Former President Jimmy Carter labeled the current administration the “worst in history” in international relations, earning a rare rebuke from a White House spokesman who described the former president as “increasingly irrelevant.”

Carter, president from 1977 to 1981 who won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work, assessed President Bush’s record in a story that appeared Saturday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history,” Carter was quoted as saying. “The overt reversal of America’s basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me.”

Carter criticized Bush for not holding peace talks with Israel, ignoring nuclear-arms agreements, turning back environmental efforts by other presidents and for his “faith-based” initiative making it easier for religious charities to receive federal grants.

But he reserved his sharpest criticism for the war in Iraq, which Carter opposed even before the U.S.-led invasion of March 20, 2003.

“We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered,” Carter said. “But that’s been a radical departure from all previous administration policies.”

Reuters said White House spokesman Tony Fratto initially declined comment but on Sunday fired back, calling Carter’s “personal criticism” of the current president “reckless” and “unfortunate.”

“I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments,” Fratto said.

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics disagreed. “Carter spoke prophetic truth about the Bush administration, which has acted with reckless dishonesty in taking the nation to war and continuing to mislead the nation with promises of progress,” said Parham, a frequent war critic. “I wish that other presidents would speak with such clarity and urgency about the war in Iraq.”

Douglas Brinkley, a Tulane presidential historian and Carter biographer, described the new comment as “the most forceful denunciation” Carter has ever made about an American president.

But it isn’t the first time Carter has broken the unspoken rule that a former president must never speak ill of a successor.

In 2005 Carter said “there isn’t any doubt” that the American people were misled about the war in Iraq. He described Bush’s policy on the war as “a radical departure from the policies of any president.”

Carter criticized the existence of CIA “secret prisons” and said he found it “inconceivable” the Bush administration would even be debating whether to continue the use of torture in interrogating prisoners.

At the 2005 Baptist World Alliance’s centenary conference in England, Carter termed treatment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba “a disgrace to the U.S.A.”

Recently Carter expressed support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria, rejecting White House criticism of the visit.

Carter’s criticism of the president isn’t much different from the mood of current Democrats in Congress.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has called the war “the worst foreign policy decision that’s been made in America since Vietnam.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., went a step further, calling it “the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country.” Asked on CNN whether he considered it a worse blunder than Vietnam, Reid said, “Yes.”

Carter’s negative assessment of Bush’s foreign-policy record also finds support in academia.

In a survey of professors of international relations by Foreign Policy Magazine, just 1 percent of U.S. professors named George W. Bush among their top-three choices of presidents of the last 100 years they consider most effective in foreign policy.

The overwhelming favorite was Franklin D. Roosevelt, named by 72 percent of scholars, followed by Truman (40 percent) and Nixon (30 percent.)

Clinton came in at No. 4, with a 28 percent ranking, just ahead of Reagan’s 27 percent.

Carter ranked in the bottom tier with 9 percent, behind Eisenhower (18 percent), Kennedy (16 percent) and Wilson (14 percent), but well ahead of Ford (0.5 percent), Harding (0.3 percent), Johnson (0.2 percent), Taft and Coolidge (0.1 percent) and Herbert Hoover, who got a flat zero.

Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, made it into the top three of 20 percent of scholars, tying with Theodore Roosevelt.

David Rothkopf, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in his book, Running the World–The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, that emerging from World War II in 1946, America made a “stunning choice” to help the international community uphold law.

The United States built a national security apparatus not to expand dominion over the world, he said, but to “protect ourselves against those who did not” share the commitment to rule of law.

After 9/11, Rothkopf observed, the United States reversed that course, reverting to the “old, discredited idea that because we had power we could impose it if we saw doing so to be in our national interest”–not in community with other international powers, but by going it alone and using the nation’s power and influence to advance national interests as defined solely by U.S. leaders.

Carter also criticized British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who steps down in June, for “blind” and “subservient” support of the war in Iraq.

If Blair had distanced himself from the Bush administration’s policy during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Carter said, it might have made a crucial difference in America’s public and political opinions.

Carter said on British radio the war has “caused deep schisms on a global basis” and he hoped Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, would be less enthusiastic in his support for it.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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