiro.|
|12||July 9–10, 1980||Japan||Tokyo||Official visit. Attended memorial services for former Prime Minister Masayoshi Ōhira. Met with Emperor Hirohito, Bangla President Ziaur Rahman, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda and Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng.|
We cast this message into the cosmos.... Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some – perhaps many – may have inhabited planet and space faring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message: We are trying to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope some day, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe
Besides unconditional amnesty for Vietnam War era draft dodgers, issued in his first full day in office (January 21, 1977), President Carter used his power in other cases. In general, he issued 566 pardons or commutations as President, granting 20% of all requests that came before him.
Most notable cases:
As the 1980 presidential election approached, Carter faced mounting opposition, even from within his own party. The energy crisis contributed to a frustrating economic situation, while Senator Kennedy was openly critical of Carter regarding health care and other issues. Kennedy declared his candidacy against Carter in the 1980 Democratic primaries but made several early mistakes, while Carter chose to focus on the Iranian hostage crisis and other matters rather than actively campaigning. Carter won the first several primaries, though Kennedy won victories in New York and other northern states. As Carter built an unassailable delegate lead, Kennedy refused to exit the race, and his victories in two of the final primaries encouraged Kennedy to contest the presidential nomination at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. The Republicans, meanwhile, nominated Ronald Reagan, while Republican Congressman John B. Anderson launched an independent campaign. At the Democratic convention, Kennedy sought to win the support of delegates pledged to Carter, but Kennedy's effort was defeated by a vote of the delegates, and Carter won re-nomination. Despite Kennedy's defeat, he had mobilized the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which gave Carter weak support in the fall election.
Polls taken in September, after the conclusion of the conventions, showed a tied race between Reagan and Carter. Carter had alienated many key Democratic constituencies, including labor unions and Catholics, and Reagan also successfully appealed to evangelicals, many of whom had supported Carter's 1976 candidacy. But the Carter campaign felt confident that the country would reject the conservative viewpoints espoused by Reagan, and there were hopeful signs with regards to the economy and the Iranian hostage crisis. Polling remained close throughout September and October, but Reagan's performance in the October 28 debate and Carter's failure to win the release of the Iranian hostages gave Reagan the momentum entering election day. Reagan won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and 489 electoral votes, Carter won 41 percent of the popular vote and 49 electoral votes, and Anderson won 6.6 percent of the popular vote. Republicans also won control of the Senate for the first time since 1952.
Bert Lance, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Carter administration, resigned his position on September 21, 1977, amid allegations of improper banking activities prior to his becoming Director. Lance was one of Carter's closest friends, and served as state highway director when Carter was Governor of Georgia. Carter supported Lance in his bid to succeed Carter as governor, but Lance was defeated in the primary. Lance was subsequently tried on various bank-related charges, but was acquitted. The Lance affair was an embarrassment to Carter, coming just a few years after the Watergate scandal.
In April 1979, United States Attorney General Griffin Bell appointed Paul J. Curran as a special counsel to investigate loans made to the peanut business owned by Carter by a bank controlled by Bert Lance, a friend of the president and the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Unlike Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski who were named as special prosecutors to investigate the Watergate scandal, Curran's position as special counsel meant that he would not be able to file charges on his own, but would require the approval of Assistant Attorney General Philip Heymann. Carter became the first sitting president to testify under oath as part of an investigation of that president.
The investigation was concluded in October 1979, with Curran announcing that no evidence had been found to support allegations that funds loaned from the National Bank of Georgia had been diverted to Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.
David W. Marston was appointed by President Gerald Ford to serve as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He was investigating Joshua Eilberg, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives, for money he received in connection with a federal grant to Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. Eilberg contacted the White House and Marston was fired by Attorney General Griffin Bell. Eilberg lost his 1978 reelection bid, and, three months later, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges. He was sentenced to five years of probation and a $10,000 fine.
Carter's youngest child Amy lived in the White House while her father served as president. She was the subject of much media attention during this period as young children had not lived in the White House since the early 1960s presidency of John F. Kennedy.
Carter's brother Billy generated a great deal of notoriety during Carter's presidency for his colorful and often outlandish public behavior. In 1977, Billy Carter endorsed Billy Beer, capitalizing upon his colorful image as a beer-drinking, Southern boy that had developed in the press during President Carter's campaign. Billy Carter's name was occasionally used as a gag answer for a Washington, D.C., trouble-maker on 1970s episodes of The Match Game. Billy Carter once urinated on an airport runway in full view of the press and dignitaries. In late 1978 and early 1979, Billy Carter visited Libya with a contingent from Georgia three times. He eventually registered as a foreign agent of the Libyan government and received a $220,000 loan. This led to a Senate hearing over alleged influence peddling, which some in the press dubbed "Billygate". A Senate subcommittee was called To Investigate Activities of Individuals Representing Interests of Foreign Governments (Billy Carter-Libya Investigation).
Although Mr. Carter left some details a bit vague today, his proposal seemed almost identical to the so-called Kennedy-Corman health security plan. His position on the issue is now substantially the same as that of his chief rivals, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Senator Henry M. Jackson and Representative Morris K. Udall. All three are co-sponsors of the Kennedy-Corman bill.
The outlines of Carter's program are close to one sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and strongly supported by organized labor.
Although Carter didn't provide an estimate of what his health plan would cost taxpayers, it features many proposals similar to plans suggested by others, including Sen. Edward Kennedy [D., Mass.] which are estimated to cost at least $40 billion annually.
Contemporary memos—particularly those written in the first days after the Soviet invasion—make clear that while Brzezinski was determined to confront the Soviets in Afghanistan through covert action, he was also very worried the Soviets would prevail. ... Given this evidence and the enormous political and security costs that the invasion imposed on the Carter administration, any claim that Brzezinski lured the Soviets into Afghanistan warrants deep skepticism.
These transcripts and documents show that Iraqi generals were ordered to invade Iran only days before the actual invasion took place. Caught completely unaware, the generals had only limited resources and could only execute the war as far as their logistical tethers would allow.
Daulatpur Nasirabad in Gurgaon was a sleepy nondescript village on the outskirts of Delhi but it found a prominent place on the global map after Carter paid a visit to this village...This village has since then been renamed Carterpuri.
He also investigated President Jimmy Carter's family peanut business for the Justice Department in 1979, and thus became the first lawyer to examine a sitting president under oath.
|U.S. Presidential Administrations|