Jimmy Carter has had complex relationships with all of his successors. This excerpt from His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life, by Jonathan Alter, explores Carter’s contacts with President George H.W. Bush and President Barack Obama, all three of whom Alter interviewed for his biography.
It was no secret that Carter was not a member in good standing of the ex-presidents’ club, in part because he never accepted their code. The unwritten rules aren’t complicated: Until the Trump era, former presidents were expected to build their libraries and at least try to hold their tongues about the incumbent, not complain—as Carter often did—that the policy is wrong or they are underused by the president. No one sitting in the Oval Office likes the idea of a freelance secretary of state. The challenge for them was managing their high-maintenance predecessor.
After George H. W. Bush was elected in 1988, Secretary of State James Baker consulted Carter often. Carter helped Bush out in Panama in 1989 by confronting Manuel Noriega after he rigged an election. He told the dictator and his henchmen, “You are thieves.” But his most conspicuous early diplomatic success was in Nicaragua, which he visited eight times in a five-year period.