STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Former President Jimmy Carter writes that when he left office he and his wife, Rosalynn faced a stark question: What would we do with the rest of our lives? Carter was 56 years old, unusually young and unusually healthy for a man leaving the Oval Office. So, he faced the same question that would later confront the first President Bush, and then Bill Clinton, and soon enough will confront the current President Bush.
Carter describes his answer in a book called "Beyond The White House." He would eventually become known for Habitat for Humanity homes, for observing elections, for diplomatic work around the world. But first, he had to make some money.
President JIMMY CARTER: I was more than a million dollars in debt. I didn't have a job. We had a business that had collapsed while I was in the White House. And…
INSKEEP: This was the famous peanut farm.
Pres. CARTER: That's right. Oh, the peanut farm is still going but I had a business - it was a warehousing business where I bought peanuts and processed them for sale and I had a cotton gin. And while I was in the White House, that business kind of went down the drain. So I was shocked after I lost the election to find out I was also had lost my fortune. I was deeply in debt.
So, I sold my business, finally, and wrote a book called "Keeping Faith" - a biography of my life in the White House - and eventually worked my way out of the hole. Then the Carter Center was born. And for the last 25 years, my life could not have been more expansive and unpredictable and adventurous and gratifying.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about that work which has taken you around the world. You've been involved many number of diplomatic missions - official and non-official - and visits to various countries and observing elections. People have often said of you - and I don't know if you take this as a compliment or perhaps a backhanded compliment. They'll say well Jimmy Carter has accomplished more since he left office than he ever did while he was in office. Do you agree with that statement?
Pres. CARTER: I don't disagree with it. I've tried to do the best I could in both cases. When I was in office we kept our nation at peace - we protecting our interest. We never were called upon to drop a bomb or to launch a missile or to fire a bullet at anyone else. We promoted peace for others like between Israel and Egypt - a treaty that hasn't been violated in a single word now for going on 30 years. We did a lot of good things. But I have to say that the post-presidential years have been much more an opportunity for me and Rosalynn, personally, to become involved in the lives of other people around the world. And this has been completely a different kind of involvement.
INSKEEP: Don't you miss the power?
Pres. CARTER: Sometimes I wish I had the power, yes. But we've learned to do without it. We do more by enticements and by persuasion and trying to inspire other people, recruiting a lot of allies and friends and supporters who have the power or the money. So it's a much more complex way to build up influence than just to exert the power of a great nation. So, I can't say that I prefer the power of a president. I think that what we have now is, in many ways, superior.
INSKEEP: Mr. President, you describe in this book countless visits to countries to monitor elections and to try to improve the situation and I suppose if you'd gone right on drafting the book, you didn't probably have to include a section or a chapter on this recent visit to Sudan. How did it come about? How did you go? What was your goal? What did you do there?
Pres. CARTER: As a matter of fact, in this case I went with a group of so-called Elders. This is a new group that has been formed under the aegis of Nelson Mandela - comprised of me and Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former chief negotiator of the United Nations, Brahimi. We went there to try to assess two things. One was a comprehensive peace agreement between the north and south of Sudan, which terminated an 18-year war at that time. And on the other hand, the Darfur Peace Agreement that was consummated in Mbuji a couple of years ago, hopefully to bring about an end to the Darfurian problem. We had almost unlimited capability of meeting with whom we chose and going where we pleased. And our persuasion on the leaders there, I hope, will bear fruit.
INSKEEP: How do you stand before the president of a sovereign nation and try to, as you put it, persuade him to change his internal policies without sounding like some lecturing foreigner to him?
Pres. CARTER: I've known the present president of Sudan, al Bashir, since he was a colonel. And after he became the leader of Sudan, I worked with Bashir and his ministers of agriculture and health in multiple benevolent causes within the entire nation of Sudan. And although I don't excuse any of the problems that he's have to cause in Darfur, he and I have known each other for now - for 19 years. So, I could talk to him, almost, without restraint. And he listens with composure and with patience and then he makes his own response. So, we don't have any problem in communication.
INSKEEP: Well, I guess the flipside is if you're going to involve yourself with a man like that, how do you avoid being used?
Pres. CARTER: I don't mind being used if the goal is to eradicate guinea worm or to increase - the courtesan have to increase their production of wheat for just from 160,000 tons per year to a million tons per year. So, I don't mind being used for benevolent purposes like that.
INSKEEP: Even if, in the end - and I don't know if this is the case in Sudan -but one thing that can happen with programs like that is that the local ruler is able to improve his local image.
Pres. CARTER: If he improves his local image because his people have more to eat or his people are no longer are blind from a disease like trachoma, then I'm willing to suffer the consequences of his being more popular. But it puts me in a position of being quite unrestrained when I urge him to have an honest and fair election in 2009, which is now scheduled. He has to have international observers come in and because up until now he's refused to have any international observers designated. But while we were there in his office, knowing that the Carter Center would treat him fairly, he publicly announced that he would invite the Carter Center to come in and help to consummate an honest and fair election as scheduled. So you get benefits even when you get to know some people that might be consider unsavory by the international community.
INSKEEP: Former President Jimmy Carter's new book is called "Beyond The White House."
Mr. President, thanks very much.
Pres. CARTER: I've enjoyed talking to you very much.
INSKEEP: And you can read an excerpt from "Beyond The White House" at npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And I'm Deborah Amos.