THE RETREAT TO OLYMPUS
Jimmy Carter's decision to substitute symbolism and rhetoric about human rights for the traditional tools of diplomacy reached its logical extreme in his administration's approach to the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Those regions--long tormented by military and quasi-military despotisms, continuing racial strife, pitiable standards of living, and internal wars that sometimes reached genocidal proportions--easily qualified for the kind of humanitarian crusade that Carter had proclaimed as the centerpiece of his own approach to international affairs. Yet never did the Carter White House offer plausible initiatives for confronting the gathering storm in the developing world. Instead he and his key diplomatic advisers seemed satisfied merely to identify problems and preach utopian solutions. The crucial bridge of strategy that ordinarily connects the two lay almost wholly ignored.
That tragic tendency to avoid the mechanics of foreign policy seemed entirely typical of the Carter years, for it encouraged the president to dwell on his major talent for invoking moral absolutes, a task far simpler than coming to terms with the realities of power and the accommodation of conflicting interests. As Coral Bell pointed out in a penetrating indictment of the Carter years: "Drawing up lists of irreproachable general objectives is not actually one of the more difficult aspects of foreign policy making. First year students do it with considerable éclat. The difficult part is devising the strategies and tactics which will move the real world of independent sovereign decision makers . . . in the desired directions." 1 That task, the defining characteristic of statesmanship in any generation, stretched beyond both the interests and the aptitudes of the Carter White House.