Many commentators in the popular press seem to be shocked and puzzled by President George Bush’s pledge of $15 billion in aid to Africa for the treatment and prevention of AIDS. Indeed, a large rush of air could be felt on campus as those watching the State of the Union took in a collective gasp of disbelief.
This seemingly inexplicable pledge can be explained in the following way — the Bush administration correctly realizes that AIDS is not only an international public health issue, but also a homeland security issue.Bush recognizes that now is the time to act. AIDS, like terrorism, is a plague that respects no borders.
Within the past 15 years, AIDS has spread across Africa. Statistically, one in ten adults is infected with the HIV virus. As Bush mentioned in his State of the Union address, approximately 30 million Africans have HIV, many of which are under the age of 15. The highest concentration of AIDS cases is in sub-Saharan Africa, with most countries having adult-infection rates of 20 to 30 percent. By way of comparison, the United States has an adult-infection rate of 0.61 percent.
In recent testimony before Congress on the topic of U.S. security, CIA chief George Tenet specifically identified AIDS as a completely destabilizing force. Tenet warned that “the national security dimension of the virus is plain. It can undermine economic growth, exacerbate social tensions, diminish military preparedness, create huge social welfare costs and further weaken beleaguered states.” These warnings are especially relevant in Africa. A lack of democratic infrastructure, innumerable tribal and ethnic differences and rampant violence wrought by regional warlords all contribute to borders that shift more than the sands of the Sahara.
Combined with regional instability, the unabated epidemic of AIDS in Africa only fuels the fires of what has been considered a furnace of anti-Western sentiment.
At least ten African nations — Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Uganda and Djibouti have resisted U.S. calls for assistance in the war on terrorism. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida troops trained within many of the same countries. U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force troops were attacked while trying to liberate the people of Mogadishu from warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
A clear example of how anti-Western sentiment and AIDS come to a point of confluence is illustrated in Zimbabwe. One in four adults in the former Rhodesia is infected with HIV.
Widespread disease, combined with tyrannical leadership, poverty and famine has produced one of the most anti-Western governments in Africa.
President Robert Mugabe invaded 750 white-owned farms and promised a “bloodbath” if more farmers did not relinquish their property to his government.
In another incident, Mugabe accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of using “gay gangsters” to attack him when a gay rights activist tried to arrest him for the torture of two journalists. Homosexuality is considered a mental defect in Zimbabwe and is assigned an negative connotation. Mugabe continued by describing Blair’s administration as the “the gay government of the gay United gay Kingdom.”
South Africa is another AIDS afflicted nation where corruption and ignorance are whipped into a bitter anti-Western frappe. In 2000, South African president Thabo Mbeki asked his minister of health, Manto Tshabala-Msimang, to distribute a document alleging that AIDS had been introduced to Africa 23 years ago by the Illuminati as part of a Western plot to take over the world. The misinformation campaign worked and a recent poll indicates that approximately 50 percent of South Africans believe Mbeki’s lies. Mbeki also contends that AIDS is not caused by HIV. When Mbeki’s propaganda was overwhelmingly denounced by most of the scientific community, Mbeki called the criticism “racist apartheid tyranny.”
It is clear that the U.S. faces an uphill battle in Africa. This is why America needs a $15 billion war-chest. U.S. foreign aid to Africa for AIDS reasons will be an effective sink for virulent anti-Western sentiment, with the goal of ultimately preventing terrorism. It is no coincidence that President Bush transitioned directly from his AIDS initiative directly to the war on terror. Bush explained, “This nation can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature. And this nation is leading the world in confronting and defeating the manmade evil of international terrorism.”
Partisan observers noted that the proposed African AIDS initiative represented a sharp change in policy. Not only does this charge politicize an essential proposal, but it is also patently false.
A Feb. 7 Wall Street Journal editorial notes a consistent pattern of direct foreign aid during the Bush administration. “Mr. Bush has pushed the World Bank to offer grants, not loans, to help ensure that the world’s poorest nations aren’t saddled with debts incurred by corrupt leaders. He’s proposed initiatives to address such neglected issues as clean drinking water for the developing world. If some regulars on the international activist circuit are still unhappy, it’s because he’s been challenging their assumptions about how things ought be to done.”
Detractors from the Bush plan object to its primary focus on behavioral modification over condom distribution. These detractors stand in the way of a plan that has experienced unparalleled success in Uganda and has the potential to save millions of lives.
Bush has never publicly announced that he is a U2 fan, but the logic and rhetoric of Bush’s State of the Union was eloquently preconceived by lead singer Bono one day earlier in a Washington Post commentary. In observation, he wrote, “Though the September 11 hijackers were mostly wealthy Saudis, they took refuge in the failed state of Afghanistan. There may be 10 potential Afghanistans in Africa. Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned that AIDS, as much as any rogue nation, is a grave threat to America’s security and the world’s stability.”
The Bush AIDS initiative represents an act of extraordinary compassion, only matched by recent pledges of $200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to go towards AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health. Indeed, as President Bush declared, “seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.”
It is possible to engage in an act of humanitarianism while still serving U.S. interests. Rabid pundits and hypercynical college students should take note.
Katz is a senior and can be reached at email@example.com.