In the 26 years since he left the White House, former President Jimmy Carter has traveled the world as both peacemaker and provocateur -- earning the Nobel Prize in 2002, and drawing fire for diplomatic freelancing and his controversial new book: "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."
Carter and "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos covered that ground, plus the politics of Iraq and 2008, when they met at the Carter Center in Atlanta (click here to link to the organization's Web site) for Carter's first ever "This Week" interview.
But they began with the work that makes Carter most proud -- his quiet crusade against killer diseases extinct in the wealthy world but still ravaging Africa.
Carter: We've deliberately picked out the poorest, most destitute, forgotten and needy people on Earth, so it's no accident that more than half of them happen to be in the continent of Africa.We are out the boondocks, in the smallest, most isolated communities, both in the jungle areas and also in the desert areas, where they suffer from special diseases. We've pretty well adopted -- neglected diseases is the official word by the World Health Organization. These are diseases that no one else really cares about much, or knows about.
Stephanopoulos: You put a special focus on Guinea worm…
Stephanopoulos: … especially on your last trip in Africa. And I can only speak for myself: I'd never heard of it before I started studying your work. But it's one of the most horrific possible…
Carter: It is.
Stephanopoulos: … diseases.
Carter: It's a disease that only affects people who live in an area that has no fresh water supply, no well, no running stream. And these little ponds fill up during the rainy season and then that's all the water for the whole year. And if anybody takes a drink of the water they imbibe the Guinea worm eggs. A year later, it's a worm about a foot -- about three-feet long that makes a -- that stings the inside of the epidermis, the skin, and begins to emerge. And it takes it about 30 days to emerge. It's excruciatingly painful.
Stephanopoulos: A living worm coming out of you.
Carter: It's a living worm, yes.
Stephanopoulos: And you were in Ghana just this last month dealing with it.
Carter: Absolutely. The main concentration of Guinea worm now is in Ghana which has a setback, because of several reasons, and in southern Sudan, where a peace agreement has just let us get to about 3,000 new villages, so we've found some cases in those villages. But we have a concerted effort now to do away with it.
Stephanopoulos: But at this point, Guinea worm has been eradicated in all but a few countries -- 95, 97 percent…
Carter: That's right.
Stephanopoulos: ... of the world. This would be the first disease eradicated since smallpox.
Carter: That's right. Smallpox is more than 25 years ago. In fact, when I was president, it was eradicated. But this will be the second disease. And that's a good statistical fact, but the main thing is the relief that it gives to people who've suffered, and their ancestors, for 10,000 years, with an affliction that's identified in the Bible as the fiery serpent.
Stephanopoulos: But you think within three years it can be gone.
Carter: I do, yes. I do.
Stephanopoulos: If you were to sit in the Oval Office today with President Bush, how would you ask him to help on this?
Carter: First of all, to increase our amount of what we call foreign aid. We're at the bottom of all the developed countries in giving to other people. … And then, try to arrange a system whereby the funds don't go to intermediate contractors, who are American corporations that have now been formed in the last 20 years or so. And I would say the third thing is to have confidence in the folks in Africa that are suffering. …
Stephanopoulos: But you've also had to work with governments that have a reputation for corruption...
Stephanopoulos: ... and waste, for inefficiency, for bureaucracy.
Stephanopoulos: What's the biggest challenge you face with these African governments?
Carter: If -- first of all, we know them. You know, we don't just understand the character of a government by hearsay or by reading about it in the news media And to the extent that they are corrupt, we just completely bypass them and take our services directly to the villages where they're suffering. For instance, last year, we treated almost 12 million people with a free medicine that Merck and Company gives us. We don't send it through the government, because those pills are worth a fortune for somebody that has river blindness. They would rather have that little pill than a diamond the same size, if it keeps them from going blind. So we make sure that those pills get right in the mouth of people who are in an area that's endemic to river blindness.
Stephanopoulos: This is probably the most unassailable work you do. You've also been involved in some controversy lately. I see you're smiling. Your latest book has probably gotten you the most intense personal criticism of your career.
Carter: Yes, of my life.
Stephanopoulos: Of your life?
Carter: Yes. Well, you know, I've never before been called a liar or an...
Carter: ... an anti-Semite or a plagiarist or a thief or a coward. These personal epithets against me have been a surprise.
Stephanopoulos: Do you regret writing the book?
Carter: No. The book is necessary. I think this book will make a major -- a little step, I don't want to exaggerate -- toward, first of all, precipitating a debate or an open discussion about what's going on in Palestine. Secondly, I hope it will be a little factor in renewing the abandoned effort to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors. …
Stephanopoulos: How do you respond to your critics who say that the book demonstrates that you've hardened your heart to Israel ?
Carter: First of all, my honest opinion is that a strong majority of Israelis agree with me. Secondly, I believe a clear majority of American Jewish citizens agree with me that Israel must exchange Palestinian land for peace. If I have had one burning desire in my heart and mind for the last 30 years, I would put peace for Israel at the top of the list.… And commensurate with that has to be justice and human rights for the Palestinians next door. And I believe this book accurately describes what's going on in the West Bank and I believe it will contribute to accomplishing that goal. …
Stephanopoulos: I know one part of the book you do regret is one sentence where you seem to say that the Palestinians should give up violence only when...
Carter: I didn't use "only," but I did say "when."
Stephanopoulos: "When," yes.
Carter: That was a mistake. Obviously, it was -- you know, I write every word of my book. I don't have any ghost writers. And I wrote that sentence. And it slipped by, you know, the copy editors at Simon and Schuster and it slipped by me. And I didn't realize that that sentence implied that I wanted to see atrocities committed and terrorism continued until after we get a permanent agreement. That's ridiculous because it's in direct contravention to everything else that I said in the book. But that sentence has been corrected.
