Jewish World Review July 10, 2003 / 10 Tamuz 5763

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

Formerly aloof, Bush
now embraces Africa


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | President Bush's multinational African safari displays one of his more valuable talents: He's a fast learner.

That's a valuable talent to have when you don't know much.

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 that order.

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 lives.

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.

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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 governance.

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 political machinery.

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 underdeveloped countries.

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 leaders.

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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Up

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