Jimmy Carter was completely wrong on Korean troop withdrawal

September 1977, Washington, DC, USA --- President Carter Speaking at Press Conference --- Image by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS

North Korea and its sociopath twenty-something Communist Dictator, Kim Jung Un, the son of former Dictator Kim Jung Il, and the grandson of former Dictator Kim Il Sung, warns it is in a “state of war.”  The rogue country, officially considered the equivalent of a “terrorist” state by the U.S. government, now possesses nuclear warheads, has tested a nuclear device, and has also successfully tested inter-continental ballistic missiles that could be capable of reaching American targets and interests in the Pacific Ocean, let alone its other neighbors and its South Korean opponents.

But while the U.S. military and our 28,000 or so troops in South Korea, and our allies are considering both their intelligence reports and what truth there is in the threatening rhetoric of North Korea, and have flown B-2 stealth bombers and steamed U.S. nuclear aircraft carriers to the region in a show of force, and as tensions rise, many of us might remember the repeated failures of the role played by Jimmy Carter on the Korean Peninsula, which have surely contributed mightily to the world’s tensions today, and the lessons to be learned from confronting a warmongering dictator in Korea with cotton candy.

Jimmy Carter, the failed American Democratic President, who in just four short years between 1976 and 1980 gave away the Panama Canal, presided over an inflation crisis, an energy crisis, an unemployment crisis, and the taking of American hostages in Iran and a botched rescue mission, who forced U.S. athletes to boycott the Olympics, who “de-recognized” the Republic of China on Taiwan as the legal democratic government of China and rendered that friendly nation and ally to lower than diplomatic status, and who was thrown out of office after one term by voters in favor of Ronald Reagan, was also wrong about something else: his campaign promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from South Korea.

The Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, by Fred Hoffman, published in 2002 a newsletter detailing Jimmy Carter’s misguided determination to withdraw all U.S. military forces in South Korea. Carter’s personal decision to extract the United States from protecting people in South Korea from North Korean tyranny reveals his very poor judgment in matters dealing with real human rights. According to the Bulletin, (which I am drawing on in this piece) while campaigning for President as early as January 1975, Carter declared that if elected he would order the withdrawal of all U.S. ground forces from the Korean peninsula.  Less than a week after he was elected, in January 1977, Carter indeed issued orders to begin the withdrawal.  For the next two-and-a-half years, Carter fought the protests of Congress, America’s allies in Asia, and military intelligence, and actually withdrew 3,600 U.S. ground forces that had been protecting South Koreans.  Carter took these actions despite the fact that within just a few years, the North’s fellow Communists in nearby North Vietnam had broken the Paris Peace accords and invaded and conquered the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

Carter took his position on unilateral withdrawal disregarding the fact that military tensions remained high between North Korea and the United States. In 1968, North Korea seized a U.S. naval ship, the Pueblo. In 1974, tunnels were discovered that were dug under the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, dug by the North Korean communist government. Clearly, Carter’s position had little justification from a military standpoint, or from the standpoint of standing up to international Communist aggression. Unilateral withdrawal gained no corresponding peace gesture from North Korea. Carter’s  position was to be a nonsensical pacifist; and by withdrawing U.S. forces, Carter was not only abandoning the aspirations for freedom of the Korean people and jeopardizing the stability of Japan, he was also doing North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung’s dirty work for him. If Carter had his way, South Korea would most surely have been invaded by now without a fight from the United States, and millions more would be living under Kim Jung Un’s nightmarish Communist dictatorship.

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, yet another North Korean crisis developed over that country’s use and enrichment of uranium. “Hot” diplomacy ensued and Clinton’s choice of a “special Ambassador” to reason with the North Korean Communist Dictator was … Jimmy Carter, who came out of retirement to negotiate an agreement with the North Koreans that was supposed to limit their uranium use and enrichment to peaceful purposes. Carter had his way that time, and his effort clearly proved to be yet another foreign policy disaster for our nation. Because of Carter’s poor perceptions in diplomacy, and given North Korea’s test of a massive underground nuclear explosion on February 12, a wholly contrary result to Carter’s mission, his “special Ambassador” status can be seen as a complete failure.  Rather than stopping nuclear proliferation, Carter played the role of a patsy to a Communist Dictatorship, one that has now joined the “nuclear weapons club” of nations and today gravely threatens the free world.

What American policy needed when Carter was president was more troops, not less in Korea; and a stronger military hand.  Reagan proved that point in his policies, which helped topple communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But Carter’s policies to the contrary lost four years in Korea. And what America needed when it negotiated North Korean’s nuclear fission policy was a tough realist as the top negotiator actually dedicated to stopping nuclear proliferation, not a Jimmy Carter.

Carter’s utter failure on Korea is sadly a failure now affecting new generations of Americans, and Asians, born into freedom many years after he was thrown out of office, but who now must bear the brunt of his poor decisions. It is a terrible legacy for a president.

James V. Lacy is publisher of the California Political Review.

This article was originally published March 30, 2013.