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The Mass Media

A man of principle.

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday, Oct. 14:

A man of principle.

Few labels are considered more admirable. It is a label that the Georgia peanut farmer who became a president has earned through long toil.

Now, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has celebrated Jimmy Carter’s lifetime of acting on his principles by awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize. The last time a current or former U.S. official won the peace prize was 1973, when Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho shared it for negotiating an end to the war in Vietnam.

Carter, as president and ex-president, has tried to negotiate to keep conflicts from beginning. The Nobel committee cited his leadership of the Camp David accords, which forged a durable peace between Israel and Egypt. It may be difficult to imagine how the situation in the Middle East could be any worse. But imagine it today were Egypt and Israel still open enemies.

Camp David is at the center of Carter’s achievements. But right beside it are post-White House missions abroad in pursuit of social justice. Through his Carter Center, he has mediated conflicts, nurtured democracies, promoted human rights, and worked to improve health care in impoverished countries.

At home, he has built affordable housing through Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit organization he and his wife, Rosalynn, helped popularize. Carter has provided a model of the good an ex-president can do. The office’s prestige clings to those who leave it long after they are on the other side of the Oval Office door.

Carter has used that prestige time and again; ironically with more effectiveness than when he was president. Critics grouse that he has abused his status time and again. Yes, it was somehow startling last May to have Carter visiting Fidel Castro at the same time President Bush was discussing U.S. policy regarding Cuba.

But forgive Carter his moments of over-zealousness. Forgive him the weaknesses of his presidency. Instead, give him credit for acting on the principle that military action is a last, if sometimes necessary, resort.

That philosophy is especially relevant as President Bush rushes toward war with Iraq. The U.S. House and Senate last week meekly genuflected before the president’s pell-mell push toward invasion of Iraq. Some Congress members said they voted for the authorization because Bush promised to launch military action only if all else failed.

All else-meaning, diplomacy that stubbornly seeks agreement, not blood. Such diplomacy won Carter this year’s Nobel Prize for peace. May it at least get its chance to succeed in the current crisis.

(c) 2002, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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