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Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, delivered Lafayette’s inaugural Robert ’69 and Margaret Pastor Lecture in International Affairs April 22 on the Quad. Robert Pastor introduced Carter prior to the lecture. Following a question-and-answer session with President Daniel H. Weiss, Carter met with students, faculty, alumni, parents, and administrators during a post-lecture reception and dinner.

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The following is a transcript of Pastor’s introduction, Carter’s visit, and the question-and-answer session.

Robert Pastor ’69: President Dan Weiss, thanks for your leadership for the last eight years, fellow classmates Judge Ed Reibman and Chairman of the Board Ed Ahart, my family, distinguished guests, and our most distinguished guest of all, our inaugural lecturer, President Jimmy Carter.

You may find this hard to believe, but when I arrived on campus as a freshman, I was uninformed and so shy that it took me two full days before I asked my roommate, “Where are the women?” He looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Are you kidding? This is an all-boys college.”

That was my first but hardly my last revelation at Lafayette. My wife, Margaret, and I have chosen to endow an international lecture series here because this is the place where my mind switched on and my awareness of the world began. We are hoping that by bringing some of the most innovative thinkers and practitioners here to speak, these lectures will have the same effect on future students.

There is something almost spiritual about the way America’s small colleges can stimulate their students’ curiosity. In intimate settings, professors can pose the large questions, and the only limits are the students’ determination to try and answer them. I started with the largest question of all – the meaning of life. That was nearly 50 years ago, and I’m only now beginning to locate an answer.

But truth be told, I was much more preoccupied with other questions, such as how to stop the war in Vietnam – how to attract women to campus on the weekends and permanently.

In my senior year, I participated in two protests at Markle Hall. The first was to ask the president to open up Lafayette to female students. The president insisted that this would be too complicated – they would need to take out half of the urinals, and this seemed to be an almost insurmountable challenge. But one year later, women were admitted. And this fall, Lafayette will install its first woman president, Alison Byerly.

The second issue that concerned me was America’s role in the world. That question was posed sharply in Vietnam, where we had sent troops to fight a war that we thought was against international communism but our enemy thought it was for their independence.

I did my senior honors thesis on Central America. To get there, I got a job on a banana boat cleaning snakes out of the hold. When we reached Nicaragua, I jumped ship and worked my way up to Guatemala. My thesis tried to explain the paradox of a democratic America that covertly overthrew an elected government in Guatemala in 1954.

I briefly worked in Washington before joining the Peace Corps in Malaysia. In my village, I met a palm-reader. He said, “You will be poor and powerless until you reach the age of 40.” I was shocked and asked, “What happens after that?” And the palm-reader said, “You’ll get used to it.”

I decided I wasn’t going to get used to it. Just seven years after I’d pulled my last all-nighter at Skillman Library, I found a path to the White House.

My training in how to dodge snakes came in handy there. It was a grand and exciting adventure to work for a President of the United States like Jimmy Carter, helping him reshape and repair our country’s relations with our Latin American neighbors.

This afternoon, it is my privilege to introduce President Carter, but I have a larger purpose. It is to explain what is special about his leadership and why it is not only relevant to our contemporary challenges but ought to be a standard for judging presidents and leaders.

The conventional wisdom is that Jimmy Carter has been our most successful former president. And for a change, the conventional wisdom is correct. The work he has done at the Carter Center has benefited untold millions. But sometimes the praise for his post-presidency seems to diminish his presidency. Our leaders should be evaluated based on whether they make decisions that serve the long-term interests of our country even if it costs them politically. If that’s the criterion, then allow me to make a provocative assertion: Jimmy Carter should rank among the best presidents. He inherited an agenda of problems that had been avoided for decades by his predecessors, and with undaunted courage, he confronted all of them.

He did it most famously, of course, in the Middle East. With his unique set of mediating skills, President Carter was able to forge a treaty of peace between Israel and Egypt – the single most important agreement that Israel has signed with its neighbors, removing the principal military threat to Israel. To achieve that, he needed to apply pressure on Israel as well as Egypt. The domestic political costs were very heavy, which may be why none of his successors have embarked on as serious a mission as he did. And in the years since, virtually no other prominent American statesman has spoken more truthfully to our Israeli allies. For that he has been criticized as being anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic. Those charges are not only unfair, they are untrue.

Of all the accomplishments of the Carter presidency, the one I know best is Panama.

All of Mr. Carter’s predecessors since Eisenhower understood the need for a new Panama Canal agreement that would transform a resentful neighbor into a partner. But only Carter was willing to risk actually doing it. The original 1903 treaty had given the United States control of a strip of land through the middle of Panama. The world had changed dramatically since then, and that treaty had become a liability—not just to our relations with Panama and Latin America, but to our fundamental interests in an open and secure canal. The Panamanians had reached the boiling point; they were beginning to consider options as extreme as sabotaging the canal itself.

Americans are justly proud of building the Panama Canal. Ronald Reagan appealed to that pride during his campaign in 1976 when he said, “We bought it, we paid for it, it’s ours, and we are going to keep it.” But Carter understood intuitively that a respectful relationship with the small, friendly country called Panama was the only solid guarantee of our interest in an open and secure canal.

