KCTS 9 Connects/Jimmy Carter - February 17, 2012

Jimmy Carter
  • KCTS 9 Connects

Jimmy Carter

Excerpts from Jimmy Carter's keynote address at the 60th anniversary of Seattle's World Affairs Council.

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About the Episode

We present a special President's Day Weekend edition of KCTS 9 Connects, with former President Jimmy Carter. We show excerpts from his keynote address at the 60th anniversary of the Seattle's World Affairs Council, followed by a wide-ranging question and answer session moderated by Enrique Cerna.

Chapter 1: Keynote Address

Chapter 2: Q&A Session

Enrique Cerna:
The 2012 presidential campaign came to Washington state this week with visits from President Obama and two republican presidential candidates, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Mitt Romney is scheduled to hold a fundraiser here on March 1st, just before the state republican caucus on March 3rd. That caucus will be getting plenty of national attention as the candidates continue to battle it out for the republican presidential nomination. Tonight, as we head into the Presidents' Day weekend, it seems fitting that we hear from a former president, Jimmy Carter. The 39th President of the United States has been a busy man since leaving office. He founded the nonpartisan, nonprofit carter center, where the former president, his wife Roslyn, and their staff, focus on national and international efforts, traveling the world to monitor elections, promote democracy and human rights, and working on health and agriculture projects in the developing world. In 2002, President Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his conflict mediation and humanitarian efforts. Over the years, he's been a prolific author, writing 26 books. As the world affairs council marked its 60th anniversary at the Paramount Theatre, Mr. Carter delivered a key note address about global engagement, its importance, and challenges.

President Carter:
Rose and I, my wife and I, have visited more than 130 nations. And I see how vital it is that the United States remain globally engaged. As the leader, the world needs an America that is economically sound, socially attractive, and very powerful, but also trusted and respected. The United States is now completely dominant in military affairs. In fact, some say our budget equals the combined military budgets of all the other countries in the world. We don't quite do that, but we exceed the combined budget of the next 17 countries. And we are also spending a great portion of our wealth on our military, and I don't think its ill spent. We spend about 4.6% of our gross national product on defense. Whereas China, as best we can estimate, only spends about 2%, less than half as much. And the United States is also ahead in technology, in economy, in our higher education system is of sterling quality. In fact, of the 20 best universities on earth, 17 of them are in the United States of America. But elementary and secondary education system is going the wrong way. As many of you know. I'm deeply concerned about some of our country's other problems, which I'll outline to you very briefly. Since I left office, for instance, just in the last few years, 1% of the richest people on earth have doubled the percentage of wealth in this country. And the upward mobility of the middle class has now become completely stagnant. Infrastructure is deteriorating because we have an absence of interest from the congress and also very little money to spend. Our airports, our highways, and our space program is going in the wrong direction. And just to give you one more example, our high speed rail service in the United States really consists of just the railroad between Boston and Washington. The average speed of which is 65 miles per hour.
[LAUGHTER]
China, on the other hand, has 6,000 miles of high speed rail, with an average speed of more than 125 miles per hour. We also face the risk of confrontation with the Islamic world. We might say perhaps the worst prospect on earth is a radicalized Pakistan. As you all know, Pakistan has a very large nuclear arsenal, and they place their weapons spread very widely throughout the country to avoid a preemptive strike from India. If something should happen to Pakistan's government and terrorists take over the nuclear arsenal, I can't imagine anything more threatening. And you also know that our country now has the least amount of influence in the mid east peace process that we have had since the founding of a nation of Israel. There is an amazing awakening of formerly dormant people who accepted dictatorships, and we face a very severe image problem among our closest friends in the past. In the meantime, we say China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and perhaps Russia, increasing their relative influence. The United States has about 5% of the world's population, though. And we have 25% of the global product, that is, we produce that much, 25% of the world's total productivity. But our U.S. debt is now passing $16 trillion, which is $45,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. At the same time, China holds a lot of our debt, and china has positive financial reserves, about $3.5 trillion. Americans, you and I, need to understand the truth about our challenges. And we need to be part of the plans to resolve them. At the same time, the United States retains friendly neighbors, warm seas, abundant wealth and resources, the finest universities on earth, a great military, human liberty, and an entrepreneurial spirit that is the key to our future progress. It's sobering at the same time to realize how much obligation we have to other countries that's built up since the second world war, to Europe, to Israel, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, to our neighbors like Mexico, to Japan, South Korea, they depend on our nuclear umbrella to protect them, and many others. And they need a lasting super power. What is a super power? I think a super power should be known around the world as being strong and resilient and understanding. I would like to see people in any country on earth that have a threat to their peace to say, why don't we go to Washington? Because Washington believes in peace. I would like to see anybody on earth that is challenged or abused by their leaders in human rights to say why don't we go to Washington? Because the United States is a champion of human rights. I'd like to see people around the world that are worried about the environment, global warming, to say, why don't we listen to what the United States has, because the United States is a champion of environmental quality and will be the leader in global warming. I would like to see the United States be the champion of generosity. In sharing our great wealth and power and influence. As we have done with other people. Well, this is America's destiny. But it depends on whether you and I and many others, and our political leaders, will join together in making America in every possible definition a super power. Thank you.
[APPLAUSE]

