HIV/AIDS: Bush Saving Millions in Africa?

Bob Geldof penned an intriguing piece for TIME Magazine last week about George W. Bush and America’s commitment to the African continent. While I disagree with Geldof’s take on the Iraq war and other associated stances, this piece opens up necessary dialog surrounding HIV/AIDS and the legacy of America’s forty-third president. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush’s approval ratings declined and have remained relatively low since early 2005. Iraq and the blunders that plagued U.S. operations in the Middle East have created international and domestic resistance to the Bush administration and its policies. The Iraq War and the American-led War on Terrorism have so dominated the sociopolitical spectrum, that the events have collectively eclipsed the majority of media coverage concerning Bush’s other presidential duties.

When it comes to accomplishments, George W. Bush is rarely recognized. The hurt and anguish many have internalized over what they see as divisionary tactics has dirtied his image to such a degree that he is denied all attribution for the good he has done in various regions across the globe.

Particularly in Africa, Bush has made an impact that is literally saving millions of lives. Geldof’s piece seeks to understand why the American people are vastly unaware of Bush’s work on the African continent. Perhaps the most interesting portion of Geldof’s article centers on what he calls “the great unspoken.” While Geldof was aboard Air Force One to discuss U.S. aid to Africa, Bush sought to connect the dots between the sociopolitical landscape in Africa and the antisystemic forces that have continued to hamper U.S. operations in Iraq:

Geldof: “I don’t know how, but eventually we arrive at the great unspoken.

Bush: “See, I believe we’re in an ideological struggle with extremism…These people prey on the hopeless. Hopelessness breeds terrorism. That’s why this trip is a mission undertaken with the deepest sense of humanity, because those other folks will just use vulnerable people for evil. Like in Iraq.”

In an effort to avoid conflict (since Geldof disagrees with Bush entirely concerning U.S. actions in Iraq), he attempted to divert the conversation toward a subject that would create less contention. After what the author calls an “uncomfortable” exchange, the conversation progressed.

Geldof: “At one point I suggest that he will never be given credit for good policies, like those here in Africa, because many people view him “as a walking crime against humanity.” He looks very hurt by that. And I’m sorry I said it, because he’s a very likable fellow.”

Due to the negative connotation Bush’s name brings to the international “table,” he may, indeed, be ignored for his impressive actions in Africa.  Unfortunately for Bush's critics, ignoring his successful assistance programs in the region is nothing short of avoiding reality.  Bush deserves recognition for these accomplishments. After all, Geldof points out that in 2003, only 50,000 Africans were taking antiretroviral drugs. Even more unconscionable, these people were paying for their own medication. But today, treatment is much more widespread. In fact, there are 1.3 million individuals receiving medicines free of charge, which can mostly be attributed to George W. Bush and his Republican administration.

According to Geldof, “Bush…initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist.” The Bush Administration has also fought tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS (the U.S. provides a substantial amount of funding for the Global Fund). Unfortunately, the American people remain vastly unaware of these advancements.

George W. Bush’s commitment to Africa should not be eclipsed by negative commentary or partisan political angst. While one may not agree with the aggregate of George W. Bush’s domestic of international policies, there is no contesting the positive impact this American president has had on the African region.