The political costs of the treaties were higher than for any other in our history. About one-third of all  the senators who voted for the Panama Canal treaties lost their jobs at their next election. They weren’t the only ones. As President Carter himself enjoys reminding me, he lost his job too, and for that matter so did I.

The benefits of the canal treaties have turned out to be overwhelming. Conflicts have been avoided, and the canal is operating more efficiently and securely than ever. In fact, the Panamanians are doubling its size right now.

The rise of China may very well be the most consequential development of our time. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger have long been given credit for the opening to China, but that was actually the easy part. To normalize relations with China and to encourage it to play a positive international role required breaking relations with Taiwan, which was so costly politically that Nixon wouldn’t do it, but Carter did. That permitted China to find its path to join the international community.

Carter also ranks as a great environmental president. He helped us recognize that we had to reduce our overall dependence on carbon fuels. There were some who mocked him for actions like installing solar panels in the White House. But his example has helped to change the paradigm.

Jimmy Carter has always been a passionate champion of human rights and dignity. He had lived amidst racism but transcended it as governor of Georgia. Later, he would be the first president to invite gay leaders to visit the White House.

As President, he inserted our human rights ideals into the center of American foreign policy. He recognized that our credibility depended on opposing all forms of tyranny, not just communism. And he also understood that our effectiveness depended on insisting that these were not just American values but universal ones. That is why his message had such an electrifying effect on the whole world. Human rights leaders were empowered everywhere. Thousands of political prisoners were released, and a wave of democracy began to gather momentum.

Despite pressures to adopt a more belligerent approach against Iran, Jimmy Carter showed the restraint that the world needs from a superpower if international peace is to be sustained, and he accomplished our goal – all of our hostages came home alive.

Finally, as President, and right up to this very day, Jimmy Carter has pursued peace with the fierceness, courage, and strategic skill that great generals bring to the pursuit of war.

Permit me a personal note. Just 12 days ago, on my 66th birthday, neurosurgeons opened my brain to remove a cancerous tumor. I asked them to be careful not to touch the curiosity that had been implanted when I was at Lafayette College. They extracted the tumor while leaving the curiosity intact. Unfortunately the left side of my body was not quite as lucky, and it is paralyzed, but I promise I won’t get used to that.

After the operation, I thought that I had passed to a different world. I wasn’t sure whether I was dead or alive. I felt that the only people who could tell me were my family. It was after midnight, and since I knew my son was still awake, I asked the nurse to call him. In a kind and affirming manner, my son told me, “Dad, you’re on drugs but it’s okay, you’re alive.” I laughed but was reassured. More than reassured – I realized that he also answered that first question I had encountered at Lafayette so long ago, the one about the meaning of life. The answer is family, love, laughter, and building a better world.

It all starts with ideas and dreams, but in this world the harder task is how to translate them into real change. You need only look at our current debates on gun control, the budget, the Middle East, immigration, civil rights, and health care. We decided to start this lecture series not only as a forum for discussing global challenges but also as a way to affect change. We could not have found a better opening speaker than our guest – who has never gotten used to powerlessness and poverty – a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a relentless peacemaker, a leader who has built houses for the poor and eradicated some of the world’s worst diseases. At our current moment of national stalemate, we need national leaders like Jimmy Carter, who are willing to pay a political price to better our nation and world.

Fifty years from now, I hope that you’ll come back with your grandchild, as I have today with mine, and remind him or her that you had the unique opportunity of listening to the greatest man that I’ve ever known. I ask all of you to stand with me to welcome President Jimmy Carter to Lafayette

President Jimmy Carter: I would imagine most of you would rather hear Bob make the inaugural address as well! The first time Bob Pastor introduced me was on the 21st anniversary of the Peace Corps. My mother and my grandson were Peace Corps volunteers, and I was expecting a glorious introduction. Bob got up and said, “I want to introduce President Carter, without whom the Carter Center would not have its first name.” And he sat down. So I had to fill in the gaps between.

I’ve been involved with Bob Pastor in the most wonderful way for a long time. I come to make this inaugural address with a great deal of emotion. I’m very glad to be here at Lafayette, which has produced such a great man as Bob Pastor. Well, I’ve been a professor at Emory University now for 31 years, I’m married to the same woman for 67 years, and we have 24 grandchildren and children. So that’s my background.

I might say that all of my speeches have not been this harmonious. The first speech I made overseas after I left the White House – my wife and I went to Osaka in the southern part of Japan. I spoke at a small college not much larger than Lafayette. It was a graduation exercise, and they were very nervous to have a former president come and visit them because I had just left the White House. So I had a Japanese interpreter. As you know it takes a lot longer to say things in Japanese than it does in English. So I decided since everybody was uptight – they were very nervous, the professors, students, and parents were very nervous to have a former president there – that I would tell a joke to maybe loosen everyone up a little. I started to tell a joke. I said, “I won’t tell my best joke. I’ll just tell my shortest joke.” So I told my short joke, and the audience collapsed in laughter. It’s the best response I’ve ever had to a joke in my life. I couldn’t wait to get my speech over to go and ask the interpreter, “How did you tell my joke?” We got back in the green room afterward and I said, “Tell me how you told my joke,” and he was very evasive. I kept insisting, and he would duck his head and look the other way. Finally he said, “I told the audience, ‘President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh.’” So you see there are some advantages in having been president.

I was fairly young when I became president of the United States. I looked around the world, and I had a lot of problems to address. In fact, the Panama Canal was a major issue with me. As you may remember, a lot of countries in Latin America had broken diplomatic relations with us because we would not deal fairly with Panama. I had a problem with Fidel Castro, who was holding about 4,000 prisoners in his jails, political prisoners. We had dictatorships in almost every country in South America and also Central America. If you go down the list, Ecuador and Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru – all of them had military dictatorships, and I had to deal with all this. So I had Dr. Brzezinski bring in my national security advisor for Latin American affairs, and he brought in this child – named Robert Pastor. I said, “Look, Zbig, we can’t really get along with this.” He said, “Let me tell you about his credentials. He graduated from Lafayette College.” I was a little bit reassured. He said, “He’s also got a Ph.D. from Harvard University and he’s been a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia,” and I began to feel a little bit better.

I found out he was bold, brilliant, aggressive, and he had a mind of his own. Before long, Bob Pastor was able to bring about the Panama Canal treaties. Bob Pastor was able to induce Fidel Castro to release all 4,000 political prisoners. Bob Pastor also made a major stride toward bringing normalized relations with Cuba. He initiated a human rights program that changed every single military dictatorship in South America to a democracy. Later when he and I left the White House, involuntarily because of the 1980 elections, I got him to come to the Carter Center to be the senior fellow for Latin American affairs. Again, he was an innovator. We soon had a process of helping to monitor elections – went into Nicaragua first at Bob’s direction, and we ended the contra war and brought democracy to Nicaragua. Then we brought democracy to Panama. And since then the Carter Center has followed in Bob’s footsteps – we just had our 94th election in Kenya last month and brought free and fair democracy to Kenya without any violence. Bob then went to China, and Bob arranged with the Chinese officials for the Carter Center to monitor the elections in 650,000 little villages in China. We did that for 15 years. The villages in China – the little villages – are not part of the Communist Party system. The Communist Party starts at the townships, then big cities, counties, and provinces, but the little villages are not part of the system. And Bob Pastor arranged for us to go in and monitor these elections, and now they have absolutely pure democratic elections in 650,000 villages in China – all because of Bob Pastor.

I won’t go into any more details, but he’s written 17 books, and this is the only thing I’ve ever exceeded Bob in. I’ve got 27 books, but he’s still striving, and I’m sure he’s going to catch me before it’s over.

Let me change subjects a little bit now and point out that we have – Bob also helped us work between Fatah and Hamas and arranged – with my help on some of these things, I have to admit – to present a very peaceful proposal to the state of Israel. Margy said, when we had a ceremony for Bob not too long ago, something about Bob that I like to quote. She said, “Bob is a person who causes people to reach beyond themselves.” I have to say that I’m guilty of one of Bob’s influences. Bob has helped me to reach beyond myself. I would guess that the new lectureship established here at Lafayette in the name of Bob and Margy will be one that will let the students reach beyond themselves.

I’d like to say very briefly some of the things the Carter Center does. We have tried to reach beyond ourselves with Bob’s inspiration. One of those things we do is to promote peace. The Carter Center has a policy, established by me and my wife about 32 years ago, of not duplicating what others do in the world. If the United States government or the World Health Organization or the United Nations or Harvard University or Lafayette is doing a job overseas that’s adequate, we don’t duplicate them, and we don’t try to compete with them. In effect, the Carter Center fills vacuums in the world. One of the things we do is try to promote peace. We work in Cuba. We work in North Korea. We work in Nepal, that’s now headed by Maoists. We work in the Middle East with Hamas and also with the Fatah. We work in Syria. We try to bring democracy to other people. The Carter Center has been involved in holding elections throughout the Arab Spring area. We did the election in Tunisia. We did the election in Libya, and we’re still in Egypt conducting the elections there. We also have been in Indonesia to bring the first two democratic elections ever held in Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country on earth.

We also help deal with diseases. The Carter Center fills vacuums in the area of disease. We now handle what the World Health Organization calls “neglected tropical diseases.” We go into countries and deal with diseases about which even the medical profession here has never heard – onchocerciasis, dracunculiasis, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma. Those kinds of diseases – they don’t affect any country that’s rich now, not the United States or Canada or Europe or Japan. They don’t even affect countries that are moderately rich, like Egypt. But they adversely affect hundreds of millions of people throughout Africa and some in Latin America. We are making good progress on that subject. For instance, on onchocerciasis, which is river blindness, the Carter Center has now eliminated river blindness from the face of the earth in this hemisphere. We now, every year, treat with free medicine given to us by Merck and Co. about 12.5 million people. We go into the little villages in the jungles and in the desert areas of Africa and put medicine in their mouths, and they will never go blind. In addition to that, we deal with trachoma, which is the number one cause of preventable blindness. It’s also caused by infected eyes. If you go into a village in Kenya or somewhere with the Masai people or Dinka children – from a distance you think the little children are wearing eyeglasses. When you get closer to them, you find that it’s a ring of flies that stay permanently around their eyes getting moisture from their eyeballs, and eventually the eyes get infected. The upper lids turn inward, and every time they blink their eyes the eyelashes slash the cornea, and this is the number one cause of preventable blindness on earth. The Carter Center now performs 40 percent of all the surgeries on earth to end this very serious scourge.