Enrique:
Following his address, I moderated a question and answer session with Mr. Carter, covering a wide range of international and national issues.

You noted how many elections that you have traveled around the world, 87 I believe, that you had mentioned. Monitoring elections. I was talking to one of your staff members who mentioned to me that in looking at your schedule that you and your wife keep, that you are traveling more now than you were 15 years ago. Give me a little understanding of how you keep up with this and why it is important in the work of the Carter Center.

Carter:
Well, a lot of people depend on us, as a matter of fact, in some countries, we have a special privilege of being trusted and honored and we have such a deep in roads into the countries life when we are teaching people how to grow more food grain or trying to eradicate guinea worm, we kind of cover the whole country. So when they do have a problem with a peace challenge or with a troubled election, say the first election to replace a dictatorship, the last thing they want is for the United States government or the united nations to come in. And since we're ready to go if we need it, then they call on us. So we go to those countries. My wife was in Tunisia when they had the first election. And it went quite well. And as I said, the Carter Center has been in Egypt now since November, and we'll be there through June when they elect a new president. So it's a great pleasure for us. And I might say quickly that we don't look upon it as a sacrifice, it's a chance at my age for adventure and unpredictability and challenge.

Enrique:
There's a little bit of that out there.

Carter:
And also gratification. So when I was very young 15 years ago...
[LAUGHTER]
I was only 72 years old then. I was active, but I've got two new knees now and I'm much more active than I was last summer.
[APPLAUSE]

Enrique:
That's what I call a major tuneup, right? Okay. It's going to keep you going for a while. You mentioned the fact that you were in Egypt recently, I guess about two weeks ago. Your sense of what is happening there and the possibility of them having democracy, because it is still so tenuous.

Carter:
Well as you know, Egypt changed from the pharaohs and biblical times to domination by other countries, and then a king. And for the last 52 years I believe it is, they've had military dictatorships. And the military has not only run the military, but also the government and also taken a large part of the economy. So the revolution started almost exactly a year ago on the 25th of January, has now overthrown the dictator and they are very busy now establishing a new government. And they began the elections in November for the house of representatives, or the lower house. They just finished those when I was over there and began the election for the house, which will be their Senate in effect. And then they'll write a new constitution, and then they'll elect a president by the middle of June if things go well. And you have to remember that 90% of Egyptian citizens are Muslims. And it's not an accident or surprise that they have prevailed in the election. So the Muslim brotherhood that was imprisoned you might say for the last 50 years, their leadership, won the election. They got about 47% of the seats in the parliament, and the very rigid and right wing Muslims got 25%, and the others got a smaller percentage. I met with the leaders of the Muslim brotherhood who were victorious with their political and also their religious leaders. And I was emphasizing the fact that no matter what happens, they should preserve the peace treaty with Israel. And they agreed with that. That will be one of their top priorities. But I also reminded them, I didn't have to do this, that they will have the first chance anywhere in the world really to demonstrate that a militant Muslim body or group can govern effectively and honor human rights and honor democracy, honor freedom, and that sort of thing. So they know that a great responsibility is on them. And I'm willing to give them a chance to prove that their commitments will come true.

