I gave the President my book. He raised an eyebrow. "Who wrote this for ya, Geldof?" he said without looking up from the cover. Very dry. "Who will you get to read it for you, Mr. President?" I replied. No response.(via LIBERTAS)
The Most Powerful Man in the World studied the front cover. Geldof in Africa — "'The international best seller.' You write that bit yourself?"
"That's right. It's called marketing. Something you obviously have no clue about or else I wouldn't have to be here telling people your Africa story."
It is some story. And I have always wondered why it was never told properly to the American people, who were paying for it. It was, for example, Bush who initiated the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.
So why doesn't America know about this? "I tried to tell them. But the press weren't much interested," says Bush. It's half true. There are always a couple of lines in the State of the Union, but not enough so that anyone noticed, and the press really isn't interested. For them, like America itself, Africa is a continent of which little is known save the odd horror. . .
I don't know how, but eventually we arrive at the great unspoken. "See, I believe we're in an ideological struggle with extremism," says the President. "These people prey on the hopeless. Hopelessness breeds terrorism. That's why this trip is a mission undertaken with the deepest sense of humanity, because those other folks will just use vulnerable people for evil. Like in Iraq."
I don't want to go there. I have my views and they're at odds with his, and I don't want to spoil the interview or be rude in the face of his hospitality. "Ah, look Mr. President. I don't want to do this really. We'll get distracted and I'm here to do Africa with you." "OK, but we got rid of tyranny." It sounded like the television Bush. It sounded too justificatory, and he doesn't ever have to justify his Africa policy. This is the person who has quadrupled aid to the poorest people on the planet. I was more comfortable with that. But his expression asked for agreement and sympathy, and I couldn't provide either.
"Mr. President, please. There are things you've done I could never possibly agree with and there are things I've done in my life that you would disapprove of, too. And that would make your hospitality awkward. The cost has been too much. History will play itself out." "I think history will prove me right," he shoots back. "Who knows," I say.
It wasn't awkward. It wasn't uncomfortable. He is convinced, like Tony Blair, that he made the right decision. "I'm comfortable with that decision," he says. But he can't be. The laws of unintended consequences would determine that. At one point I suggest that he will never be given credit for good policies, like those here in Africa, because many people view him "as a walking crime against humanity." He looks very hurt by that. And I'm sorry I said it, because he's a very likable fellow.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Bob Geldof in February 28th Time magazine: