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Jimmy Carter and the Panama Canal Analytical Essay

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Updated: Nov 4th, 2018

Jimmy Carter is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the USA. Policies of this US President have been largely criticized. On the other hand, many analysts and researchers have claimed that Carter managed to do a lot for the country. Admittedly, there can be no single answer to the question whether Carter was the worst or the best president. Nonetheless, it is possible to consider some of his policies, actions or doctrines which can provide insights into the development of American society.

It goes without saying that one of the major goals of Carter administration was to advocate human rights. Notably, advocating human rights in the international arena was, apparently, the major objective as when it came to human rights within the country, people did not feel the change for better. In fact, it is possible to assume that Carter simply participated in the discourse concerning human rights issues without doing a lot to actually change something.

Jimmy Carter took office when American politics was in the transitional state when people believed that the Congress was the source of problems rather than the source of effective solutions (Frisch & Kelly, 2008). Of course, apart from constraints in political life, Carter had to address various economic and social issues. Some of the most disputable issues at that time were those connected with human rights.

Stuckey (2008) claims that Americans were eager to find solutions. Many people focused on human rights violations. In fact, a lot of attention was drawn to such problems inside as well as outside of the United States. The Treaties in Helsinki and ongoing discourse in the international arena proved that human rights were the center of people’s attention at that time.

Interestingly, Carter also paid much attention to such problems throughout his political career (Stuckey, 2008). When Carter became the president, he articulated his attitude towards human rights issues. Basically, Carter addressed issues which acquired worldwide attention. He once stated that he wanted American people to fit the changing world, but stick to the unchanging principles (Glad, 2009).

As far as the foreign policy was concerned, it can be revealed in a single sentence articulated during the inauguration ceremony: “Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere” (Stuckey, 2008). Thus, Carter followed a doctrine which is manifested in the sentence cited above. He focused on human rights in domestic and foreign policies.

One of actions that illustrates Carter’s consistency is ratification of the so-called Torrijos-Carter Treaties. Basically, Carter gave up control over the Panama Canal to Panama. Notably, Carter was not the one to start the process. He simply finished the process which was started by previous administrations. Carter’s action was accepted differently.

On one hand, Republicans and Democrats supported such actions. The situation in that region was quite difficult and it could be aggravated quickly as Torrijos, the leader of Panama, could be “forced to yield to ultra nationalist pressures and to acquiesce to violent disruption of the canal operation” (as cited in Glad, 2009, p. 89).

Besides, the international image of the USA could be also damaged as the words of the US President about human rights in the entire world conflicted with actual policies. More so, many officials believed that “the US had itself been the root cause of many problems of the recent past” and they should “do a sort of penance for its presumed sins in Vietnam, Cuba” (Hayward, 2004, p. 109). Basically, Carter and his administration did not have much of a choice.

However, the ratification was negatively accepted by the majority of Americans who felt betrayed (Glad, 2009). Many believed that the Panama Canal was property of the United States as they paid for it and they had all rights to own it.

This reaction of Americans unveiled controversies that existed at that period. Thus, Americans believed that their society was an example of democracy. They claimed that the USA is the country where people enjoyed human rights. Therefore, many supported Carter’s doctrine concerning the spread of democracy all over the world.

However, Americans were not ready to actually follow this doctrine. As the case with the Panama Canal shows many people were concerned with financial matters rather than the spread of human rights to other countries. However, this treaty did not affect drastically Americans’ wellbeing. The action had political impact rather than economic.

As for the international image of the United States, the Treaty played a positive role in creating favorable image of the country. Many states welcomed the treaty and often called it a victory. Many people in different countries saw this treaty as evidence that the USA was for human rights and against conflicts with other countries. Of course, this treaty was also a great step towards SALT. Carter proved that he was consistent in his intention to achieve agreement with other countries as to disarmament.

Thus, it is possible to state that Carter tried to follow the chosen doctrine of the focus on human rights. Many critics claim that Carter was not consistent in his policies and often disregarded his own doctrines (Hayward, 2004). Nonetheless, in case with the Panama Canal Carter followed his doctrine.

He was consistent and let people of Panama enjoy their rights in their land. However, many claimed that such cases were quite rare as Carter was accused of talking about human rights instead of actually changing the situation for better (Hayward, 2004).

Irrespective of actions taken, it is necessary to state that the doctrine chosen by Carter had its advantages and disadvantages. It is possible to single out one major advantage and one major flaw of the doctrine. On one hand, Carter addressed inclinations of American people who strived for actual manifestation of human rights in every level of the society. Carter claimed that people should enjoy human rights in the United States and all over the world.

Nevertheless, Americans turned out to be unprepared to particular struggle for their beliefs. Carter should have taken this into account. Thus, people accused the president of simply gathering information about violation of human rights instead of taking action. However, people did nothing to help the president take action.

Many people were eager to follow the doctrine proposed by the presidents, but they did it occasionally. Thus, many Americans welcomed US foreign policy which presupposed negotiations to assert human rights of people who lived in different countries. However, many Americans were against giving up the Panama Canal.

To sum up, Jimmy Carter was one of most controversial presidents of the USA who chose the doctrine of spread of human rights in the entire world. However, many of his actions which addressed the doctrine were negatively accepted by Americans who were not prepared to actually follow the doctrine.


Frisch, S., & Kelly, S. (2008). Jimmy Carter and the water wars: Presidential influence and the politics of pork. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.

Glad, B. (2009). An outsider in the White House: Jimmy Carter, his advisors, and the making of American foreign policy. New York, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hayward, S. F. (2004). The real Jimmy Carter: How our worst ex-president undermines American foreign policy, coddles dictators, and created the party of Clinton and Kerry. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.

Stuckey, M. E. (2008). Jimmy Carter, human rights, and the national agenda. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press.

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