President Carter's Camp David summit and his subsequent role in the quest for Middle East peace have only one modern-day American equivalent: President Theodore Roosevelt's mediation of the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War and the resulting Treaty of Portsmouth.
One big difference in the results, however, is that TR won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, whereas Jimmy Carter will get only to bask in the glow accorded to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Teddy Roosevelt seems an unlikely president to have won a peace prize. He was a jingo, an expansionist and a big Navy backer who believed that one should "speak softly and carry a big stick." As he liked to say, he "took the Canal Zone" and dug the canal.
The Russo-Japanese war followed Japan's expansion into China a decade earlier, it was a contest with czarist Russia for supremacy in the Far East where their interests clashed, and China and Korea were usually the victims. In February 1904, Japan declared war on Russia and began to obtain a foothold on the Asian mainland that lasted through World War II. The Russians lost a great land battle at Port Arthur, now part of Communist China, and then a major sea battle in the Tsushima Straits that separate Japan and Korea. There the czar's Baltic fleet, having steamed half-way around the world (stopping en route in French Indo-China's Camranh Bay), was decimated by Admiral Togo's ships.
Although Russian defeats helped spark the 1905 revolution back home, it was the Japanese who secretly approached Roosevelt. Joseph L. Gardner has recounted in his book on TR, "Departing Glory," that Japan insisted on direct two-party talks to which the Russians were slow in agreeing.
Roosevelt wrote to Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge that he found the Russians "treacherous and shifty" and the Japanese "entirely selfish without a veneer of courtesy." But after doing some private diplomatic footwork, TR issued a formal call for a conference. By then it was June 1905, and so he shifted the locale from non-air-conditioned Washington to cooler Portsmouth, N.H.
As a starter, TR had the two delegations, led by Russia's Count Serge Witte and Japan's Baron Jutaro Komura, meet aboard the presidential yacht Mayflower, which was anchored off Roosevelt's home at Oyster Bay, Long Island. TR conversed with the two leaders "loudly and somewhat recklessly in his imperfect French," managing a toast to "a just and lasting peace," followed by a shipboard luncheon.
Naturally, there were a number of crises, including one over Japan's demand for a war indemnity. "The Japanese ask too much," TR wrote his son Kermit," but the Russians are 10 times worse than the Japs because they are so stupid and won't tell the truth." When Japan withdrew her indemnity demand and agreed to split the island of Sakhalin with Russia, an armistice was agreed on. TR celebrated at Sagamore Hill, his home at Oyster Bay. He had the Japanese to lunch, the Russians to dinner.
The next year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It amounted to $36,734.49, which he turned over to a foundation to promote industrial peace in the United States. But the trustees could not agree on how to spend the prize money, and 12 years later the fund, which had grown to $45,482.83, was donated by Roosevelt to World War I war relief.
Roosevelt enjoyed the plaudits - he always did - for his peace efforts and went on to play a leading role in setting up the Algeciras Conference to head off a German-French confrontation in Morocco and to offer the suggestion that led to the Second Hague Peace Conference, which tried but failed to establish a world court.
When Roosevelt left the White House on March 4, 1909, he turned the job over to his hand-picked successor. William Howard Taft. The czarist regime fell and the Bolsheviks took over in the midst of World War I; the Japanese took advantage of Russian weakness to occupy part of Siberia and to take all of Sakhalin. At the end of that war they took over, among other things, Germany's Pacific islands, which became an American mandate after the bloody battles there in World War II. After that war, the Japanese disgorged their conquests in Korea, Taiwan and China and all of Sakhalin went back to the Russians. Today Russian-Japanese relations are strained in the wake of a Chinese-Japanese treaty, and some Americans now worry that the naval successors to the czar's fleet may obtain the use of Camranh Bay, that spacious harbor so handy for the American Navy during the Vietnam War.
In short, the Treaty of Portsmouth for which TR won the prize provided a temporary halt in war between nation-states. The consequences of Jimmy Carter's effort in the Middle East, assuming an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty takes effect, are, as such matters usually are, close to impossible to predict. And whether we shall ever know what Carter really thought of Sadat and Begin during the negotiations is equally uncertain today.