We decided that we would try to get rid of flies in Africa, which is a big task, as you can probably imagine. So we decided we’d go in and help the people put in latrines, an outdoor toilet. So we thought we’d go into Ethiopia and introduce the latrines in a village and try to get them started. We thought we might have a few thousand latrines built. But it became a women’s liberation operation, because in Africa, in many countries, it’s absolutely forbidden – taboo, they call it – for a woman to relieve herself in the daytime, either to urinate or defecate. So the women’s liberation movement saw these outdoor toilets that they can use in private as a way for them to relieve themselves in the daytime. By the end of the first year, we had 86,000 latrines built in Ethiopia. We just passed 2,300,000 latrines that we have helped build in Africa. Now instead of me being known as the one who brought peace between Israel and Egypt, I’m known as the number one latrine builder in the world. Those are some things that the Carter Center does.

I’ve been asked to outline in my brief talk something for the future of this fellowship to pursue. I would like to suggest that you talk about or think about or study how we can improve our own nation. I’m very proud of America. I was president of this great country, and I know about its great achievements. But I think on occasion we need to stop and ask what is there about America that can be changed, that can be improved? This is not the kind of speech that most people make, but I want this to be planted in your minds, particularly students who will be here in the future.

What can we do to improve our own lives? Let me go down the list. Let’s talk about peace. That’s one of the major attributes that a human being would have in his life. I would say that the major religions would also have these same kind of things in mind. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Jew or a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist. The major religions advocate peace. They also advocate taking care of the environment. They also advocate helping people who are in need.

Let me talk about a few of those things now. Since World War II, the United States has been at war in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many others. Almost constantly since World War II, our nation has been at war. I would like for our country in the future to have a reputation as a champion of peace. I think that’s one of the characteristics of the superpower. My wife and I were on our way to the inauguration in January, and I tried to think of anywhere on earth at this moment where the United States is trying to promote peace. When we got to Washington, John Kerry – then a senator, but he had already been designated as the next secretary of state – and his wife met with me and Rosalynn in the hotel room. I said, “John, can you think of anywhere on earth now that the United States is trying to promote peace?” He said, “No.” But he said, “When I get in office as secretary of state, I’m going to go to the Mideast, and will start again.” So at least in the Mideast now we’re trying that.

Let’s think a moment now about human rights. The United States was in the forefront of developing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the end of the Second World War. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of Franklin D. Roosevelt, went there and declared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are 30 paragraphs in the declaration. The United States at this moment is violating 10 of the 30 paragraphs. We now are detaining people in prison, without a trial and without an accusation presented against them, for life. Half the people in Guantánamo Bay, in the prison there, have never been tried and have never been accused of a crime, but will be in prison for the rest of their lives. And the United States is now using drones, as you know, to go into foreign countries with which we are not at war, and committing executions.

The United States also is the only industrialized nation with the death penalty, and we have the most prisoners of any nation on earth. In fact, we have seven times as many people in prison now as we did when I left the White House in 1981. Most of this punishment is against poor people, minorities, and the mentally ill. Our democracy now is one that has lost the confidence of many of our people. As you know, we are heavily infected with massive infusions of money. After the Citizens United ruling of the Supreme Court, there is an unlimited amount of corporate money that can go into campaigns. Most of this money is spent on negative commercials to destroy the reputation of your opponent, and the negative attitude goes over into Washington. A lot of people have lost confidence in our government as well.

We haven’t had a champion of the environment since George Bush Sr. He went to Rio de Janeiro and committed our nation to be in the forefront of dealing with global warming. We have now relinquished that authority.

I would hope that in the future, the United States of America – as it has done in the past dealing with challenges – will do what is needed now. With a new president in a second term, 12 years after 9/11, we have an opportunity for the country that we love to meet the challenge. When we have difficulties, reach for greatness. I would like to see in the future America become a nation that’s a champion of peace, of human rights, of the environment, of alleviating suffering around the world, of having a pure democracy, where everyone feels confidence in our government.

Those are some of the challenges ahead of us. I want to remind you that I’m not criticizing America, because I know that America is the greatest nation on earth. I would like to see here, at Lafayette College, a kind of core of inspiration and searching for greatness that could be the core that will bring our country to realize the same kind of dreams that Bob Pastor had when he was a student here and has brought back here with his wife to bless this country again through this small college that can be the heartbeat of democracy, freedom, and human rights in the future. Thank you very much.

Questions and Answers

Daniel H. Weiss: Thank you so much, Mr. President, for your remarks and your inspirational view of what might be possible. Many of the people in the audience are students who have a very strong hope for the future, but, I would say, some pessimism and skepticism about what’s possible. What would you advise young people today to do to try to make a difference in the world? Is it through the political system, or are there other ways, like the Carter Center, that you think they can make the greatest impact?

