Four Presidents Meet, October 1981

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Four Presidents in the White House Blue Room in October 1981. All are in suits and are smiling.
President Ronald Reagan having drinks with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon in the White House Blue Room prior to prior to leaving for Egypt to attend President Anwar Sadat’s Funeral, October 1981. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It was the first time so many men with such stature would meet in the White House at one time. Shown here, four presidents of the United States of America meet in a rare set of circumstances. The then current President Ronald Reagan would be joined in the White House for a photo opportunity with former Presidents; Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Seemingly a PR stunt by the head office of the free world, this photo shows the four presidents having a drink and a laugh at the height of Cold War proxy play.

The men were called to meet in the White House as a delegation party to be sent over to Egypt for the funeral of the recently deceased President Anwar Sadat. This was the Cold War, and Egypt seemed at the time to be the centre of this proxy war in 1981. A long standing ally of the West, Sadat was on the annual celebratory victory parade to mark the anniversary of Operation Badr – the military operation which won the Egypt government control of the Suez Control- when he was assassinated by an extremist Jihadist group. It would be Sadat who brought Western values to the North of Africa and installed a front against any Islamic regimes in the area, much to the dismay of both the surrounding Arab nations and their powerful Eastern Ally, Russia. This clash of cultures ultimately meant President Sadat lost control of his people and was shot dead by enemies. This would lead to an ongoing problem of disruption in the area until decades later. However, his attitude was hailed by the West, so much so that the U.S sent over a high-profile delegation to attend his funeral.

There was a demand to send a group to the funeral of President Sadat and as such the US wanted to send important figures. However, due to dangers in the area any current leaders were left behind. This meant Vice President Bush and President Reagan stayed put and the delegation chose the three former living presidents. All three of which accepted the invitation despite the dangers posed. Nixon was scraping the barrel of politics since the Watergate scandal, Carter had just lost an election and Ford had increasing familial pressure to avoid politics, yet all three men agreed to join the delegation and fly to Egypt to attend the funeral.

Such a momentous occasion this was, Reagan ordered all government buildings, embassies and military ships to fly their flag at half-mast, whilst the flag at the White House was lowered following Sadat’s death. Only Winston Churchill and Dag Hammarskj√∂ld had received the honour before him. A marker to how important this man was to the US, particularly during this heightened time of globalised war.

The meeting of these men showed how serious the situation was, but sparked a friendship in Ford and Carter that resolved previous disputes and paved the way for the notion of shared experiences amongst Presidents. It would become increasingly common to see past and present Presidents spending time together after this.

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