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Will Jimmy Carter meddle in Obama's foreign policy?

January 26, 2009 |  8:14 am

Presidents George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office in January 2009

He's the president apart, pictured here standing to the side in a group photo of all the living members of The President's Club in the Oval Office earlier this month.

Defeated resoundingly by Ronald Reagan in 1980, Jimmy Carter has done admirable things since he left office. He started working with Habitat for Humanity, putting the effort to build homes for the poor on the political map. His Carter Center in Atlanta became a hub for spreading democracy as the globe-trotting former president served as an observer in Third World countries to help ensure free and fair elections, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

But on the foreign front, it's been clear for a long time that Jimmy Carter has followed to the beat of his own drummer. And last April, when he met with senior Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, the State Department and members of Congress in both parties condemned the visit as a direct interference with the U.S. policy of shunning Hamas until the group renounces its goal to wipe Israel off the map.

This morning, Carter was on the "Today" show, selling a new book called "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work." The former president, who after all did negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt at Camp David, advocates involving Hamas in peace talks.

The book sounds a lot less controversial than his last epic, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," in which Carter compared Israel's behavior toward the Palestinian territories to that of South Africa toward blacks in the days of apartheid.

But, as Stephen Clark wrote recently in a thoughtful post on, Carter has a history of meddling. He quotes Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, as saying that Carter is "a person who has stuck his thumb in the eye of every president who has followed him."

Still, this time there may be hope. In a sign of promise for Barack Obama's new Democratic administration, Carter delayed publication of the book, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, because he did not want to torpedo Obama's election.

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-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images