Jimmy Carter: 'The War has Been Unnecessary'
Published on Thursday, September 30, 2004 by MSNBC
Jimmy Carter: 'The War has Been Unnecessary'
The former president talks about the war in Iraq and how Sen. Kerry can counter 'flip-flopping' attacks
The Today Show
September 30, 2004

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter turns 80-years-old this October. “Today” host Katie Couric recently sat down with Carter in Atlanta, Ga., to talk about the war in Iraq, if he thinks the world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power, and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections.

Saddam Hussein and the Iraq elections
Jimmy Carter: “Well, the world is safer without Saddam. Certainly the people of Iraq are better without Saddam. I never have believed that Saddam Hussein was a direct threat to the security of the United States or Great Britain or China or Japan or Australia.”

Katie Couric: “But what about grave and gathering threat as President Bush has said?”

Carter: “That was a false statement. It was false to state that Saddam Hussein had a vast store of weapons of mass destruction or that Iraq was a direct threat to the security of the United States. The war has been unnecessary. And now I think we've reached a point in Iraq that it's become a quagmire – very similar to what we experienced in Vietnam. There's no real extrication for us to accomplish the goals that we had when we went in. I think a lot of the violence in Iraq now is directly attributable to the fact that U.S. forces are there. And there's no clear concept at any early stage of when they will be withdrawn. I personally do not believe they're going to be ready for the election in January. But I think we should go through the election and as soon as there's some tangible semblance of a democratic government in Iraq, get us out of there.”

Couric: “But turning Iraq into a democracy is a good thing to you?”

Carter: “I think that's a very admirable thing – sure. You could list 50 countries in the world that don't have democracies, and it would be better if they had all democracies. But to attack a country almost unilaterally and waste away the almost universal global support and friendship and alliances that we had after the tragedy of 9/11 is what has been done.”

Couric: “Why do you think the elections are in such perilous shape?”

Carter: “Because there's no security there. You know, we just finished, the Carter Center did, our 52nd election. All of our elections have been in troubled countries where the outcome was doubtful. But in every case there has to be a central government that can set up the constitution and bylaws and rules so that an election can be held peacefully. I don't see that happening as long as the terrible violence continues in Iraq. And if you look at the statistics on deaths on wounded and so forth in the last three or four months instead of getting better and more peaceful apparently the situation's getting worse.”

How Kerry can counter the 'flip-flop' attack
Couric: “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have portrayed Sen. Kerry as a flip-flopper who lacks the resolve to successfully wage the war on terror. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, that strategy seems to be resonating among Americans according to the polls. How does Sen. Kerry counter that in your view?”

Carter: “Well, I agree with your premise that this attack on Sen. Kerry has had very serious consequences for him in the opinion of the public. I know from experience that circumstances change and the knowledge that you have about an event changes. And when the times change and the circumstances change or when you learn more information, it's natural for a strong leader to say, ‘okay, my previous commitments, my previous statements were erroneous.’ I think what Sen. Kerry needs to do between now and the election is first of all take advantage of the three debates … also to let the people know that under changed circumstances he would do differently if he were in the White House. And that's I think the task that he has. It's not an easy task to overcome that stigma of flip-flopping. But everybody has to change position to accommodate changing times.”

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