Jimmy Carter: As I said, I’ve been a professor at Emory University for 31 years now. I deal intimately with students in all the departments in the university. I see the attitude of students kind of go up and down in cycles. I would say now that there is a very encouraging realization among young people that the government can’t do everything, and that’s a very good thing to have us realize. But the second thing is that most young people now realize that there are things that only the government can do for us, like have universal health care, a good welfare system, a good education system, and security for our nation. I think the combination of trust in government and a government of which we can always be proud, as well as saying: “I have a lot of responsibility on my own. In my own community, I’ll do the best I can to inculcate the things that I learned in church or synagogue or in a mosque. I’m going to put into being in my own environment, among my own circle of friends that might be large or small, the highest standard of human decency and morality and ethics, and I want to see the same thing happen in my larger community of the United States of America.”

I believe that this is what is now taking place in the minds of young people, who have an unprecedented ability to communicate with each other and to share ideals that only exist really within the flexible minds of students. Once you get out of college you won’t have that freedom that you have now, before you take on the responsibilities of a family and a job. You can dream great dreams and then think how we can do it together, on my own initiative and working harmoniously with my government. I think that combination is kind of new with this new generation, and I hope that’s the kind of thing that will originate here at Lafayette.

Weiss: You mentioned that you recently spoke with Secretary of State Kerry. I’m wondering if you had him here, what you would say to him to advise him with regard to North Korea, and the president as well. What should we do with North Korea?

Carter: As a matter of fact, last week I wrote John Kerry a letter about what to do in North Korea. I’ve been to North Korea probably more than any other American has. In 1994, the United States was facing the possibility of a war between North and South Korea. As you know, we have a peace treaty with South Korea, but we don’t have a peace treaty with North Korea. We still have a cease-fire left over 60 years from the end of the Korean War. I was a submarine officer in the Pacific during the Korean War, and I hated Kim Il Sung, who was responsible for the deaths of about 53,000 Americans during the Korean War. But Kim Il Sung asked me at the Carter Center for three years if I would come over there and talk to him, because no one in the U.S. government would talk to the North Koreans. I couldn’t get permission to go from the president, so I finally decided I would go anyway when my friends from China said, “If somebody doesn’t talk to the North Koreans, they’re going to invade South Korea, and there will probably be a million casualties.” So I decided to go. I wrote Bill Clinton a letter and said, “I’ve decided to go to North Korea without your permission.” He was in Europe; it was the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landing. Al Gore got my letter, and he called me on the phone. He said, “Mr. President, if you will change that sentence to ‘I’m strongly inclined to go to North Korea,’ I’ll try to get the president to approve.” The next day he called back and said, “The president approves.”

I went to North Korea, and Kim Il Sung had one great goal in mind. He said, “I want to have a peace treaty with the United States, which we’ve never been able to get, and I want to have the embargo lifted against my country,” which the United States was imposing, doing all we could to destroy the economy of North Korea. I negotiated with Kim Il Sung, who then threatened to have nuclear bombs. I happen to be a nuclear engineer, so I knew what I was talking about – and so did he, by the way. Eventually we spent hours with Kim Il Sung, my wife and I and he and his wife. He agreed to do away with his nuclear program, to let the international inspectors come back in and stay there permanently, to have a peace agreement with South Korea, and have a summit meeting to withdraw his troops back away from the DMZ so they wouldn’t be a threat of attacking South Korea, to let Americans go in and explore and find the remains of people we lost in North Korea – a whole gamut of things. President Clinton negotiated those and put them into an agreement, and it stayed there for eight years.

Then the next president came along, whose name I won’t mention, and decided that was a mistake. He declared that North Korea was an “Axis of Evil” and tore up the agreement that had been consummated. And as you now, North Korea now has nuclear weapons. I’ve been there two or three times since, and I can tell you that what North Koreans want is a peace treaty with the United States, and they want the 60-year economic embargo lifted against their people so they can have an equal chance to trade and commerce.

It’s a very paranoid country. They are honestly convinced that the United States wants to attack them and destroy their country, to eliminate the Communist regime. They make a lot of mistakes, but I think if the United States would just talk to the North Koreans, and if the United States would just talk to the Cubans, and if the United States would just talk to the Maoists in Nepal, and if the United States would just talk to the Syrians, and if the United States would just talk to the Palestinians – I believe in those ways we could have peace, and the United States would be a lot better off in the long run. That’s not an easy thing to say, but I think it’s true.

Weiss: You are the most prolific author of all presidents in American history. You and Churchill may be the most prolific of all in terms of the number of books that you’ve written, 27 and counting. One of our faculty members asked, can you say something about why writing is such an important part of your life? Which writers do you look to as models in your work?