Stephanopoulos: I was at the forum, last night, with Secretary Albright. And you were very blunt when you were asked...
Question: WITH THE NEW DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS DO YOU BELIEVE THE US WILL BE MORE ABLE TO ACHIEVE PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST?
Carter: I don't see any present prospect that any member of the U.S. Congress, the House or Senate, would say, "Let's take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians and negotiate a peace agreement." I don't see any possibility...
Stephanopoulos: No member?
Carter: I don't know of any. There may be two or three members. Because it's almost politically suicidal in the United States for a member of the Congress who wants to seek reelection to take any stand that might be interpreted as anti- policy of the conservative Israeli government, which is equated, as I've seen it myself, as anti-Semitism. And one reason I wrote the book was just to precipitate a discussion or a debate or question. And I think...
Stephanopoulos: Well, you have gotten that, certainly.
Carter: That has been accomplished.
Stephanopoulos: No question about that. Of course, the whole country is also talking about Iraq.
Stephanopoulos: You called it one of the biggest mistakes in U.S. history -- foreign policy mistakes in U.S. history.
Stephanopoulos: How far should Congress go right now to stop the war?
Carter: I would like to see the Congress -- the Democratic Congress unanimously and (inaudible) publicly endorse every aspect of the Hamilton-Baker committee report. I think it is sound; it's solid. It calls for withdrawal, carefully, from Iraq, turning over responsibility to the Iraqi government, whatever it is, and at the same time having all of the nations that surround Iraq, including Syria and Iran, and obviously Egypt and Saudi Arabia and so forth, to assure the Iraqi people that, "As the United States withdraws from your -- from the primary role of your occupying power, that all of us will help you regain control over your economic and social and political and military affairs." The other thing is, that's important, that the stalled or abandoned peace process between Israel and the Palestinians must be rejuvenated.
Stephanopoulos: Would you be for cutting off funding for the mission?
Carter: Not for -- not for troops already over there, no. But I would be willing to see a limit on funds that would apply to an increase in funds -- in troops.
Stephanopoulos: So, capping the level of troops?
Stephanopoulos: Vice President Cheney, this week, has been very harsh on those kinds of measures in the Congress.
Cheney: "If we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Jack Murtha are suggesting, all we'll do is validate the Al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people.
Carter: Well, if you go back and see what Vice President Cheney has said for the last three or four years concerning Iraq, his batting average is abysmally low. He hasn't been right on hardly anything, in his prediction of what was going to happen; reasons for us going over there. And obviously, this is not playing into the hands of Al Qaida or the people who are causing violence and destruction over there, to call for a change in policy in Iraq.
Stephanopoulos: You know, I've heard a lot of complaints recently that this presidential campaign is starting too early. And I think people who say that have short memories.
We went back and looked -- and maybe this is the unofficial start of the year '76 campaign -- you're on "What's My Line?" in December of 1973.
[INSERT: "WHAT'S MY LINE"]
Moderator: "Panel, all I can tell you about Mr. X is that he provides a service and let's begin the questioning with Arlene Francis."
Arlene Francis: "Is it a service that has to do with women?"
Carter: "Yes, it certainly does." (laughter)
Female panelist: "Mr. X has a very spiritual aura. Does he recruit nuns?" (laughter)…
Stephanopoulos: No one knew who you were, but two years later, you had the nomination.
Carter: That's right.
Stephanopoulos: Do you think it's possible for anyone to run the kind of campaign you ran, '73, '74, '75?
Carter: No. I didn't have any money. We've never had enough money for me or Roselyn or my children or my mother to stay in a hotel. We always had to find somebody to take us in. Nowadays, you can't do it. You can't dream of getting the nomination for either party now, I would say, unless you can raise $100 million in advance, you know, as an indication of your authenticity. That's a gross distortion, in my opinion, of propriety in an election process.
Stephanopoulos: Your favorite Democrat dropped out of the race: Mark Warner.
Carter: I like Mark. I never did endorse him. My favorite Democrat, for a number of years now, has been Al Gore. If Al should decide to run -- which I'm afraid he won't -- I would support Al Gore.
Stephanopoulos: You think he should?
Carter: I think he should.
His burning issue now is global warming and preventing it. He can do infinitely more to accomplish that goal as in the incumbent in the White House, than he can making even movies that get -- you know, that get Oscars. So, I would hope he would. But I don't think he will. I've put so much pressure on Al to run that he's almost gotten aggravated with me.
Stephanopoulos: Have you actually called him?
Carter: Not lately. He almost told me, the last time I talked, "Don't call me anymore."
Carter: ... He said -- he said, "Jimmy, I'll support you. Don't call." But he would be my favorite.
Stephanopoulos: It sounds like Barack Obama is actually trying to take elements of the message you had in 1976: running against the process, the system, cynicism. But a few months ago, you said you thought he wasn't ready.
Carter: Back in those days, I was, kind of, hoping that he wouldn't run. But now that he's announced, you know, he's a legitimate candidate, and I'll let the American people decide.
Stephanopoulos: You think the country's ready for Hillary?
Carter: I think so. I think the country would be ready for Obama too if he should get the nomination.
You can look all over the world, all the way from Nicaragua to Indonesia, India, Great Britain -- women have been the -- have provided leadership in their countries, and they've done quite well. So I don't think there's any doubt about that.
Stephanopoulos: Mr. President, thank you very much.
Carter: I've enjoyed it.