Bush trip to a bastion of support - Africa
His week-long visit will focus on humanitarian improvements.
When President Bush visits Liberia as part of a week-long trip to Africa, which was set to begin Friday, he just may hear a popular song whose refrain includes these words: "Thank God for George Bush!"Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Liberian ditty from 2003 reflects appreciation for US intervention in the country's political strife. But in a broader sense, it represents how much of sub-Saharan Africa stands out as a bastion of goodwill toward the United States – and Mr. Bush – at a time of high international opprobrium for the US.
The reason for the African difference is simple. Against all expectations for what a Texas governor who dismissed Africa's national-security importance would do as president, Bush has elevated Africa's ranking on the presidential priority list, taking two policy-redefining steps that are likely to carry over into the next US administration:
•Bush raised Africa's place on America's global map of national security by creating AFRICOM, the US Africa Command. It will oversee American military operations and relations on the continent and elevate Africa's role in the battle with international terrorism.
•Bush has made the continent the focus of the international application of his "compassionate conservatism" creed: Africa is the workshop for Bush's Millennium Challenge grants, which seek to redefine the way the US practices foreign assistance by rewarding good governance and democratic regimes. In addition, the continent receives the lion's share of Bush's substantial HIV/AIDS funding and his administration's efforts to eradicate malaria.
The president is set to visit Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia with first lady Laura Bush, while skirting such current trouble spots as Kenya, Nigeria, and Somalia. (On Thursday, however, Bush indicated that he would delay his trip to Africa if the House is still working on a key ntelligence law that is set to expire.)
With such an itinerary, some critics smell a feel-good trip tailor-made for a beleaguered president. Others say the upbeat tone of the trip will paper over a "militarization" of US policy in Africa and international economic policies that impede Africa's development.
But other experts see it as a logical destination for a president who has dramatically changed the US approach to Africa.
"US engagement with Africa at the strategic level is at an all-time high point," says Peter Pham, an expert in America's Africa policy at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. "But that is also true for the economic involvement and humanitarian commitment."
Bush is asking Congress to double the initial funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – known as PEPFAR – to $30 billion over the next five years. The Bush administration has also signed 16 "compacts" under the Millennium Challenge program totaling more than $5 billion, many of them with African countries.