Enrique:
You know, I think there is some deep concern these days about Iran. And Israel obviously is keeping their eye on Iran, the U.S. obviously with what is happening there and the relationship that we have not had, and also Europe now in talking about sanctions. What's your concern?

Carter:
I really would do everything I could to prevent going to war with Iran. Because it would solidify Iran.
[APPLAUSE]
Iran is a divided country now. And that might bring an end to the present regime. But if we attack them, it will unify them in a cohesive opposition to attack first. And if they are doubtful about developing a new weapon, the surest way to make them decide to develop a new weapon is to continue to threaten to attack them even before they develop it. Also, it would create an enormous regional war. And I believe that despite the animosity that now exists between some countries and Iran, most of the Arab world would rally to Iran's side if the United States and Israel attacked Iran. So the best approach is to do everything we can to prevent them reaching a nuclear capability with economic sanctions and reaching out to them whenever possible.
[APPLAUSE]

Enrique:
You spend so much time, and your wife as well, traveling the world. I'm curious, what do you learn? What have you learned? What do you take away from each visit that you have in countries that maybe you've never been to before?

Carter:
Well, after I left the White House, it was a completely different world for me in many ways. But in many ways, also a better one. And I would say that the main thing I've learned in building homes for poor people through habitat for humanity, we just built 100 homes in Haiti, in November, we're going to be going back again this year.
[APPLAUSE]
For we do that every year. And doing away with getting worms and treating tropical diseases. When we go into a foreign country and meet with the poorest people in that country, to give them some relief from their suffering of their, alleviate their needs, and work side by side with them, the main thing I found in the last 30 years of that experience is that those people are just as intelligent as I am and just as hard working as I am, and just as ambitious as I am, and their family values are just as good as mine. And so I found that they are equal to me in every human way. And we ought not underestimate them.
[APPLAUSE]

Enrique:
A Facebook question that we received. Are there any viable options short of a constitutional amendment that would truly fix our political process...
[LAUGHTER]
That would be good.

Carter:
Yes.

Enrique:
And that would also include removing money and restoring some balance to the whole process.

Carter:
Well, I just remember how much things have changed since I ran for president against an incumbent president, a very wonderful man named Gerald Ford. And then four years later, I ran against Governor Ronald Reagan from California. And there was no negative advertising. We referred to each other as my distinguished opponent. And there was no massive infusion of money. In fact, you know how much Ford and Reagan and I raised from private contributions? Zero. We didn't raise a single penny.
[APPLAUSE]
And we spent, we spent the $2 per person check off that people do on their income tax, and that's all we spent. So we didn't have money to waste on negative advertising. So I think that what happened in our country in the last 30 years is increasingly, particularly with the supreme court's stupid decision of two years ago...
[APPLAUSE]
Money into the political campaign arena. Not just presidents, but also congress and Governors and U.S. Senators. And a lot of that money is spent on negative advertising. Just with the basic premise of tearing down the reputation of your opponent. And most American people say if we don't like negative advertising, but it works. You just saw it work in Florida, you just saw it work a couple weeks ago in South Carolina. It works. And this is something that I would hope could be sometimes reversed. My hope is that as the supreme court members see what has happened to our political system with their ruling, that they will reverse themselves in the future. I don't think that congress is gonna do it themselves. That's the main problem.
[APPLAUSE]

Enrique:
All right. Let's take another question from the audience. Rob Harris, C.E.O. of PMI, it's a local company. Rob?

Audience:
I run a company, we have two great American brands. We sell in China, we have a robust business there. So if asked by President Obama for advice on how to balance between a positive top to top relationship between himself and secretary general Hu Chin Tao, and issues around appreciation, admissions, human rights issues that are in China, what advice would you have for him?

Carter:
Well, I would give him the same basic advice that I mentioned here. We ought to cooperate with China whenever possible and compete with them peacefully. The Chinese are making great progress, as you know, in economics and so forth. They're not only building new high speed rails, but new universities. And they are concentrating on international preparation for their students. For instance, not too long ago I was in Hunan province, and I spoke to a young student body of about 6,000 students. And then they asked me questions from the audience. We didn't need any translators, the whole thing was in English. Every student spoke English fervently. So they are making very great progress. And last year, the Chinese had 157,000 Chinese students in America. So they're taking every advantage of benefiting from our language and our culture, our education, and they're reaching out to us. I think we ought to reach out to them on an equally, equal basis, but in an aggressive basis. And I think the best solution to our friction, and there's a good bit of it, is to have some kind of a high level, unofficial body that I just described that's six wise men that we had when I was president, with Japan. There's a similar problem there. And I think a small group, maybe five men and women from America, five men and women from china, just to meet every two or three months and discuss the major issues and report back to President Obama and to Hu Chin Tao in the future, would be a very good way to alleviate tension. As you know, the Chinese currency has been escalating in value, slowly, but steadily, it's increased about 20% in the last four years. So they're trying to do something about it in a way. But they want to preserve their own superior position economically. I won't say that they're altruistic or anything like that, but when they want more than anything as china evolves, politically and economically, is to have the United States remain in its present superior position on earth. They want stability. While they benefit from their enormous trade and commerce.

Enrique:
Amber Lopez, another audience question. A young professional. I'm an old professional, so it's a young professional.

Audience:
Thank you. Mr. President, my question is in regards to the intersection between morality and religion. When you were negotiating peace between the Israelis and the Egyptians, what role did religion play?

Carter:
The Jews had services in our little room every Saturday, the Muslims had services every Friday. And I had services every Sunday in the same room. We just had to change very quickly the furnishings and so forth. But we all were deeply religion men. In fact, Sadat had a brown circle on his head where he had prayed since he was a little boy by putting his forehead on the ground. And began was really the first prime minister in Israel who was deeply religious. So that was a very important part of it. Morality, as you say, in politics, is a very important point. I have never known any conflict basically between my own obligations as a president and my obligations as a Christian. We worship the prince of peace. And that's why I emphasized peace while I was in office. For instance, there was one, I have to tell you the truth, there was one problem that I had, and the audience might not like this, but that was the subject of abortion. I never have believed in my religion that we should be free with abortions. And I didn't agree with the Roe versus wade ruling. And I did everything I could while I was president to minimize the need for abortion while still upholding the ruling of the supreme courts, which I was sworn to do. So I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortion by liberalizing and making it easier to adopt children who were not wanted by their mother. The number 1 cause of abortions is when a mother, faced with having a baby that she cannot feed and support, wants to get rid of the baby. And so to give them support and to make it easier to adopt. But that's the only conflict that I ever had when I was in office between my political obligations and my religious faith.

Enrique:
I understand that, and this is in your latest book, that square dancing played a major role in your political career. Would you explain that.

Carter:
Okay. I'll make this statement and then I'll explain it. If it hadn't been for square dancing, I would not be president.
[LAUGHTER]
Now, I'll explain it. When I came home from the navy, from my, I was a submarine officer, and I came home from the navy. We joined a square dancing club that had people come, about 100 of us, every Friday night. And then we would go to dinner. And we became expert square dancers. And these square dancers came from 7 counties around where I lived. And then later, when I decided to run for the state Senate, it just happened that the state district just took in those seven counties. So I had 100 friends that campaigned for me, and I won by 67 votes.
[APPLAUSE]
And if I had lost, my state Senate race, I never would have run for office again. So if I hadn't been a square dancer, I would not have been elected to the state Senate, I would not have been Governor, I would not have been president.
[APPLAUSE]
By the way, my wife and I still square dance. Every year, we have a one day session at the carter center and we invite our key supporters to come there for an all day briefing. And the next day, about two thirds of them go down to plains, Georgia, where rose and I live. We only have about 600 people that live in plains. So we have a square dance on the plain street, so we block all the traffic for a couple hours. And two or three cars have to go around.
[LAUGHTER]
So we still square dance every year.

Enrique:
With these new set of knees, the former president plans to keep on square dancing with Mrs. Carter and traveling the world to bring peace, hope, and stability.

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