Even now that he is helping make U.S. foreign policy, even now that he is stopping war on the wing, Jimmy Carter still gets that jilted feeling from the Clinton administration.
And the worst of it is, he signals that he is being treated shabbily by someone he brought into the State Department, Warren Christopher, a man he once called "the finest public servant I ever have known.""Rosalynn and I have discussed this a lot, it means a lot to us," he said last week, sitting in his office at the Carter Center with one worn loafer up on the glass coffee table, next to a walrus tusk, a cribbage game and a glass dove.
"We haven't come up with a solution to it," he said in a sprawling interview that touched on his changing relationship with President Clinton, his war poetry and his secret efforts to stop the Persian Gulf War.
He circled around but rarely used Christopher's name. It was probably inevitable that there would be tension between the former president, who is running around the globe acting like a secretary of state, and the secretary of state, who is back in Washington acting frustrated.
It was a telling sign in Washington two weekends ago when Christopher and his deputy, Strobe Talbott, showed up in a limousine to take a break at the late afternoon showing of the Robert Redford movie, "Quiz Show," while Carter was scrambling around in Haiti trying to negotiate a last-minute deal that would stop the planned invasion of the Caribbean country.
Carter should still be basking in his moment of glory. (A CNN poll showed Carter getting 70 percent of the credit for the peaceful resolution, and Clinton only 15 percent.) But the former president, as one friend puts it, is a man with "a Mission, capital M, and Moral force, capital M."
And with a will of steel, he has forced a reluctant Clinton administration to accept his help as a global facilitator and peacemaker, possibly with an eye toward winning the Nobel Peace Prize he missed out on for the Camp David accords, and certainly to turn the Carter Center in Atlanta into a diplomatic powerhouse in resolving intractable disputes.
So, ever since Carter got back to Atlanta, carrying his own little blue suitcase, he has veered between happiness and wonder at the agreement he forged, and unhappiness and wonder at the cautions that some Clinton advisers had leveled about the risks of free-lancing by a former president.
"I don't know if you've talked to anybody at the State Department," Carter said, referring to his policy-on-the-hoof adventures in North Korea and Haiti. "In both cases, it's been the White House and President Clinton personally who has said go ahead, but obviously, it's been reported, over the planning and vehement opposition of many of his top advisers."
"Opposition, by the way, that I do not comprehend," he said. "It's totally illogical to me. We've just had to accept the fact that there is this great reluctance, primarily concentrated in the State Department. The ones that are closest to the president are the ones that finally approved our intercession.
"(Vice President Al) Gore has been a great help, Tony Lake (Clinton's national security adviser) to a little bit lesser degree. I know that after President Clinton announced that we were going, there was even more consternation in the State Department than there was when we dealt with North Korea. But I don't know why. I honestly don't. I'm not being coy about it.
"Warren Christopher's background is superb," he said. "When I gave him the Medal of Freedom in the presence of all my Cabinet members - he was a sub-Cabinet member - I said, `This is the finest public servant I've ever known.' So, I don't know what there is there."
The State Department tried hard Tuesday to dispel any notion that Christopher was plotting against his old mentor. "There have been some erroneous reports that Secretary Christopher was against President Carter's participation," said Michael McCurry, the Department spokesman.
He said: "President Carter probably remembers the speech that Secretary Christopher gave at the dedication of the Carter Center in Atlanta, which was about the underutilized role of the ex-presidents."
But while expressing admiration for Carter, some officials said he must be enjoyed in moderation. When he wanted to jump into the Middle East peace talks earlier this year, for example, the administration declined, to Carter's dismay.
Even in moments of triumph there are nagging questions: When an envoy like Carter moves the goalposts is the outcome worth what was given up? That question seemed particularly acute as Haitian police beat demonstrators in plain sight of the U.S. Army in Port-au-Prince.
The interview was cut short before Carter could discuss how he felt about those developments.
"You want to make sure when Carter goes somewhere that he knows that he's an emissary, not a free agent," said one administration official.
"Carter is very independent," said another with a sigh. He added, "This kind of frustration is endemic with prominent Americans who are trying to help the government. You have a government in place that's working on policies and you have to think hard about how to use national assets like President Carter."
Talking about the slights he feels from Foggy Bottom, Carter insisted that "there's a voluminous written file relating to this question, and there are several personal visits relating to this question."
He said he had been to Washington several times to try to smooth over the resistance of those who worry that too many extemporaneous diplomats mingling with too many skittish dictators can lead to a foreign policy even more seat-of-the-pants than it already seems.
At another point, complaining that he did not get enough flexibility in his instructions from the Clinton diplomats, he was asked if it was the White House or the State Department that he had communicated with and he said flatly: "I don't communicate with the State Department."
"The jokes around town that only Bill Clinton could make Jimmy Carter look good are not so far off," laughs Marlin Fitzwater, the former Bush aide who said that Carter came to President George Bush on a few occasions to offer his diplomatic services.
"It's unfair to ask the secretary of state to enjoy turning over foreign policy to a former president. There are enormous risks in this. Cedras is not just a bundle of joy. Carter can not simply coax all the great despots into submission."
