Bush the humanitarian

Posted: May 30, 2003 12:00 AM

This may mark me as a bit of a crank, but I still recall Bob Geldof's heated denunciation of the United States back in the 1980s. He was the moving force behind Live Aid and the "We Are the World" recording that raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia. But in typical "Useful Idiot" fashion, he just assumed that famine in Africa must somehow be the fault of the West, and particularly of the United States.

I was so annoyed at the time that I did a little research and found 1) that the United States had donated more food and medicine than any other country in the world; and 2) that the famine was the result of the communist government's deliberate decision to collectivize agriculture and deport large numbers of farmers.

But times do change -- sometimes for the better. Reuters is now reporting that Bob Geldof, who, to his credit, never abandoned his interest in Africa's welfare, is praising President Bush's AIDS initiative.

"You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this," Geldof told international aid workers, "but the Bush administration is the most radical -- in a positive sense -- in the approach to Africa since Kennedy." Lord Alli, described by Reuters as "an aid activist accompanying Geldof on the trip," agreed, adding "Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn't talk but he does deliver."

And this raises the question: Why hasn't President Bush gotten more credit for this here at home?

This is precisely the sort of generous, humanitarian, decent act liberals claim to admire. I would venture to guess that if Bill Clinton had proposed it, he would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But Bush the "unilateralist," Bush the "militarist," Bush the "tool of big business" has looked at the world and seen that there is a humanitarian crisis in Africa that we have the power and the means to alleviate. Africa currently has 25.3 million people living with AIDS. But they don't live long. Without drugs and adequate training for doctors and patients, the death rate from HIV is much higher in Africa than in the developed world. As President Bush stated it: "Because of the AIDS pandemic, a child born today in sub-Saharan Africa has a life expectancy of 47 years. ... Nearly 60 percent of those infected by HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. Three million children under the age of 15 have the AIDS virus ... and the disease has left 11 million orphans; more children than live in the entire state of California."

The AP recently offered just one example: Pascazia Mukamana of Rwanda is just 16. But when her mother died of AIDS, she became the sole caretaker for her 3-year-old sister Solange, who herself is beginning to evidence symptoms of the disease.

"I was not prepared for the role of parenting at my age," Pascazia lamented. President Bush cited Imbaganini, a 15-year-old boy who lost both of his parents to AIDS and now struggles to care for two younger siblings as well as two nephews.

Because Africa is so poor, most AIDS patients cannot obtain or afford the medications that can save their lives. The bill the Bush administration pushed through will spend $15 billion over the next five years to provide low-cost anti-retroviral drugs and get them to patients in remote areas. It will also fund child-care workers for the millions of orphans AIDS has left behind, and home health-care workers for those too sick to reach a clinic. The money will fund laboratories and train doctors and nurses in AIDS management, and provide testing throughout the continent of Africa. The funds will also support abstinence-based education programs to slow the spread of the disease.

This is the kind of humanitarian intervention that the wealthiest nation on earth should undertake. Besides, unlike government-to-government "development" grants, this is the kind of foreign aid that really makes a difference in people's lives. Instead of impeding Africa's development, this aid will advance it.

It's difficult to imagine anyone denying that this policy is in the finest tradition of the American republic. But where is the applause?