You are Mohamed Farah Aidid, or Kim Il Sung, or Raoul Cedras, or Radovan Karadzic. All the world regards you as a tyrant, a bloody-minded aggressor, an international pariah. Standing governments shun you, denounce you, refuse to grant you legitimacy. You are isolated, hemmed in, threatened with catastrophe. So what do you do? You pick up the phone and call Jimmy Carter.
Three times since President Clinton took office he has stumbled into crises only to be rescued by the rather humiliating intervention of his fellow Southerner. For Mr. Carter is a good guy bad guys can talk to. He does not sit in judgment. He seeks conflict resolution. A deeply religious man who even invited General Cedras to come to Georgia to teach Sunday school, he sees the light of redemption in the darkest sinner. All sorts of evil may be going on in Somalia, or North Korea, or Haiti, but Jimmy Carter is undeterred in his quest for peace and his hatred of violence.
Now it may be Bosnia's turn. Mr. Karadzic, widely regarded as a war criminal and genocidist, has been leading the war of Serbian aggression against the Bosnian Serbs for almost three years. But with the Western and Muslim worlds united against him and his military situation momentarily favorable, he evidently feels this is the moment to get a better deal than established governments have been offering.
So, having watched Mr. Carter treat the likes of Aidid, Kim and Cedras with honor and respect, Mr. Karadzic sent word last week that he was ready to ease tensions if the former president would come to Bosnia. The current president and his professional diplomats have long squirmed at watching Mr. Carter achieve what they cannot, often through gestures and concessions way outside the U.S. policy agenda. But once again, with his policy near dead-end, Mr. Clinton has given Mr. Carter permission to intervene -- if Mr. Karadzic actually stops his aggressions. This new development was predictably disclosed in back-to-back interviews with Mr. Karadzic and Mr. Carter on CNN.
Mr. Carter is truly on a roll that may yet win him the Nobel Peace Prize. He solved nothing in Somalia, which is sliding back into chaos, but he helped ease U.S. troops out of an impossible situation. He defused a threat of war in Korea peninsula by anticipating a nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Pyongyang. And he brokered the bloodless return of democracy to Haiti under circumstances that constitute an American triumph.
In Bosnia, however, he is confronted by a far more complicated situation. Not only is the State Department suspicious that he may be inclined to give away the store to Mr. Karadzic. So are the foreign ministries of our major allies in NATO. Yet since nothing else has worked to end the murderous conflict in Bosnia, Mr. Clinton could ill-afford to deny Mr. Carter his chance to prove once again that through the reflected majesty of the U.S. presidency he can defuse yet another terrible crisis.