One former Carter official who knows the Clinton team said that tension is inevitable. "Christopher is a guy who likes to follow a flow chart, to pursue Option B, once they decide to pursue Option B," he said. "Staying within your brief is an antithetical to Jimmy Carter."
The former official, who requested anonymity, said that Carter, unlike other diplomats, brings the stroking that goes on inside the meeting out into the open, "talking about Cedras as though he's a man of honor and a nice old granddaddy."
Carter knows that he has been criticized for being too soft with dictators, for letting them get better terms out of him than they did out of Clinton.
"Rosalynn sometimes says that I'm too sympathetic to people who are unsavory, but I have to understand their position," he said. "I've been in the White House and I know that a president has to depend on the information that he gets from his trusted advisers.
"And I've also been in countries around the world watching CNN and seeing statements come out of Washington under all my successors - I'm not criticizing one - that were absolutely and totally false about the country in which I was present and about the people with whom I was dealing."
Carter went off the record to tell a story about Haiti's leaders that illustrates what he feels is an important point: That people are not always as villainous as they are made out to be, or as democratic.
Asked about the awkwardness of praising Cedras' honor after Clinton had tried to demonize him in his national address two Thursdays ago, Carter smiled and said about the general topic of villainizing American enemies: "I have written a poem about that."
He asked an aide to fetch the poem, called "With Words We Learn to Hate," which he said is going to be published in a forthcoming book of his poetry. The poem read, in part: "We justify our nation's wars each time with words to prove we kill in a moral cause. We've cursed the names of those we fought - the `Japs' instead of Japanese, German Nazis or the `Huns,' and `Wops' - when they were enemies. Later, they became our friends, but habits live in memories."
He was asked if there was anything such as pure evil, or if leaders who seemed to be "unsavory," as Rosalynn Carter put it, were simply misunderstood, or improperly approached by diplomats who did not want to listen.
He used the example of Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia, whom he called "a terrible dictator who killed people." But after he negotiated a deal with him on behalf of the International Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees to have food and water delivered to the refugee camps, he "completely kept his word."
"I found him to be charming, his wife is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen in the world. She was like King Solomon's daughter, and eloquent and personable," he said.
He also revealed that he worked against President Bush to stop the Persian Gulf War. He said that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and some Saudi Arabian officials and Egyptians came to him, and he asked the White House if he could negotiate between Iraq and Kuwait, and was turned down.
"So I decided when President Bush went for the U.N. resolution to permit armed action, to try to block it, which was not appropriate perhaps. But I wrote every member of the U.N. Security Council except Margaret Thatcher - I thought it was a waste of a stamp - and asked them not to vote for the resolution and I sent President Bush a copy, so I wouldn't go behind the president's back."
Carter said: "I got a commitment from Gorbachev and Mitterrand and Deng Xiaoping. All I asked them to do was not vote for the resolution unless there was a complete exhaustion of good faith efforts to resolve the issue peacefully."
It did not work, but Carter still thinks he could have negotiated with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Asked about this incident, Fitzwater said only, "Too bad Jimmy Carter wasn't around for World War II."
With his big smile, he reminisced about his favorite moment of his weekend in Haiti: the role of two women behind the scenes.
Only three days after Clinton went on television to tell America that Cedras must be held accountable for "terrible human tragedy" in Haiti, rape and murder and mutilation and "mothers' faces slashed with machetes," Carter found himself sitting in the Cedras home with the general's 10-year-old son, Yannick Cedras, on his knee serving him cookies, and the general's daughter asking him to autograph a picture of himself.
"The key to Cedras' decision was his wife," the former president said.
And the key to Carter's decision to ask to meet Mrs. Cedras was his wife.
"I called Rosalynn and she said, `Jimmy, you go talk to Cedras' wife,' " Carter recalled.
Carter made clear his desire to meet the Cedras family. A message came back that the trio of delegates, including Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were invited at 8:15 a.m.
"Mrs. Cedras was impressive, powerful and forceful," Carter said. "And attractive. She was slim and very attractive."
He said that Mrs. Cedras said she had heard that a U.S. Delta force was coming to kill her family and she told him, "We decided we were ready to die."
Carter said that he gave her little boy a penknife from the Carter Center and told her that it took more wisdom to choose peace than war.
At first, listening to her, he thought "No way," he said, "because I have known for 50 years what it's like to be involved with a strong woman," but then she listened to his remarks and Powell's, and told her husband that she was softening.
Sounding like he was the leader of group therapy, Carter said that the other turning point was an emotional speech he made to the Haitian military leaders in which he said he was "ashamed of my country's policy."
"When I sat across from civilians in Haiti and talked to some mothers who said that the babies born in the last three years would be adversely affected in their physical and mental development because they couldn't get food and medicine," he said, that made him feel ashamed about the embargo.
He said he combined that with tough remarks about what they were selfishly risking for their people, and how much trouble he had gone to to make these negotiations work.
He said that he hopes that now he and Clinton can put aside the strain that came from Clinton not wanting his administration to be seen as "Carter II," as the Bush campaign liked to gibe.
"There was a time when he said we ought to separate ourselves from all this and let this be known as his administration. I felt the same way. I didn't want to be looked on a descendant of Lyndon Johnson. Or John Kennedy. I wanted to have my own administration."