JIMMY CARTER, ZACHARY TAYLOR, AND THE 800TH LIFETIME
It would be comforting to dismiss the Carter presidency as an unfortunate aberration in the course of the United States' political and diplomatic history, the chance meeting perhaps of a singular blunder by the American electorate and a unique succession of exceptionally difficult foreign policy problems. Evidence to support that view would not be difficult to compile. How often after all has any established democracy turned for leadership to an unknown candidate whose most telling campaign promise was to inject "people you never heard of" into offices of high responsibility? And how rarely has any major actor on the world stage confronted a broader spectrum of simultaneous challenges to its most vital interests than did the United States during the 1970s?
But such an interpretation, however alluring, would seriously compound the errors of the recent past and disguise the magnitude of the United States' political and diplomatic dilemma in the last years of the 20th century. Jimmy Carter's unsuccessful statecraft confirmed more than his own ineptitude for high office. It also brought into bold relief the two great synergistic forces that have plagued the current generation of Americans, and which may continue to plague them.
The first was the multiplying complexity of international relations in an age of mind-numbing technological progress, diminishing resources, proliferating power, and rising expectations in every capital on earth. The second was the American political system's historic tendency to ignore as if by design any issue for which no attractive and convenient solution exists. It was the convergence of these twin tragedies that created Jimmy Carter's presidency. If Carter merited personal censure for his stewardship of U.S. foreign policy, and he did, so too did the Dem