Carter: As a matter of fact, I don’t get a salary from the Carter Center, and I’m unemployed. So I’ve written books, and they are the main source of my income. Luckily, they’ve been very good sellers. I really like to write because it’s not an easy thing for a former president to go around the country and make speeches that cover controversial subjects. But when I write a book about a controversial subject, I go around and appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, for instance, and then lesser things than that – but I’ve been on Jon Stewart a lot. It gives me a chance to tell people what the Carter Center is doing, what I’m doing, and to make some suggestions about international affairs. It also gives me a chance to tell about the different aspects of my personal life. I’ve written a book about my youngest years. I’ve written a book about my religious experiences. I really enjoy the writing. I used to write all by hand; now I do it on the computer, of course. I write until I get tired of it, when I’m at home for a few days, and then I walk about 20 steps to my woodshop and build furniture. And now I’ve become a painter. I give my furniture and my paintings to the Carter Center, and the Carter Center auctions them off. They bring enormous sums of money, not because of my good artwork, but because someday somebody will have a painting done by the President of the United States. That’s another thing I have in common with Churchill – I’m a painter. I make money for the Carter Center, I have a good time, and I make an income for myself.

Weiss: This is from a student. We see today the democratic aspirations of the Middle East resonating across the region, sparking revolutions and regime change. Yet their model of liberal democracy can be different from ours. One great example would be the Muslim Brotherhood denouncing women’s rights. Should we be inflicting our view of what democracy is on these countries or should we be more flexible in how we understand democracy? To what extent should we be interventionists in supporting those initiatives?

Carter: As I mentioned briefly, the Carter Center has monitored the elections in Tunisia and Libya, and we’ve been in Egypt now without leaving for two years. We will be there when they elect a new parliament this year. We were also there when the Palestinians conducted all three of their elections. In fact, Bob Pastor was with us there. I think the United States should promote the concept of democracy, should let the people in the country vote. As long as the election is honest, fair, and safe, I believe that the will of the people should prevail. For instance, in the last election the Palestinians had, the United States and Israel said that Hamas could participate in the election if they agreed to promote peace in the future and Hamas candidates qualified to run for the election. Surprising to everyone, Hamas won the election. After the election was over, then the United States and Israel declared that Hamas members were all terrorists, so they were not permitted to take office, and all of the Hamas candidates in the West Bank and Israel were put in prison for at least three years because they were terrorists.

I think that the United States ought to promote democracy, and when the election is over, we should respect the will of the people who choose their own leaders. This is happening in Egypt as well. Mohamed Morsi, who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president in an open and fair and safe and honest election. He’s trying to start a new government there. He’s only been in office since last June. They don’t yet have a final constitution, as you know. I think we should be patient with them and give them support as they promote democratic principles. As a matter of fact, the United States declared our independence in 1776, and we have to remember it took us 12 years to get a constitution. Egypt has almost got a constitution in one year, so we shouldn’t be too condemnatory about it. I think Morsi – whom I know quite well; he’s an engineer like me; he got his Ph.D. from [the University of Southern California], and he was dean of an engineering school in Cairo, Egypt, when I first met him – is really struggling to bring about democracy and freedom and women’s rights there.

To add one thing that you didn’t ask about, the Carter Center promotes human rights, and every year we have a defender’s conference where we take on a certain issue. This year our issue will be women’s rights, because we believe at the Carter Center that one of the greatest blights on the world political system is the abuse of women, not giving them equal rights. And that comes from the great religions declaring that women are not equal to men in the eyes of God. I used to be a Southern Baptist, and their seminaries now don’t even let women teachers instruct male students. And they don’t let women be pastors or deacons, and the Catholic Church, as you know, doesn’t let women be priests, and the Islamic world is the same. In Saudi Arabia, a woman can’t even get a driver’s license. In the United States, we know that women make about 70 percent as much for doing the same work as a man. A lot of that comes from the great religions saying that women are not equal to men, and if a husband wants to abuse his wife or if an employer wants to pay less to a woman employee than a man or do anything else to abuse women, then they say, “If women are not equal in the eyes of God, then why should I treat a woman as equal?” So the Carter Center is having a major international conference this year on that subject, and it’s going to be in Cairo, Egypt. It’ll be supported by President Morsi and the Egyptians.

These are the kinds of issues that are very precious to me and I think to every human being. But they’re the kinds of issues that are not ordinarily addressed because we tend to ignore things with which we live. But this is the kind of thing that I hope will be done here at Lafayette, particularly with the new Pastor [Lectures]. I hope that the people who listen to your lectures and the students who participate will say, “What is it that’s going wrong in the world? It’s not perfect. Although I love what I’m doing, how can I make things better for us and make things better for other people?” That’s the main thing I hope will be accomplished here, and I have confidence it can produce the kind of folks that I’m talking about.

Weiss: What do you see as the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today? What advice do you have for how to bring about productive change?

Carter: The first glimmer of global warming came about while I was president. Some people at Woods Hole research center in Massachusetts found out that there was a steady and inexorable, apparently, increase in the average temperature on earth. It goes up and down a lot, and you can have very cold days like this in April, but it was inexorable, they thought. So my scientific advisor, Dr. Frank Press, came to me and told me about it. Since then it’s become apparent to me that there is a trend toward global warming.

