TIME Newsmaker Interview

Jimmy Carter Talks About Iran, Campus Rape, Jesus Christ and the Paintings of W.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter attends an interview with Reuters in Cairo on Jan. 12, 2012.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter attends an interview with Reuters in Cairo on Jan. 12, 2012. Amr Dalsh—Reuters

The former President speaks openly on a range of topics, from his desire to meet Pope Francis and the U.S.'s role as the world's largest warmonger to Kerry's "notable" efforts to secure Middle East peace and Bush's "interesting" paintings

Former President Jimmy Carter, a hobbyist painter for more than two decades, counts himself a fan of George W. Bush’s art. “He does very interesting work,” Carter told TIME in an interview by phone on Wednesday. “I have been very interested and intrigued and congratulatory toward President Bush and his paintings.”

Just don’t expect a joint Carter-Bush gallery showing anytime soon. “Oh, I doubt that,” the 39th President of the United States says, when asked about the possibility. The truth is, Carter remains as outspoken as he has ever been, even as Bush has largely receded from any public role in the policy issues of the day. And on matters of politics and policy, the two men still remain far apart.

After speaking Tuesday night at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Carter spoke with TIME by phone about his recent efforts, including his correspondence with Pope Francis and Secretary of State John Kerry, the shortcomings of Hillary Clinton’s time in office and his recent book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.

He also spoke about how Obama should handle Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticized the current American President for not taking a more hands-on role in working toward Middle East peace in the first term. “I know from experience that the best way to have the United States be a mediator is for the President himself to be deeply involved,” he said. “In this occasion, when Secretary Clinton was Secretary of State, she took very little action to bring about peace.”

The following interview has been edited for length.

You say in A Call to Action that Jesus Christ was the greatest liberator of women in his culture. Why was that?

He set an example that should be emulated down to the ages, and one of the examples that he set invariably in every word and deed of his life was to emphasize the equality of women and even to exalt women well beyond any status they had enjoyed in any previous decades or centuries or even since then. But unfortunately there have been interpretations of what Jesus did by very wonderful theologians that wrote individual letters to individual churches all across Asia minor and so forth, that can be misinterpreted and to prove by male religious leaders that women should not be equal in the eyes of God.

You wrote a letter to Pope Francis urging the Catholic Church to do more to condemn things like genital mutilation and child marriage. What do you hope the Pope can do? What was his response?

His letter was very gracious to me, his response. He said that he thought that the status of women and the role of women in the Catholic Church in the future should be improved or enhanced. I was very pleased to get that response. I noticed that now, about 10 days ago, Pope Francis appointed an eight-person committee to deal with the problem of priests abusing children. Half of the committee members were women, one of whom had been abused as a girl by a priest.

Will you get to meet Pope Francis anytime soon?

I hope so, if he comes to the United States. I’d like very much to meet him. If I go to Italy, I will certainly request to meet with Pope Francis, whom I admire very much.

How can colleges and collegiate athletic programs more effectively address the issue of rape on campus?

There’s a common perception among college administrators that they should conceal the high level of sexual assaults that take place on their campuses because it would bring discredit to the university, bring them a bad name if it was publicized. So they counsel girls who are raped or sexually abused not to make an issue of it legally, not to prosecute the boys who are the rapists. What this does is give the young men, who are inclined to be rapists, the conviction which is accurate that they can do it with impunity. The Justice Department of the United States believes that, as reported, half the rapes on college campuses are caused by serial rapists just a few male students who are rapists because they know they can get away with it on the campus. Only 1 out of 25 sexual-assault cases on campus are ever reported to the authorities.

What could the U.S. do better to address human trafficking?

