Bush's AIDS PR Scam
On Wednesday, President Bush once again turned to AIDS for air cover in the battle for global opinion. Facing the prospect of universal condemnation by the international community for a wildly unpopular American policy, President Bush tried to change the topic and buy some global goodwill by announcing massive new U.S. AIDS funding. This time, Bush is trying to deflect criticism of American global warming policy in advance of next week's G8 summit. In 2003, of course, his problem was the looming Iraq war.
The pattern by now is a familiar one. Next week, President Bush heads to the G8 summit in Germany, where global warming will top the agenda. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will push an ambitious plan featuring a global carbon emissions trading system, a target for 50% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 and aggressive goals for temperature change. Virtually the lone holdout from the Kyoto protocols, the United States opposes all these measures in the face of a worldwide consensus and unanimity among its G8 partners. Bush swatted away Tony Blair's final plea for American action on global climate change during the British Prime Minister's farewell tour in Washington earlier this month. Instead, President Bush today rolled out his own package of half-measures on global warming in advance of the common front of criticism he is sure to face in Germany next week.
Which is where AIDS funding comes in. Facing the certain prospect of universal worldwide opprobrium for his position on global warming next week, President Bush this week announced a new proposal for $30 billion in U.S. funding for AIDS programs around the world. The plan, which would begin in 2008, doubles the $15 billion in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) targeting 12 African nations, Haiti, Vietnam, and Guyana currently set to expire next year.
Early reactions suggests that the White House PR campaign is having the desired effect. Despite tying 7% of its funding to failed abstinence programs beloved by his friends on the Christian right, Bush has been able to enjoy the support of most AIDS groups and political foes alike. Natasha Bilimoria, executive director of the District-based Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, claimed Bush's support "has made a lifesaving difference to millions of people suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world." And Bush foe Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) diverted his attention from his criticism of the President on Iraq and global climate disaster to praise the AIDS proposal. "With the energy and resources provided by PEPFAR and other programs,' Feingold said, "there has been impressive progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS worldwide, but the battle is far from won."
For the Bush administration, that battle only commenced with the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For President Bush, the selling the Iraq war to skeptical friends and foes alike in the global community wasn't going well in late 2002 and early 2003. As I wrote last June, it may well have been U2 lead singer Bono who offered President Bush the PR strategy he needed to sway global opinion moving away from an increasingly isolated United States over its pending war on Saddam.
With the Iraq war looming in early 2003, Bono offered President Bush the prospect of a global American public relations triumph by announcing a massive commitment to fighting AIDS:
"Maybe it's smart to just help people with these crushing problems. These drugs are great advertisements for us in the West, for our ingenuity, our technology, our innovation, particularly in the United States. I said that to President Bush. I said, 'Paint them red, white and blue if you want, but these drugs are the best advertisement you are going to get right now, and that might be important right now.'"
Shortly thereafter, President Bush shocked the world by announcing a five-year, $15 billion dollar AIDS program for Africa and the Caribbean in his 2003 State of the Union Address.
In his address on Wednesday, President Bush sought to deflect international anger towards the U.S. for undermining action on global warming by instead citing American largesse on AIDS:
"Once again, the generosity of the American people is one of the great untold stories of our time. Our citizens are offering comfort to millions who suffer, and restoring hope to those who feel forsaken."
Beyond telling that untold story, he also announced that First Lady Laura Bush, despite her past difficulties defending her husband's insistence on faith-based abstinence programs in his AIDS package, would reprise her role as AIDS ambassador and once again visit Africa. "She and I share a passion," Mr. Bush said. "We believe that to whom much is given, much is required."
As was the case with his AIDS payout in 2003, the "whom" President Bush cynically refers to not really the United States. It's the international community.