While examining President Obama's "split personality" in Foreign Policy magazine, Walter Russell Mead falls back on a familiar presidential comparison: Jimmy Carter. He worries that Obama's impulse to be a "cold-blooded realist" as well as a "bleeding-heart idealist" could, "in the worst scenario, turn him into a new Jimmy Carter." Mead is referring to the "incoherence and reversals" of Carter's foreign policy.
This comparison may be relatively commonplace, but the reaction was not. President Carter composed an impassioned letter to Foreign Policy with former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski defending his administration's record:
Although I have refrained from responding to gratuitous and incorrect analyses of my foreign policy, I feel compelled to comment on Walter Russell Mead's cover story ... I won't criticize or correct his cute and erroneous oversimplistic distortions of presidential biographies and history except when he refers specifically to me. I resent Mead's use of such phrases as "in the worst scenario, turn him [Obama] into a new Jimmy Carter," "weakness and indecision," and "incoherence and reversals" to describe my service.
Brzezinski echoed the critique that the piece "contained no analysis of President Jimmy Carter's foreign policy." More surprisingly, so did Mead. He responded the following day and affirmed that the primary focus of his original article was Obama, not Carter. He also stressed his respect:
That said, my recent Foreign Policy article was not really about Carter or his administration. It was about the current U.S. president and the intellectual, cultural, and political challenges he faces, so the treatment of past presidents was necessarily less detailed and nuanced ... Someday I hope to write a more systematically historical account of U.S. foreign policy than the essentially thematic treatment I gave it in Special Providence. When I do, I will endeavor to do full justice to Carter, a man who is justifiably unhappy that his presidency's complex story is so rarely treated with the respect and sympathy that it deserves.