- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

Although Bill Clinton reveled in his image as the “first black president,” President Bush has won plaudits for doing more to help blacks in Africa, which he is visiting this week.

The most prominent example of this disparity is in the funding of the fight against AIDS. Mr. Bush recently pushed a $15 billion AIDS bill through Congress.

“His $15 billion commitment is unparalleled,” said Melvin Foote, executive director of the nonpartisan Constituency for Africa. “Clinton offered $300 million, parking-meter money, even though he knew it was a tremendous challenge.”

Even liberals have credited Mr. Bush with doing more than his predecessor to help Africa. In May, