In the past four months, in crises over the North Korean nuclear programme, Cuban boat people and the invasion of Haiti, it was Mr Carter, not the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who has done most to break the deadlock.
The result is deep ill-feeling between the State Department and Mr Carter. He said of his Haiti trip 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'.
Already Mr Christopher's authority has been seriously undermined, and there is much speculation about his future. In the Cuban refugee crisis, the Los Angeles Times revealed yesterday it was Mr Carter, not administration officials, who made contact with Fidel Castro and got him to approve the negotiations in New York, which ended the exodus of Cuban boat people.
But the deal worked out by Mr Carter in Haiti has brought previous differences to the boil. There is now a deep rift between the two men. The State Department believes the former president is naive, and leaves too many loose ends. On the other hand, he is highly effective. He saved President Clinton from launching an invasion which was unpopular with voters and Congress.
Mr Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore both say the advantage of Mr Carter is that he can show more flexibility than a member of the government. A political benefit, which they do not mention, is that Mr Carter is immensely popular. A deal with North Korea or Haiti is easier to sell because it has Mr Carter's imprimatur on it.
Having got the administration off the hook, Mr Carter is sounding bitter at being criticised for supplanting government officials. He points out that everything he did in Haiti was at the behest of Mr Clinton, and he met the main policy objectives.
However, the former president can sound bizarre. In an interview with the New York Times this week, he admitted the former Ethiopian leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, was 'a terrible dicator who killed people'. But he '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'.
In a separate development, Mr Clinton's press secretary Dee Dee Myers, will be moved to another administration job, officials said yesterday. The new press spokesman will be Mike McCurry, who has done the same job at the State Department.Reuse content