Scientists now overwhelmingly – I’d say 99 percent of the scientists on earth – see this as a major challenge. I won’t go into detail because you know a lot of the details, but we see the North Sea now with the ice melting, and polar bears might be extinct 25 years from now, and so forth. A lot of villages around the coastal areas are now being abandoned in Asia. I think that global warming is the greatest overall threat to human society now, and this is something that we need to address. I mentioned in my talk that George Bush Sr. was the last president who put our country in the forefront of dealing with environmental issues. Nowadays the Europeans have taken over that responsibility. I believe that this is something also that can be addressed by America: “Okay, we know something is wrong. Let’s take the leadership and start trying to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide that goes into the air. Let’s concentrate on finding alternative sources of energy that won’t deteriorate the environment.”

I noticed between here and the airport when we came in that there were photovoltaic cells on the south side of the road. It looked like about five acres of them. If you travel in Spain like I do fairly often, almost every hilltop has windmills on it, and to me they look very beautiful. Now we’ve found natural gas, which is going to be a replacement for some of the burning of the more effluent sources of energy. I think that this is the kind of thing that we need to address. I hope that answers your question. I think dealing with global warming in a generic way and having United States be at the forefront of these efforts is one of the things I would like to see.

Weiss: I wonder if there is in your view a disconnect between what seems to be one of the great issues of American concern, questions of the environment and global warming. That is to say, for instance, college students around the country are deeply committed to this issue. But it doesn’t always seem that elected officials resonate with those issues so much. I wonder to what extent is political change possible on that issue, as opposed to grassroots work of the sort that our students engage in now?

Carter: I don’t have much confidence that we’re going to see quick political change in Washington. There is no evidence of that that I can detect. Now the negative commercials and so forth carry on into Washington, and you get – it’s quite different than when I ran for office as president. Now the Democrats don’t talk to the Republicans, the Republicans in Congress don’t talk to the Democratic president. It’s kind of a deadlock in our government, and the esteem of the American people toward our government has reached perhaps an all-time low with Congress having about 10 or 11 percent favorable reaction among the people of our country. A lot of it is because of a massive infusion of money into the campaign. When I ran for president against an incumbent president, Gerald Ford, you know how much money he and I raised for the general election? Zero. We didn’t raise a penny from contributors, and the same thing happened when I ran against Ronald Reagan four years later. We just took the $2 per person check-off from taxpayers. I think as long as our country is polarized like it is now, it’s very unlikely that Republicans and Democrats in Congress are going to take bold actions to deal with peace, to deal with the environment, to deal with health care, and so forth. This is something that I believe is going to be changed only if it’s changed by the people of our country. It may be that we’re going to have to have some very serious climactic tragedies around the world before we finally say, “Let’s do what we have to and deal with the global warming issue.” I think as far as the elected officials taking initiative, I’m very doubtful that’s going to take place. It’s going to have to come to the general public to convince the officials in Washington and elsewhere that we need to change what our country is doing.

Weiss: The Camp David Accords are generally seen as one of the great diplomatic achievements of recent American history. As you look across the landscape of the political issues that we face around the world, do you see opportunities for that kind of diplomatic engagement, where you find people of courage and commitment who are willing to take a risk and help a leader like you did to bring about a kind of substantive change? Do you see opportunities for that kind of thing?

Carter: I do. I think that nowadays, there is a real need for the United States to be in the forefront of setting an example on mediating disputes. When I was in the White House with Dr. Pastor, we were determined to keep the peace for ourselves. The time I was there we never dropped a bomb, we never launched a missile, we never fired a bullet at anyone else. We also tried to bring peace to other people by negotiating between Israel and Egypt, for instance. They had been at war four times in the previous 25 years. The peace treaty that we were able to negotiate, as you pointed out, 31 years ago, not a single word has ever been violated between them. Egypt and Israel have stayed at peace. When I met with President Morsi in Egypt, the first question I asked him was, “Would you adhere to the principles in the Camp David Accords and the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt?” He said, “Yes, because it means so much to the Egyptian people to have peace with Israel. We will never violate this. If we want to change the treaty, we will get Israel to agree to any changes and make them mutual.” So this is something that really needs to be done, I think, on a global basis – for all the major powers that are at peace to be champions of peace and help those who are searching for it to find it. This applies right now to Myanmar. I just came from Myanmar recently. They are trying to establish democracy and bring peace within that country. They have a lot of civil wars going on there, and we did the same thing in Nepal.

I think the greatest need is to have Israel and Arab countries have peace. My top priority in international affairs for the last 35 years has been to bring peace to Israel. The only way you can do that is to have peace with Israel’s neighbors. And Israel’s closest neighbors are the Palestinians. The Camp David Accords spell out a principle by which Israel can have peace with all of its neighbors. That is for them to withdraw to the 1967 borders (with some modifications), and then to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and let Palestinians have their own free elections. This is what we specified, and this is the policy of the United States of America as well. It’s the policy of the United Nations, and it’s a policy of all the countries around them. John Kerry, since he and I had that conversation that I described to you the morning of the inauguration, has been there. Now he is trying to induce the Israelis to accept the peace proposal that was made by them for the first time in the year 2002, and that is what I just outlined to you. All the Arab countries in the world have told Israel, “If you’ll do this, then we’ll have full peace with you and sign a peace treaty with you.” That also applied to all the Islamic countries in the world, including Iran, by the way. All the 56 Islamic countries that have Muslim beliefs, they all offered Israel the same thing: “If you’ll just withdraw to the 1967 borders and have peace within your own country, we’ll declare peace with you.” So that’s the ultimate goal for which we should work. I believe in the future we’re going to see that happen. I have confidence in that. I’m an optimist.

