Bush: Friend of Africa

Nicholas Kristoff contends that George W. Bush has done more for Africa than Bill Clinton (the “first black president”) ever did.

Bush, a Friend of Africa (NYT | RSS)

Those who care about Africa tend to think that the appropriate attitude toward President Bush is a medley of fury and contempt. But the fact is that Mr. Bush has done much more for Africa than Bill Clinton ever did, increasing the money actually spent for aid there by two-thirds so far, and setting in motion an eventual tripling of aid for Africa. Mr. Bush’s crowning achievement was ending one war in Sudan, between north and south. And while Mr. Bush has done shamefully little to stop Sudan’s other conflict – the genocide in Darfur – that’s more than Mr. Clinton’s response to genocide in Rwanda (which was to issue a magnificent apology afterward).

So as the G-8 summit meeting convenes this week, focusing on Africa, it’s worth acknowledging that Mr. Bush, and conservatives generally, have in many ways been great for the developing world. At their best, they bring a healthy dose of hands-on practicality to their efforts.

The liberal approach to helping the poor is sometimes to sponsor a U.N. conference and give ringing speeches calling for changed laws and more international assistance. In contrast, a standard conservative approach is to sponsor a missionary hospital or school. One magnificent example is the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, where missionary doctors repair obstetric injuries that have left Ethiopian women incontinent.

Liberals also often focus on changing laws, but in a poor country, the legal system is often irrelevant outside the capital. Sudan, for example, banned female genital mutilation back in 1957; since then, the practice has expanded steadily. Sure, lobbying for better laws is important, but it’s usually much more cost-effective to vaccinate children or educate girls. Nobody gets more bang for the buck than missionary schools and clinics, and Christian aid groups like World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse save lives at bargain-basement prices.

Liberals may also put too much faith in aid itself. What Africa needs most desperately are things it can itself provide: good governance, a firmer neighborhood response to genocide in Sudan, and a collective nudging of Robert Mugabe into retirement.

An interesting bit of analysis. It’s somewhat ironic but not really that farfetched. While painted as a lefty, Clinton was essentially a foreign policy realist in practice, if not rhetorically. Bush is a neo-con, which is essentially Wilsonian idealism with heavier emphasis on the military as a tool.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Pasta Rick says:

    James, your characterization of Kristof’s column misses his most important analysis. Of course Bill Clinton had very little positive impact in Africa. Who in the world has ever “painted [Clinton] as a lefty” in foreign policy?

    Regardless, it will be interesting to see if Bush heeds to Kristoff’s critique:

    “Mr. Bush’s decision to cut off funds for the U.N. Population Fund means that more African girls will die in childbirth. Even more tragic is the administration’s blind hostility to condoms to fight AIDS – resulting in more dead Africans.

    Mr. Bush has another blind spot as well: while he is right that aid is not a cure-all, sometimes he seems to use legitimate concerns about aid as an excuse for stinginess. Aid has shortcomings, but Mr. Bush himself has shown that it can be used effectively to save lives by the millions.

    Yet Mr. Bush is resisting the G-8’s calls for further help for Africa; he thinks the sums are better spent on cutting the taxes of the richest people on earth than on saving the lives of the poorest. Come on, Republicans! You need to persuade Mr. Bush to be more generous this week, because his present refusal to help isn’t conservative, but just plain selfish. “

  2. Lt bell says:

    Bush: Friend of Bush; propaganda, censorship,
    and the PR scam- he does not know that to “spin” is to ‘LIE”

  3. mike says:

    Erasing their debt will not help the African people. The same corrupt governments will continue to be corrupt and fund their armies.
    Only grass roots organizations can help – and no for those 4 people left that think the UN actually does something, it does not count as an effective aid group; it is just too bloated – by the time Kofi and his son take their cut, there isn’t much left.
    Can you imagine the difference if you gave a bunch of grass roots orgs the same amount of money and provided oversight of them, what they could accomplish.

    As far as not supporting the use of condoms – well that is just plain stupid – then again this is the same group of folks that believes that mentioning anything other than abstinence to a teenager will cause them to have sex – I guess they will have to learn about safe sex from the OC (that’s the new 90210/Melrose Place) like American kids do – oh wait they don’t show safe sex, just sex.

  4. Glen Dean says:

    Past Rick, how in the hell can somebody be stingy with somebody elses (taxpayer) money. For that matter, how can one be considered generous when the money that their handing out is not theirs. You guys think that some billionaire like Kerry is supremely virtuous because he advocates the government taking my money at the point of a gun and then giving it to somebody else. Your logic is amazing.

  5. Pasta Rick says:

    You guys think that some billionaire like Kerry is supremely virtuous because he advocates the government taking my money at the point of a gun and then giving it to somebody else. Your logic is amazing.

    Glen Dean-

    You are an idiot. How in the hell do you know what I “think” and how can you assess my logic when my post was an attributed quote to Kristoff? Grow up and go back to your moveon.org buddies.