Along the Tracks

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Actions speak louder

Bob Geldof, Irish punk rocker who launched Live Aid in response to African famine 20 years ago, and has maintained a high-profile on the issue of assistance to the poor in the developing world, is stunning leftists everywhere with his praise of the Bush administration. The Guardian story is fascinating on several levels.

First, there’s the incongruity of a liberal European musician not just offering polite appreciation, but full-bore praise, for the humanitarian efforts of what is universally seen as the most conservative American administration since Reagan, and perhaps even to the right of that favorite target of international critics. In the story, Geldof calls Bill Clinton a “good guy,” but notes he made little effort beyond staged visits to actually assist the troubled continent of Africa. Another aid activist, Lord Alli, says, “Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn’t talk, but does deliver.” That admission, from committed liberals like Geldof and Alli, is nothing short of stunning - and it’s shaking up the aid organizations who offer “tempered praise” to the Bush administration for its food assistance and HIV/AIDS pledge of $15 billion - about five times (if memory serves) what Clinton ever even suggested spending on the crisis.

Another interesting line of thought to note in this story is precisely where criticism of the Bush administration is aimed. The Guardian says aid organizations “have accused Washington of using its food aid as a covert subsidy for American farmers.” In other words, these groups do some extreme gift-horse-mouth-inspection to find some way of criticizing “the U.S. and Britain for supplying the bulk of the 1.15m tonnes of food aid that has been pledged to Ethiopia ....” Sure, you’re saving 15 million people from starvation - but you’re helping your own farmers by pulling stocks off the market! Perhaps they’d prefer a return to Clinton’s food aid policy, which was (in a nutshell): Let ‘em die.

Similarly, the “humanitarian” organizations scoff at the HIV/AIDS pledge because “too much” by their measures goes toward campaigns promoting sexual abstinence - the one certain preventive measure. Yet studies show these programs are very effective in halting the spread of AIDS - not to mention other STDs, unwanted pregnancies, abortions and broken families. Abstinence programs are not run to the exclusion of promoting condom use, but in tandem with that approach. Rick Rowden, the “USA policy officer” of ActionAid, complains “Bush’s increased aid comes with harmful loan conditions.” Perhaps they’d prefer a return to Clinton’s HIV/AIDS policy, which was (in a nutshell): Let ‘em die.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the story is not Geldof’s surprising support for Bush’s aid efforts, but the litany of complaints and “yes, buts” offered by the representatives of various aid groups quoted by the Guardian - especially when they are forced to confront the difference between Clinton and Bush.

Salih Booker, paraphrased by the Guardian, says, sure “Mr. Clinton’s Africa rhetoric was often hollow, but ... he deserved credit for pushing through an African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is supposed to give certain countries access to U.S. markets.” (Emphasis mine.) Get that? Credit Clinton for “pushing through” some legislation “supposed to” give “certain countries” “access.” Wow. Nice job, Bill. Really puts Bush in his place.

The Europhiles also get a slap from Geldof, who calls the EU’s commitment to Africa “pathetic and appalling.”

Geldof also takes up the Bushian argument that regime change in the world’s most terrible nations is a good goal to have. He praises Ethiopia’s present system of government as a “vast improvement” of the “’communist-terror’ regime it ousted in 1991.” And, in another story at the Times Online, Geldof calls for African leaders to unite in forcing out Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. All in all, a most revealing look at the debate occurring inside liberal and leftist circles.

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