Jewish World Review July 10, 2003 / 10 Tamuz 5763
Formerly aloof, Bush
now embraces Africa
President Bush's multinational African
safari displays one of his more valuable talents: He's a
That's a valuable talent to have when you don't know
As a presidential candidate, Bush didn't know much
about Africa and didn't much seem to care. During the
one televised presidential debate in which Africa came
up, he accidentally called it a "country" and said the
continent would be low on his foreign policy priority list.
He denounced "nation building" and similar
interventions and said then-President Bill Clinton "did
the right thing" in delaying U.S. intervention to stop the
genocidal slaughter in Rwanda. Clinton had apologized
for the delay, which saw the loss of an estimated
300,000 lives there.
But that was then. Three years later, Bush has become
more deeply engaged in Africa than any other president in American history, even
before the question of military intervention in Liberia recently emerged.
Why? Three reasons come quickly to mind: AIDS, oil and Al Qaeda, not necessarily in
Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it was easier for us Americans to delude
ourselves into thinking that undeveloped regions of the world don't matter to our daily
But nature abhors a vacuum. When development and civilization stall, Al Qaeda sets
up a beachhead. Failed states like Sudan, Somalia or Afghanistan or certain remote
regions of the Philippines or Pakistan offer chilling examples.
The U.S. has boosted its intelligence in East Africa and stationed a rapid-reaction
force of 1,500 Marines in Djibouti, after the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania and the USS Cole in nearby Yemen.
With new heat on Al Qaeda in East Africa, West African countries like oil-rich Nigeria
look more attractive to Osama bin Laden. In a taped February message, he singled
out oil-rich Nigeria, where half of the population is Muslim, as ripe for "liberation."
Speaking of the O-word, never let it be said that the Bush administration is not
interested in oil. Its post-Sept. 11 foreign policy calls for increasing imports from
Nigeria to reduce dependency on the Middle East variety.
That makes Liberia problematic too. The troubled land, settled historically by freed
American slaves, has not had electricity or running water for three years. Its
near-anarchy resembles Somalia, another country where Al Qaeda moved in after the
central government evaporated. Since wars in Liberia have a nasty habit of spilling
devastation and atrocities across the West African region, the United States has a big
interest in restoring some measure of stability there.
Then there's AIDS. Bush stunned the world in January by announcing plans to spend
$15 billion over the next five years, including almost $10 billion in new money, to battle
AIDS, mostly in Africa. The money would go to poor countries that submitted sound
development plans and met high standards of accountable and democratic
He also presented plans in February for the Millennium Challenge Account, which
would provide the largest increase in American foreign aid since the Marshall Plan, if it
is fully funded.
Unfortunately, full funding for health and development aid has been thrown into doubt
by congressional dealmaking to pay for Bush's proposed tax cuts and other initiatives.
It would be appalling for the president to stage his grand tour and grand
announcements, only to have them cut back into broken promises by Washington's
If anything, much of the credit for Bush's new Africa consciousness should go to two
people in particular, Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Rev. Franklin Graham.
During his first tour of the State Department after taking office, Powell sent a dramatic
message throughout the diplomatic corps when he took the unprecedented step of
making the Africa bureau his first stop.
Graham, a Bush friend who delivered the invocation at his inauguration, has
campaigned for the Bush administration to help lead the fight against AIDS and
against slave-trading and other oppression of non-Muslims in Sudan. Graham heads
Samaritan's Purse, a Christian missionary organization that provides health care in
Unfortunately, Graham, who is Billy Graham's son, also has uttered some patently
offensive comments about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. In October, 2001, he
told his followers that "The god of Islam is not the same god" worshiped by Christians
and Jews and he called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion."
Graham is entitled to his opinion, but the president's association with him has not
helped the Bush administration's image among the world's more responsible Muslim
Still, there is hope. As Bush's safari shows, he learns quickly. His Africa tour hits the
right themes. Now let's see how well he follows through.
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