Bush's Bono Act
By Nat Parry
March 20, 2002
With a different politician, they might be called flip-flops. But George W. Bush doesnt get treated like other politicians, so almost no one criticizes his reversals on nation-building in Afghanistan and elsewhere, on the need for an active U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or on the value of increasing U.S. financial aid to poor countries.
These shifts by other politicians might be characterized in another way, as tacit admissions of failure or misjudgments. But Bush gets praised for a belated recognition of a problem, even though he used his opposition to the very positions he's now taking to beat up on fuzzy-headed thinking by political rivals Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
For example, Thomas L. Friedmans New York Times column on Bushs grudging decision to promise a $5 billion increase in foreign aid over three years, starting in 2004, was entitled Better Late Than with an unwritten never. The articles subhead read: A welcome about-face from Bush.
The most obvious conclusion from Sept. 11 that fighting terrorism around the globe will require a new, multidimensional strategy, not just a defense strategy was the one Mr. Bush seemed least inclined to draw, and thats why his speech (announcing the aid increase) should be welcomed, Friedman wrote. [NYT, March 17, 2002]
Still, if Bush is sincere in his recognition that easing world poverty is an urgent priority, there is the lingering question of why the aid increase is not part of the current budget debate for fiscal 2003, which starts Oct. 1. And why is the $5 billion spread over three years, starting in 2004? Is that to make the total seem more impressive than a straightforward call for some number between $1 billion and $2 billion a year?
Some critics noted that Bush's proposal for an immediate $48 billion hike in military spending dwarfs the down-the-road foreign aid increase. Billionaire philanthropist George Soros called Bushs proposal totally inadequate as far as the amounts involved a token gesture instead of something that could successfully impact most of the poor countries. This is unfortunately not receiving the kind of priority that other things are receiving in the government. [NYT, March 15, 2002]
A less charitable take on Bushs modest foreign aid proposal is that it was the minimum price for a meeting with U2s Bono, an advocate of Third World debt relief. Bono, whose popularity soared with his performance during half time of Super Bowl XXXVI, posed for pictures with Bush at the White House on March 14, the day Bush announced his promised $5 billion increase for the world's poor.
As you can see, Im traveling in some pretty good company today Bono, said Bush, as he gestured to the singer. [NYT, March 15, 2002] The Washington Post noted that the White House clearly craved Bonos support. [March 15, 2002]
The modest new promise for a few billion dollars sometime beyond the current budget cycles also may soften international criticism of Bushs emphasis on a military response to world terrorism and a previous disinterest in the root causes of violence.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn and other world leaders have argued that to combat terrorism, global poverty and other international problems must be addressed. We will not create a safer world with bombs or brigades alone, Wolfensohn said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Poverty can provide a breeding ground for the ideas and actions of those who promote conflict and terror.
the World Bank president said, If we want to build long-term peace, if
we want stability for our economies, if we want growth opportunities in
the years ahead, if we want to build that better and safer world, fighting
poverty must be part of national and international security. [http://wwics.si.edu/NEWS/speeches/wolfensohn.htm]
The U.S. is
resisting the foreign aid hike despite the fact that the U.S. contributes
the least amount as a percentage of gross domestic product of any nation
in the industrialized world, giving only 0.1% of its GDP, far short of the
0.7% that the United Nations has set for the minimal target of
industrialized countries, and far behind Denmark, which leads the
industrialized world with its contributions of 1.1% of its GDP.
leaving foreign aid on the back burner since the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, the Bush administration has put military aid on the front
weapons and U.S. military advisers are to go to Indonesia, Nepal, Jordan,
Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, a senior official at the
Defense Department said. The administration has sought a 27% funding
increase to bolster militaries in other countries. Bush has said U.S.
military troops also are headed for the former Soviet state of Georgia and
Opting for a
predominantly military solution to terrorist threats, the United States is
going against the advice of most developed nations, which would like to
see a more comprehensive approach taken to the threat to international
security posed by extremism. At the recent winter meeting of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary
Assembly which brings together parliamentarians from 55 nations,
including the U.S. many representatives called for more international
cooperation in fighting terrorism and ensuring that human rights are
light, Washington might better serve its anti-terrorist goals by adopting
a more sophisticated strategy that works to build democratic institutions
in Central Asia and elsewhere, rather than relying on military force.
Giving the world's poor a bigger piece of the economic pie also
could undermine extremists who find young militants easier to recruit when
they are surrounded by poverty, injustice and hopelessness.
In his March
14 speech to the Inter-American Development Bank, Bush acted as if this
was his new discovery. "Poverty doesn't cause terrorism," Bush
said, as Bono listened on stage. "Yet persistent poverty and
oppression can lead to hopelessness and despair. And when governments fail
to meet the most basic needs of their people, these failed states can
become havens for terrorism."
this recognition of the link between terrorism and political desperation
might have seemed like a burst of enlightenment compared to his previous
rhetoric about mounting a "crusade" to root out
"evil-doers." But it is still not clear whether Bush's actions
will match his words or whether his new-found commitment to fighting
world poverty was mostly a political show for Bono.
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