Clueless Ex-Prez Jimmy Carter Just Won't Go Away !
Please, Mr Ex-President, just fade away
THE PROBLEMS WITH EX-CHIEFS
They send mixed messages to foreign leaders
Blunder into sensitive issues
Take credit if something is achieved
Create impression that the current president cannot manage things by himself
White House is annoyed by two former presidents, Clinton and Carter, whom it sees as meddlers in foreign policy
WASHINGTON - Thanks, but no thanks.
The eagerness of former presidents such as Bill Clinton and now Jimmy Carter to help out in foreign policy is irking White House officials and they would much rather they stopped meddling.
President George W. Bush's aides have expressed exasperation about Bill Clinton's impromptu session with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah two weeks ago, at a time of delicate negotiations and evolving policy.
The former president, in Houston for a fundraiser and staying at the same posh hotel as the Saudi leader, headed upstairs after midnight for a private chat that had been arranged only a few hours earlier. Their 90-minute meeting did not end until 2 am.
And they are now annoyed by former president Jimmy Carter's trip to Cuba, which began on Sunday with a red-carpet reception.
Bush officials see the visit, the first by a sitting or former US president since the 1959 revolution, as a public-relations boon to Mr Fidel Castro and a forum for Mr Carter to espouse closer economic and diplomatic ties with Cuba - views that conflict with administration policy.
Mr Bush seems to have the same jaundiced view towards some of his predecessors that many previous White House occupants have held towards theirs.
Unlike officials who are appointed by and beholden to the current president, former presidents have no obligation to toe the administration line, of course. They often have their own political agendas and policy views. And they can command attention at home and abroad to have them heard.
All that is precisely why presidents are more likely to see their predecessors as mischief-makers than mediators. The fear: Former presidents will send mixed messages to foreign leaders, blunder into sensitive issues, take credit if something is achieved and perhaps even contribute to an impression that the current president cannot manage things by himself.
If former presidents complain that their successors do not appreciate what they still have to offer, current presidents complain that their predecessors do not realise they are no longer in office.
'Presidents aren't eager for their predecessors to assert themselves and take away the spotlight from the man in the White House,' historian Robert Dallek says. 'What it suggests is somewhere or another the current incumbent is not up to handling the job and needs help dealing with an issue that has escaped his control.'
Representatives Lois Capps, a Democrat from California, and Mr Jim Leach, a Republican from Iowa, circulated a letter on Capitol Hill last month urging Mr Bush to send his father, Mr Carter and Mr Clinton as a high-level delegation to the Middle East. Each had scored some success on the issue during his term. The administration said thanks, but no thanks.
Only once before in US history have so many former presidents been around. When Abraham Lincoln took office in 1861, five of his predecessors were alive. Then, the limits of 19th-century transportation and communication meant that presidents who left office typically also left the public stage.
Now, with longer life spans, instant communications and a celebrity culture, former presidents never seem to fade away.
Never before has there been such a complicated collection of past rivals still on the scene. There are five living former presidents, four of them in good health. Two are determined to carve out roles for themselves in the world. One happens to be the current president's father.
Mr Carter and Mr Clinton had not reached retirement age by the time they moved out of the White House: Mr Carter was 56 and Mr Clinton 54. Each is eager to burnish his mixed White House legacy with post-presidential achievements.
The two Democrats have been the most activist former presidents since Mr Theodore Roosevelt.
Since Mr Clinton left office 16 months ago, he has visited 30 countries on six continents. He lunched last Wednesday in New York with former South African president Nelson Mandela; he leaves on Saturday for a trip with stops in Japan, China, Singapore, Brunei and New Zealand. --USA Today