Carter Laments Iraq War's Unnecessary Costs

Former President Carter is in South Africa with a new group called the Elders.

January 8, 2009, 12:14 AM

JOHANNESBURG, July 18, 2007 — -- Former President Jimmy Carter doesn't have to be careful with his words anymore.

Carter said it's part of the beauty of being a former president -- you can talk to whomever you like and say whatever is on your mind.

So perhaps it's not surprising that he is again voicing displeasure with his successor -- No. 43 that is.

As the Senate was pulling its all-nighter, Carter was sitting down with ABC News' Kate Snow in Johannesburg, South Africa. Carter said he thinks it's past time to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

"We should never have gone there to start with," Carter said. "It was an unnecessary war, an unjust war. It's created enormous, unanticipated suffering and cost. We ought to get out of there as soon as possible."

Carter said he thinks Congress should be pushing to have the recommendations of the bipartisan Hamilton-Baker commission adopted immediately.

"My own belief is that if all the Democrats and as many Republicans as possible just said, 'We adopt the Hamilton-Baker recommendations and we want to give them support. Those recommendations -- we want to put them in legislation.' That would be the best approach."

Carter acknowledged that a hasty withdrawal would be technically and logistically impossible and could "exacerbate suffering." But he said he favors a controlled withdrawal, beginning as soon as possible.

Asked if the Bush administration is making a mistake by being "stubborn" and not changing policies in Iraq Carter replied, "Yes, it is and has been from the very beginning."

Carter was in Johannesburg to join Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to announce the formation of a group called "the Elders" -- senior leaders from around the world who aim to tackle some of the world's most pressing problems.

The Elders group is the brainchild of wealthy tycoon Richard Branson and singer Peter Gabriel, who were also on hand for the announcement."This has never been done before," Carter told ABC News. "There's never been a group of leaders that represent all the geographical regions of the world who have served in the top positions on Earth -- as head of the U.N., as head of the World Health Organization, as head of governments of nations -- who are willing to lead and to add our influence in a positive fashion to the most difficult, entrenching and troubling problems that the world faces."

"When you are president you have -- I'm not exaggerating -- a thousand issues to address in a week. We can carefully select two or three or five or six and concentrate our efforts just on those… and we'll be very careful not to interfere or to compete with any organization that seems to be successfully moving toward a solution," Carter said.

In the interview, Carter said it's too early to say which global hot spot he might visit next. But he said the Elders are considering intervening in several violent conflict zones.

"There are unnecessary wars. There's unnecessary violence caused by terrorism. There are unnecessary deprivations of human rights. There's unnecessary suffering from totally preventable diseases. There's unnecessary deterioration in the quality of our environment," he said. "All of those things I predicated by saying 'unnecessary,' and if the Elders can publicize not only the problem but also the fact that they can be solved and work with those attempting to solve them and then help those that are involved already, then that's what we would like to do."

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