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The most humanitarian president?
Scripps Howard News Service


August 18, 2005

Few of the critics so constantly beating up on him will ever admit it, but the White House occupant they like to call a heartless, stupid, fascist-minded, rights-denying, war-mongering incompetent could well go down in history as the most humanitarian of all American presidents.

"A generation from now, when historians analyze the turning point in Africa's development," wrote the chief of a charitable group in the Washington Post, "they may have to credit George W. Bush with playing a surprisingly important role in the continent's progress."

The writer of the oped, Julius Coles of Africare, based this generous assessment on President Bush's commitments of aid to Africa both prior to and during the international summit in Scotland of major industrial democracies last month, and when you look at the list, there is in fact a lot to praise.

The president plans to double U.S. aid to this most impoverished, war-stricken and disease-ridden of continents by 2010. By increasing anti-malaria spending to $1.2 billion, he hopes to save the lives of tens of thousands of children in 15 African nations. This program comes on top of his initiative to spend billions in Africa fighting AIDS. He has proposed a $400 million program to educate teachers and give scholarships to students. He aims to reduce African debt dramatically. He wants to build up infrastructure. He wants more trade and investment. He aims to promote peace through continued support of peacekeeping missions.

There's still more, but of course it is not enough for those critics who do not care much that all of this will amount to significantly more aid than any past administration has proposed. It's not hard to find voices contending that many more billions are needed immediately from this country, which some of them characterize as the stingiest of all developed democracies. They should think harder.

Done the wrong way, which is how it has mostly been done, foreign aid can be disastrous for the recipients. Economists tell us that it can depress prices for farmers, who are put out of business, creating more hunger. It can end up underwriting corrupt governments, and it can instigate civil wars as different factions fight for the loot.

The Bush administration is trying to foster improved government in Africa and to keep the aid out of the hands of dictators who refuse to change. The approach is strategic - to spend the non-emergency funds in ways that promote self-sufficiency and peace. As the director of the Agency for International Development told CNN, too much money arriving before reforms are completed can be wasteful.

"You have to make changes to the capacity of governments to manage programs, to write the right laws, to have the rule of law," Andrew Natsios is quoted as saying.

Natsios dismissed the notion that the United States should give as much of its gross domestic product in foreign aid as some European nations. Given the size of our GNP, there would be no way to successfully manage so much aid, he said.

And it is, at any rate, a fiction that America is tightfisted with its aid. No matter how you calculate it, no other country comes close to giving as much in either official or private aid, and that was true even prior to Bush's initiatives. Some on the left contend that the aid is meant only to serve American interests, but while fighting disease, feeding the starving and trying to stop bloodshed may have some long-term, indirect benefit for America, it is pure fantasy to suppose that's the primary motive.

Some leftists, meanwhile, have a lot to answer for. They have successfully opposed using DDT to fight malaria in Africa, for instance. DDT sprayed inside homes causes no threat to wildlife, but, by killing mosquitoes, saves little boys and girls from death in some circumstances much more effectively and cheaply than other remedies. Some on the left have also warned Africans that biotech food is dangerous. It's a superstition that can cause malnutrition and starvation..

Bush himself did Africa no favor in supporting American farm subsidies that make it nearly impossible for African farm products to compete in our markets, but the administration is now pushing to lower subsidies here and in Europe over time, and Bush's proposals for African aid are of a kind that could make a major difference.

I think Coles had it right.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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