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September 27 , 2004
Carter calls Iraq a 'damaging mistake'
by eric rangus
At his annual town hall meeting, former President Jimmy Carter is known for not ducking any question, no matter the subject. Some, in fact, he devours. Like this one: “If you could change one thing about American foreign policy, what would it be?”
Carter wasted no time with his answer. “I would have someone in charge other than George W. Bush.” A standing ovation lasting more than half a minute followed. When it quieted down, the crowd eagerly awaited expansion of the answer. Carter merely looked over at Senior Vice President for Campus Life John Ford, who was reading the questions, with a casual expression that implied, “next.”
That exchange aside, the 23rd annual Carter Town Hall, held Sept. 22 in the P.E. Center was not as Bush-centric as in recent years, but what it lacked in election-year fervor it more than made up for in variety.
The first question of the night was a doozy: How do you feel about gay marriage?
“I can’t bring myself to endorse gay marriage,” said Carter, a Sunday school teacher in his spare time. “But communions between people of the same sex should be blessed,” he continued, adding that no one should be condemned or lose rights based on his or her sexual orientation.
After that, Carter answered questions regarding whether free trade could help Latin America (yes, but trade should include provisions that would help workers in developing countries), whether he had been to the Supreme Court to meet the chief justice and argue a case (yes, he had been to the Supreme Court, but he had never argued a case; “I’m not a lawyer,” said Carter, who studied nuclear physics at Georgia Tech. “I think that’s part of the reason I was president.”), and even about his favorite movie (Casablanca).
A question from Sasha Yan, a freshman from Homewood, Ala., gave Carter an opportunity to score some points at home. “What is the greatest thing you have ever done in your life?” she asked.
“Marrying my wife, Rosalynn,” Carter replied, his wife beaming from the front row. “I’ve had more than 58 years to think that over.”
Carter’s comments about his wife were not the only quotable lines he dished out. Calling the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq one of the “most damaging mistakes our country has ever made” was right up there as well. One questioner referred to comments United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan made earlier this month when he called the invasion of Iraq “illegal” in terms of the U.N. charter. Carter said, technically, Annan was right. “But there is no way the United Nations could punish the United States,” he added, and continued to discuss the war.
“We have substantially abandoned the war against terrorism,” he said. “There was an unprecedented outpouring of support after 9/11, and we have wasted away all that support. We are the most unpopular country in the world. Even friends have turned away.”
Carter balanced that criticism with comments on a question concerning what issues he would focus on were he running for office in 2004. “We live in the strongest, most powerful nation on earth,” he said. “My proposal to the American people would be to make our nation worthy of the title of ‘superpower.’”
He spoke of a future time when the whole world could look at this country as a champion of peace, freedom and democracy once again. Carter also mentioned the United States should be a champion of environmental quality and be at the forefront of the fight against global warming. “And I would like our country to be looked on as generous,” he said, “a place where we would break down the barriers between rich and poor.”
Even with the serious questions, Carter was able to maintain his sense of humor. Early on during the 40-minute question and answer, freshman Andrew Zalk from Short Hills, N.J., inquired whether he is asked to pose for a lot of pictures, whether it bothers him and whether they could have a picture together.
Carter answered quickly. “Yes, yes, and yes. Yes, I get asked for a lot of pictures. Yes, it bothers me; and yes, I will have my picture taken with you.”
Later, as Carter walked off stage to another standing ovation, he stopped, put his arm around Zalk, and smiled as the flashbulbs fired away.