LONDON -- President Bush has exploited the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a timorous American press has not held him to account, former President Jimmy Carter said in an interview published yesterday.
Carter was asked by the Guardian newspaper why he failed to win reelection in 1980 against Ronald Reagan after Iranian radicals held US citizens hostage for 444 days, while Bush may win reelection despite misgivings over the Iraq war.
"The basic reason is that our country suffered, in 9/11, a terrible and shocking attack . . . and George Bush has been adroit at exploiting that attack, and he has elevated himself, in the consciousness of many Americans, to a heroic commander in chief, fighting a global threat against America," Carter said.
"He's repeatedly played that card, and to some degree quite successfully. I think that success has dissipated. I don't know if it's dissipating fast enough to affect the election. We'll soon know."
Carter said Bush has the advantage of being commander in chief in a time of war. "And it's just become almost unpatriotic to describe Bush's fallacious and ill-advised and mistaken and sometimes misleading actions," Carter said.
"The press have been cowed, because they didn't want to be unpatriotic. There has been a lack of inquisitive journalism. In fact, it's hard to think of a major medium in the United States that has been objective and fair and balanced, and critical when criticism was deserved."
Carter criticized Bush for abandoning arms control efforts pursued by previous US administrations. "All of those long, tedious negotiations that were done by Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Nixon, and me, and Reagan, to control the spread of nuclear weapons have been abandoned by Bush," Carter said.
Carter was defeated in a landslide in 1980 by Reagan, and the feeling of national humiliation over the Iranian hostage drama apparently played a part. The Iranian hostage-takers waited until the day of Reagan's inauguration to release their captives.
Carter said the hostage crisis was less damaging to US interests than the recent war in Iraq. "The entire Islamic world condemned Iran," Carter said, while today there was massive Islamic condemnation of the United States.