Bush trip to a bastion of support - Africa
His week-long visit will focus on humanitarian improvements.
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Administration officials say that even more important than the increased aid totals for Africa is the way the Bush programs are changing and improving lives. At a recent briefing in Washington on Bush's Africa trip, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said, "We are measuring success by the number of lives that change, not the number of dollars that change hands."Skip to next paragraph
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The US under PEPFAR is already providing medical treatment to 1.4 million people diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, the administration says, a number that could jump to 2.5 million under Bush's new funding request. The goal of the doubled funding would also be to prevent 12 million new infections and to help care for millions more people affected by the disease.
On malaria, Bush's initiative includes the distribution of 6 million insecticide-treated bed nets to fight a scourge that is estimated to claim 1 million children under age 5 annually in sub-Saharan Africa.
Given such numbers, Bush's Africa trip should be seen as more than just the "feel-good victory lap" to impress the US domestic audience that it may partially be, some experts say. They say it shows the new place of global health issues in national-security discussions.
What the Bush programs demonstrate is how "global health has graduated into a mainstream foreign-policy priority," says Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. Beyond that, he says the emphasis on health – and in particular on programs that zero in on individual needs – has played a significant role in building America's image on the continent.
"Global health has turned out to be a critical investment in terms of preserving US standing in Africa," says Mr. Morrison – noting that Africa includes eight of the 10 countries where global surveys show opinion of the US has held up during the Bush years.
The emphasis on health and good governance and a skirting of the crises roiling Africa suggest a deliberate effort to promote a particular picture of US policy in Africa, some say. Yet it's not a "disengagement" from the difficult crises, says Morrison, but rather "a question of not preferring to make these tough, complex crises the centerpiece of the trip."
Adds Jennifer Cooke, another Africa expert at CSIS, "[Bush] will be downplaying some of the hard-power interventions, which tend to be the more controversial, and really focusing on these soft-power, good-news stories."
But that should not fool anyone into thinking that US policy in Africa is purely humanitarian or devoid of national interests, others say. Africa Action, a Washington-based advocacy group, says that US military activity in the continent tied to the war on terror – in terms of arms sales, assistance, and training – has more than tripled over pre-9/11 levels.
Beyond terrorism, the strategic interest in Africa extends to securing energy supplies, experts say. Africa fills almost a quarter of US energy imports. Another interest is in challenging China's growing hold on Africa's resources, they say.
That the US is addressing its own interests when it pursues policies that improve its image overseas shouldn't surprise anyone, says Mr. Pham of James Madison University. On the contrary, he says, the combination of US interests in Africa and America's continuing good standing there should register with whoever occupies the White House next.
"Africa in the energy field can help us diversify away from the Middle East. It's demonstrating the link between development and security, and it's a place where our humanitarian efforts do have a resonance," says Pham. "Taking those things together, any administration should see the wisdom of remaining engaged in Africa."