Jimmy Carter lecturing Ronald Reagan on how best to deal with terrorism is a bit like Yasser Arafat offering grooming tips to Don Johnson of "Miami Vice."
The advice isn't necessarily wrong, but, considering the source, it's awfully hard to take seriously.
Yet there on NBC's "Today" was the former president -- who became a former president in large measure because of his failure to find a way to deal with Iranian terrorists -- advising the man who defeated him that "there are ways to deal with terrorism without giving the terrorists what they want."
He shouldn't hold his breath waiting for the thank-you note.
Even so, the advice was mostly correct. "To use aircraft carriers and bombers is not the proper way to restrain terrorism," Carter said, noting that Reagan's macho response to Libyan-sponsored terrorism "probably has increased the threat of terrorism around the world and has boosted Qaddafi considerably in his stature in much of the world compared to what he was before."
You have only to talk to your local overseas travel agent to know that the American people agree that the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, far from reducing the threat of terrorism, has made it worse.
Not only has the U.S. bombing raid, in which Qaddafi's child was killed, silenced Arab critics of Qaddafi, but it has served to justify retaliatory terrorist attacks against Americans anywhere in the world.
Until recently, Arab-sponsored terrorism was largely calculated to force international attention to the plight of the Palestinians. Americans were targets of Arab terrorism principally because of U.S. support of Israel. Reagan's assault on Libya, no matter its moral justification, has transformed Americans from indirect targets-by-association to direct targets, while at the same time virtually destroying any hope of resolving the fundamental Middle East conflict.
That last may be the worst result of Reagan's ill-advised machismo. As long as the basic issue was the homelessness of the Palestinians, there was hope that the United States could pressure Israel into some sort of negotiated resolution. If that had happened, or even if there had been clear evidence that America accepted the legitimacy of the Palestinian grievances, it might have been possible to reduce the terrorism, or at least to isolate the states that sponsored it.
As it is, it is the United States that finds itself isolated. The patch-over attempt at the Tokyo summit notwithstanding, our European allies (with the sole exception of Great Britain) clearly do not wish to be identified with the U.S. attack on Libya, an attack that solved nothing and exacerbated a good deal.
Carter's notion of finding a way to deal with terrorism "without giving the terrorists the victories they want" misses the point. It can be fairly said, without for a moment condoning terrorism, that what the terrorists wanted -- at least initially -- was to force the world to deal with the statelessness of the Palestinians. You can make any number of points -- that terrorism is incontrovertibly wrong, that other Arab states could have embraced the Palestinians as full-fledged citizens (rather than as squatters in refugee camps), that Israel has the right to secure, internationally recognized borders -- and still be left with one awkward fact: that the action taken by a guilt-ridden world to make a home for the Jews left the Palestinians homeless.
Israel's existence is a fact, and no lover of peace and justice would want it otherwise. But the homelessness of the Palestinians is also a fact deserving of the world's attention.
It's no good insisting that terrorism is the wrong way to deal with the plight of the Palestinians unless we are prepared to propose a right way. Deploying the Sixth Fleet, bombing Libya to smithereens, even killing Qaddafi, will neither bring peace nor end terrorism.
Isn't it about time we got back to basics?