Stop bleating about Bush
George W’s initiatives in helping Africa impressive
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.