Stop bleat­ing about Bush

Ge­orge W’s ini­tia­tives in help­ing Africa im­pres­sive

Finweek English Edition - - Openers -

CON­VEN­TIONAL WIS­DOM has it that in his eight-year stint in the White House, Ge­orge W Bush has been an ut­ter dis­as­ter. And now, as he pre­pares to step down, the world econ­omy is be­ing bat­tered by a storm that orig­i­nated in the United States un­der his watch. At the same time the con­flict in Iraq drags on, the Tal­iban re­mains ac­tive in Pak­istan and Afghanistan, where only last week a young South African vol­un­teer work­ing with the dis­abled was bru­tally gunned down in a Kabul street. Her killers ac­cused her of the ul­ti­mate crime: teach­ing Chris­tian­ity.

As the Bri­tish learned from the world’s first prac­ti­tion­ers of guer­rilla war­fare – the Bo­ers, un­der the lead­er­ship of what are now known as free­dom fight­ers, such as Louis Botha and Jan Smuts – it’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for con­ven­tional forces to de­feat elu­sive guer­rilla fight­ers who hit and run and blend in with the coun­try­side and the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

As an aside, it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that, on an ad­justed rel­a­tive ba­sis, had the Amer­i­cans matched in Viet­nam the Bri­tish com­mit­ment to SA in the Boer War, they would have de­ployed more than 2m mil­i­tary per­son­nel to face the Vi­et­cong. At their peak the US had man­ning lev­els of just over 500 000 in Viet­nam.

Who knows what out­come might have been ar­rived at had Bush and his ad­vis­ers per­mit­ted Sad­dam Hus­sein to con­tinue his evil reign over his 25m peo­ple while re­main­ing a re­gional threat? What­ever that might have been, the fact is that this war has cost the US dearly in hu­man and fi­nan­cial terms. The thing about mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture is that it pro­duces noth­ing, es­sen­tial though it can be in main­tain­ing se­cu­rity.

It may have been one of mod­ern his­tory’s great tac­ti­cal er­rors when Ge­orge Bush the elder, fol­low­ing the ad­vice of his mil­i­tary leader, Colin Pow­ell, called his forces back from the out­skirts of Bagh­dad when they were in full flight in pur­suit of the flee­ing Iraqi forces fol­low­ing the 43-day blitz known as Desert Storm in the 1991 cam­paign to drive Sad­dam from Kuwait.

Then there were the Clin­ton years, when tough de­ci­sions were dis­cussed in ex­er­cises that would make even our ANC talk shop pro­fes­sion­als en­vi­ous. Noth­ing was done. Sad­dam was al­lowed to re­main in power, his mur­der­ous fam­ily sup­press­ing the peo­ple while he plot­ted how to in­crease his power in the re­gion without ac­tu­ally in­vad­ing any­one, hav­ing learned his les­son in Desert Storm.

Fast for­ward to 9/11 in 2001, which left the ju­nior Bush with lit­tle al­ter­na­tive but to go to war. Mem­o­ries are short but we might cast our minds back to those dark and fright­en­ing days when the world trem­bled at the prospect of sim­i­lar atroc­i­ties be­ing per­pe­trated world­wide. Vast air­ports in the United States and else­where stood empty, si­lent as morgues, as mil­lions of peo­ple stopped fly­ing and com­mer­cial air­craft were grounded in their thou­sands.

Per­haps Bush had no op­tion but to act as he did. His­tory will be his judge. He made mis­takes, in­clud­ing his fail­ure to match what his fa­ther did. The elder Bush sent 500 000 to evict Sad­dam from Kuwait. His son should have used just such mas­sive force against Iraq in­stead of 140 000 or so per­son­nel whose task there­fore dragged on in­stead of be­ing, as it should have, a quick, in­ci­sive and sur­gi­cal cam­paign.

It seems a given that Barack Obama will suc­ceed Bush in the White House. Even an Ir­ish book­maker has thrown in the towel, pay­ing out 1m euro to back­ers of Obama be­fore vot­ing even be­gins.

Septem­ber was the last month of the first five-year phase of Bush’s am­bi­tious ini­tia­tive to as­sist Africa in its fight against Aids, known as PEPFAR – the Pres­i­dent’s Emer­gency Plan for Aids Re­lief. Al­most US$19bn (around R200bn) has been spent, mostly in Africa. It’s es­ti­mated al­most 160 000 in­fant in­fec­tions have been avoided, while more than 1,3m Africans – up from only 50 000 in 2003 – have been pro­vided with anti-retro­vi­ral drugs, thus pro­long­ing their lives and en­hanc­ing its qual­ity.

In a piece for mag­a­zine, the left wing ac­tivist and singer Bob Geldof pointed out that, un­der Bush, the US also con­trib­uted one-third of the money for the Global Fund to fight Aids, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and malaria, which treats an­other 1,5m. In ad­di­tion, the US con­trib­utes 50% of all food aid to Africa.

Geldof notes that, on his trip to Africa ear­lier this year, Bush an­nounced a new $350m fund for other ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases that can be eas­ily elim­i­nated, a pro­gramme to dis­trib­ute 5,2m mos­quito nets to Tan­za­nian chil­dren, plus con­tracts worth $1,2bn in Tan­za­nia and Ghana from the Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Ac­count, an­other ini­tia­tive of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Notwith­stand­ing his own African roots, Obama will have a tough time match­ing the Bush com­mit­ment to Africa. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see, af­ter a few years of an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, how the US fares in the arena of pub­lic opin­ion in Africa. As the chart in­di­cates, Africa quite liked Bush.

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