Against all the odds and in the face of deep scepticism, almost mockery for his naivety and foolishness, President Carter negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords, ending the seemingly intractable conflict between Egypt and Israel. These accords (there were two signed) stand tall as one of the greatest achievements of any US president in history.
Not only did President Carter bring the parties to the table and mastermind the agreement, it is a peace that has held ever since. The sight of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin hugging and smiling after signing the accords is one of the most iconic images of what can be achieved through dialogue in the search for peace, driven by courage and leadership.
Jimmy Carter is often used as the case study of failure – a one term President whose defeat to Ronald Reagan was so comprehensive in the 1980 election that he conceded the result before the polls had even closed on the west coast. And yet, Jimmy Carter’s legacy as a peacemaker and inspiring leader is hardly disputed anywhere in the world. He may have been a political failure in 1980 – although his 1976 Presidential election victory makes Donald Trump’s look routine – but he is a giant statesman and has used his time after the Presidency to broker peace and reconciliation around the world through the extraordinary Carter Centre.
If you have not watched it, please take two minutes to watch this story, told by President Carter, about the moment the talks looked dead.
The President and his fellow peace makers in the middle east were successful because they were prepared to take risks and make compromises. That is what we see in every successful peace process around the world from the south of Africa to the north of Ireland. The willingness and courage of leaders to risk their reputations, political careers and often their lives and the lives of their families for a better future for their communities and their countries. They took steps that were uncomfortable, unpalatable and unpopular to deliver lasting peace.
That spirit of risk taking and compromise is why we rightly revere the contribution made to peace on these islands by great men and women over decades. The names of Tony Blair, Mo Mowlan, John Major and Jonathan Powell from this side of the Irish Sea and countless others a short flight away; from John Hulme to David Trimble, Martin McGuinness to Ian Paisley. There are so many others who could be listed here and who stepped outside their comfort zones – often very, very far outside them – to move us closer to an end to ‘the troubles’ and a peace process that could last.
Huge personal sacrifices and risks were taken for a cause bigger than themselves. Nationalist. Unionist. Republican. Catholic, Protestant. Tory. Labour and more besides. They stuck their necks out for peace and as a result my wife and her brothers and sisters were able to stop walking to school, college and university with armed troops patrolling the streets and stop having their weekly lives interrupted by bomb scares, bomb blasts and murders.
The work done by so many to secure that peace is rightly lauded around the world and held up as a example for others to follow. It took real, back breaking courage and for some it brought about the end of lifelong friendships, their careers in public life and made sure their names appeared on target death lists of those determined there would be no peace.
That is what makes Jeremy Corbyn’s recent comments about the peace secured in Ireland and his role in it so risible; so offensive; so disgraceful. I personally didn’t need any further proof of his unfitness for office, but I sure as hell got some these last few days.
Whatever some may think – and they think it with all sincerity and honour – there is no shame in saying you support republicanism in Ireland or that you were, or are, sympathetic to the goal of a united Ireland. There is no shame in saying you support Sinn Fein or vote for them in elections. There is no shame in saying you have met with or shaken hands with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness – as indeed have I. But there is shame in two things.
Firstly, there is shame in my view, in supporting the armed struggle undertaken by the IRA in the name of republicanism in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when aside from using the ballot box, they were also using violence and murder. If you held this view – whether it was 34 years ago, or today, and whatever your hairstyle at that time, you were supporting murder and terrorism. Plain and simple.
Secondly, there is shame in not being honest about your views. Mr Corbyn used a series of weasel words with Andrew Neil the other evening to try to wriggle out of his absolute support for the IRA in the 1980’s and before. The dogs in the street knew that he was an IRA sympathiser, meeting IRA bombers and was close to Sinn Fein politicians, long before the violence stopped and peaceful means were being pursued. He is now using language to imply that his efforts – which involved no risk-taking, no compromise, no leaving his comfort zone and no use of his position as an MP to urge republicans to seek peace – instead supporting them in their war – was part of the push that brought us the peace we have today. How disgusting. As was his deliberate use of the word “nationalist” the other evening when he should be have been saying “republican”. He knows better.
Never, anywhere, in all my years of caring about Ireland, reading about it, studying it and talking to people about it has his supposed contribution ever been mentioned. Indeed as Andrew Neil pointed out, leading nationalists, including Seamus Mallon, were appalled by his conduct. It is now convenient and expedient as he seeks the office of UK Prime Minister to hide his real motives and behaviour back then, which every journalist who is looking can find ample evidence of today.
As President Carter said when the 1978 agreement was done; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be the children of God.” Whether you believe in God or not, I hope you believe in peace. I hope you believe in people telling the truth. I hope too that you will remember what it took to bring peace to Ireland and who made it happen. Paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen’s comment from the 1988 US election campaign; “Mr Corbyn, you’re no Jimmy Carter!”
Credit to BBC website for the picture – thank you. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/middle_east/israel_and_the_palestinians/key_documents/1632849.stm