Weiss: This comes from a student who is currently studying abroad in Madrid. What has changed most, in your view, of the world’s view of the United States and its citizens since the time you were in office? What factors do you think have driven this change?

Carter: I think that when I was in the White House – and not because of me – the United States at that time was challenged by the Soviet Union. We had two superpowers on earth, and we had the threat of a nuclear war. Together we had more than 30,000 nuclear weapons, and my constant prayer, literally, was to have peace with the Soviet Union to avoid a nuclear war. Since then, of course – particularly because of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was here earlier I understand – the Soviet Union was dissolved, and now there’s only one superpower on earth, and that’s United States of America. I think in the future the United States is not going to be the dominant military and economic and political factor. I think for a long time we’re going to be the dominant military factor, but China is now rapidly increasing its economic status. I would say within the next 15 years or 20 years, China is probably going to pass the United States as far as economic involvement. They will have about three times as many people as we have, and the average income per person will be about one-third of America’s, but they will be very strong economically. And they are getting very strong politically around the world, as well. I think the United States will still be in the forefront of the world as far as universities are concerned, education is concerned, the most ancient democracy. This is what I see as happening in the future. I’ve forgotten the basic question that you asked.

My wife and I have been to more than 140 countries in the world. The Carter Center has programs in 73 countries right now. I would say that now the United States is looked upon as the most bull-like nation on earth. When I normalized diplomatic relations with China, for instance, the next morning Deng Xiaoping told me that they were going to invade Vietnam. I said, “I hope you won’t do that, because you and I have just agreed to normalize relations between our countries, and the first thing you’re going to do is invade another country.” He said, “Well, we have to punish them.” I said, “Well, do me a favor. Don’t stay in Vietnam very long.” He said, “Okay.” So they invaded Vietnam in 1979 and withdrew in two weeks. China hasn’t been to war since, and neither has Brazil, and neither have many countries that I could mention to you. But the United States has constantly been at war, and I would say that the most critical aspect of other people looking at the United States has been that we are warlike, we tend to resolve every dispute by going to war. We are now threatening to go into Mali, we are threatening to go into Iran, and so forth – I’m not going to go down the list of things. I think that’s the main criticism.

At the same time, there is a great appreciation that the United States has the most wonderful system of higher education on earth. We have the most innovative scientists and engineers. We are most deeply committed to the basic principles of democracy and freedom. Our country is overwhelmingly religious in attitude. So all of the great moral values of ethics and fair treatment and democracy and freedom – the United States is still looked upon with great admiration. I would say that we are the number one country on earth that other people want to move to and have a life here. We are the most blessed people on earth in having the principles that have made this country great. There is no doubt in my mind that in the future the United States is still going to be a superpower, maybe not just because of military dominance and economic dominance, but because we adhere to the principles that have already made our country the greatest nation on earth. I believe that’s what we’re going to see in the future.

Weiss: This is from a student. It’s a very difficult question from a student’s perspective. What’s the most valuable thing that you learned in college, and how does it help you?


Carter: I went to college at the U.S, Naval Academy. I went first to Georgia Southwestern College, where my wife also graduated, and then I went to Georgia Tech, where I learned how to study. Then I went to the Naval Academy, where I learned discipline and learned to respect my country. Then I went to graduate school at Union College in Schenectady, New York, and studied nuclear physics. I’ve had a wide range of opportunities for college. I would say that the greatest impact of all those colleges was at the U.S Naval Academy. My father was a first lieutenant in the First World War. I served during the Second World War and the Korean War. My oldest son volunteered and served in the Vietnamese war. I’ve learned that the great military capability of the United States should be designed to preserve peace. That made a great impression on me. I think to preserve security for America means to rely on wonderful friends in Canada and Mexico and warm waters on the east and west of our country, giving us a natural security for ourselves. It is within that encapsulated environment of security and prosperity and innovation and idealism that can be engendered the heartbeat of the finest aspects of human life on earth. That was what I learned from being a naval officer and serving in submarines for seven years and being prepared to defend my country with my life if necessary, but hoping that we could use the power of our military to preserve peace so that the great aspirations of Americans could be realized and positively affect people’s lives all over the earth. That’s a long answer to a difficult question. I want to thank you again for letting me come and participate in this wonderful day.

Weiss: Thank you so much, President Carter. Thank you to President Carter and to Bob and Margy Pastor for a wonderful visit.

Categorized in: Faculty and Staff, News and Features


  1. Rosemarie Stallworth-Clark says:

    Thank you for these wonderful transcripts of President Carter’s visit to Lafayette. President and Mrs. Carter also joined us at Georgia Southern University for an evening with our students on February 12, 2013. We, too, were so very blessed to have them with us! Thank you for sharing news of the Carters as you encourage them to continue their magnificent work in the world.

    Dr. Stallworth-Clark, Ph.D., Emerita, Facilitator, Peace and Justice Studies Faculty Learning Community, Georgia Southern University (Statesboro, Georgia/USA)

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