July 16, 2003 | Commentary on Africa
Campaign promises sometimes seem as if they're made only to be broken.
Still, an apparent flip-flop can make news. As President Bush traveled around Africa recently, CNN replayed a comment he'd made during one of the 2000 presidential debates: "[Africa's] an important continent. But there's got to be priorities, and the Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons, as is Europe and the Far East, our own hemisphere."
But today, The Washington Post reported, "experts have been struck by the amount of attention [the Bush] administration has paid to a part of the world [Africa] frequently ignored by U.S. policymakers." Meanwhile, American troops are involved in nation-building activities on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All of which begs the question: "Is President Bush violating his own campaign promise to limit American involvement in overseas deployments?"
The answer is no. He's simply responding to events.
My friend, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had a saying she called Thatcher's Law: "The unexpected happens. And when it does, you had better be ready for it."
During the 2000 campaign, there was no way for candidate Bush, or anyone else, to predict the awful events that would happen on Sept. 11, 2001. But since then, he's been working hard to respond to that unexpected attack, and to prevent another strike.
Our troops are protecting Iraq and Afghanistan as those countries rebuild from years of misrule. Residents in both places cheered as Americans freed them from the Taliban and from Saddam Hussein. By overturning those corrupt regimes, we also helped protect the entire world, since pre-war Afghanistan and Iraq were major state sponsors of terrorism.
We're also fighting terrorism in other ways. As Bush said before leaving: "It's in our national interest that Africa become a prosperous place. It's in our interest that people will continue to fight terror together. It's in our interest that, when we find suffering, we deal with it."
One way we're doing that is with massive aid packages. The president plans to spend $15 billion fighting AIDS, and most of that money will go to Africa, the continent that's been hit hardest by the disease. He'll try to avert starvation there by providing another $1 billion in food aid.
The president's also introduced the $5 billion "Millennium Challenge Account," which will provide help only to countries that put genuine economic and political reforms in place. He knows that the residents of open, democratic nations are far less likely to support terrorism.
In addition, Bush plans to invest some $100 million to fight terrorism in east Africa, where al-Qaeda has been making inroads. Consider that Osama bin Laden lived in Africa's Sudan before moving to Afghanistan. What do they have in common? They were both closed, non-democratic states.
President Bush went to Africa with a clear goal in mind: To make life better for millions of Africans. He also went with plans in place to make that happen. Contrast that with the last time a president toured Africa.
Bill Clinton spent 11 days there in 1998, and visited four of the same countries that Bush did. But Clinton offered little more than conversation. He did find time to apologize for American slavery (which ended more than 130 years before his visit) but would never fully take responsibility for the fact that the United States did nothing as more than a million people were slaughtered in Rwanda in 1994.
This president is putting his money where his mouth is, and trying to make the world a safer place while protecting our strategic national interests. That was his promise in 2000, and he's sticking to it.
Ed Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation.