Below is an article on President Bush’s Africa policy from the opinion section of today’s Wall Street Journal, concerning the things he was doing before sending any troops to Liberia. I wanted to post it for two reasons. First, I want to know what people think of Mandela’s stance, given the good Bush is trying to accomplish in Mandela’s own nation. Second, I want to know if this information changes anyone’s perception of the Bush administration. Thanks.
By JEFFREY HERBST
President Bush’s trip to sub-Saharan Africa this week will solidify one of his most surprising achievements. Even before the prospect of a military intervention in Liberia, Mr. Bush was well on his way to becoming the American president most engaged with the African continent in U.S. history.
This despite the fact that his administration is often scorned for isolationist sentiments and accused of acting forcefully on foreign policy only when confronting terrorism. That President Bush has not received more credit for his Africa initiatives says something about his administration but even more about his critics.
In his January State of the Union address, President Bush stunned everyone by announcing plans to spend $15 billion on AIDS, overwhelmingly in Africa. Despite the skepticism of some that the pledge was just talk, in late May he signed into law the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that, it is hoped, will prevent millions of infections and give hope to thousands more already battling the disease. Such funds are desperately needed given that the infection threatens tens of millions, especially in Southern Africa.
Further, in February, President Bush presented to Congress his plans for the Millennium Challenge Account that would, if fully funded, provide the largest increase in American foreign aid since the Marshall Plan. By 2006, the new initiative would produce a 50% increase in development assistance compared with 2002, again to the overwhelming benefit of Africa. The Bush administration also has expanded legislation developed by the Clinton administration that encourages trade with Africa and has begun negotiations on a free trade agreement with Southern African countries.
The Bush administration’s record compares favorably with what the Clinton administration tried to do in Africa. After helping to block any U.N. action that might have prevented the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the Clinton administration never ceased to praise itself for its involvement in Africa. Much of the celebrated engagement revolved around the creation of commissions, ministerial talking shops and U.N. sessions, even while the actual American diplomatic presence on the continent was atrophying. In President Clinton’s much-heralded 1998 trip to Africa, he did not mention AIDS, even though it was already ravaging the continent. Later, his administration recognized the danger posed by AIDS and developed and signed into law the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a major initiative to promote trade with Africa. However, the Clinton administration was never successful in mobilizing new development resources for Africa’s problems.
Why do President Bush’s many domestic and foreign critics ignore his Africa initiative? They do so because it clashes with their mantra concerning the Bush administration’s supposed lack of interest in foreign affairs outside of the war on terror. It would, quite simply, produce too much cognitive dissonance.
Nelson Mandela, for instance, has threatened not to meet with President Bush because of his annoyance over the Iraq operation. While obsessed with American policy toward the Middle East, Mr. Mandela ignores the fact that the U.S. is trying to do a tremendous amount to combat AIDS in South Africa. Indeed, it is arguable that George W. Bush will do more to combat AIDS in South Africa than either Mr. Mandela or the current South African President Thabo Mbeki, who does not seem to understand the enormousness of the threat that the virus poses to his country. American officials report even now that they cannot spend all of the money that the U.S. has budgeted to combat AIDS in South Africa because of the difficulties of dealing with the South African government.
More cynically, critics of the Bush administration cannot afford to recognize current progress in Africa policy. For Democrats, an absolutely critical priority is to hold on to the African-American vote, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. Any effort by the Bush administration to adopt policies that might appeal to African Americans has to be strenuously denied by the Democrats because even mild Republican inroads into such a core constituency would swing some elections toward President Bush’s party. Analogously, the French and some other countries have defined much of their foreign policy as being opposed to American unilateralism and, sometimes, to whatever initiative Washington undertakes. Giving full credit to the Bush administration for its Africa policies would so undermine the appeal of opposing America that it is almost an imperative that the current Africa initiatives be ignored.
While the Bush administration is clearly committed to Africa, there is still a tremendous amount to be done. Notwithstanding immediate measures in the Liberian conflict, to date the U.S. has failed to develop successful policies toward the constellation of conflicts in West Africa, the seemingly endless war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the many other battles in Africa that have so paralyzed the continent in recent years and killed millions. It is hard to gloat about American policy toward Africa when so much of the continent is in flames. Still, no country can do everything and credit should be accorded for what the Bush administration, however improbably, has begun in Africa.
Mr. Herbst chairs the Department of Politics at Princeton.
Updated July 7, 2003