What we’ve done so far is a tiny step. Congress mandated, or required, that the U.S. State Department give an annual report on global human trafficking or slavery. It is much greater now than it ever was during the 19th century when black people were brought out of Africa to the New World. It amounts to about $32 billion a year. The United States is heavily involved in human slavery. The officials particularly at the local level throughout America look the other way for prostitution. The policemen are either bribed or they are given free sexual favors or they get orders from their chief of police that come from the mayor and city council, “Oh, let’s not rock the boat.” So prostitution thrives in the United States. We focus in this country on punishing the girls. For every brothel owner or pimp or male customer, there are 50 girls who are arrested for being prostitutes. Other countries have tried the other way around, and it works beautifully. Sweden is the No. 1 example that other countries are now emulating, where they bring the charges against the brothel owners and the pimps and the male customers, and they do not prosecute the girls, who quite often are brought into that trade involuntarily. It works quite well, by the way.

Is that an example the U.S. should follow?

I think so, yes. I would like to see our country follow it, but so far there is not any question about it. Everybody just sits back and says this is the way it is to be. But it you arrest two or three prominent men in a community, in Atlanta, New York or wherever, the prostitution would drop off immediately and you would remove almost completely the involuntary sale of prostitutes against their will in those communities.

You said last week that “the U.S. is the No. 1 warmonger on earth” —

Yes, it is. It has been. You can look at the record: ever since the United Nations was formed after the Second World War, the United States has almost constantly been at war somewhere. There are about 30 countries where we have initiated armed conflict.

Do you feel that Iran and the U.S. can be friends and allies again, like they were before the 1979 revolution?

Well, even after the ’79 revolution, that’s what people forget. After the Shah was overthrown and the Ayatullah Khamenei established his revolution, I immediately recognized that government, and I sent diplomats over — those were the ones taken by the Iranian militants — so yes, I think we should and we ought to. If we can’t have full diplomatic relations, we can certainly work out an agreement whereby we can avoid armed conflict.

What’s your take on Secretary Kerry’s efforts so far in the Middle East?

I think they are notable, and I have a great admiration for him. I stay in touch with him fairly often by email. I send him messages and tell him what my thoughts might be, and he has responded very graciously. He has had a very difficult time operating pretty much on his own. I know from experience that the best way to have the United States be a mediator is for the President himself to be deeply involved. In this occasion, when Secretary Clinton was Secretary of State, she took very little action to bring about peace. It was only John Kerry’s coming into office that reinitiated all these very important and crucial issues.

Can you share some of the advice you’ve given him?

I don’t want to reveal what messages I’ve sent to Secretary Kerry. But I’ve urged him as he formulates the framework not to deviate from long-standing international law that has always been observed by the United States and by all the Europeans and by the Israelis and the Arab countries, and I think to reverse all those basic United Nations that everyone has agreed to establish would be a step backward.

How would you deal with a Vladimir Putin?

Well, I had the same thing happen to me when I was President. On Christmas weekend of 1979, [Leonid] Brezhnev ordered Soviet troops to invade Afghanistan. I took action there just like the United States is doing now after Russia has taken over Crimea. I couldn’t undo what was already done. But I said to Brezhnev, as stern as possible measures, I withdrew my adviser, I broke diplomat relations with the Soviet Union, I formulated a boycott of a shipping grain and so forth, a trade boycott, and I notified Brezhnev publicly that if he went any further with military action, that we would respond militarily, and that I wouldn’t withhold any weapons that we had at our disposal. It was a very stern and very heartfelt and sincere warning, which I would have carried out. Of course, it never went any further. We also, secretly, gave weapons to the freedom fighters in Afghanistan so they could prevent the invading forces from taking over Afghanistan, and that effort was successful.

What’s your No. 1 tip for a woman seeking to get a raise?

The No. 1 thing she can do is insist, even in court, that the salaries paid by employers are made public. So if a woman is working side by same with a man, equal hours and equal levels of responsibility, that she will know and that everyone in the company will know, that she is being paid 23% less, that’s the average for the United States. I believe that we also need to be sure that our government takes action, as other countries in Europe have done to prescribe that a certain percentage of women be allowed to work on corporate boards. Norway, Sweden and others do that; it has worked fairly well.

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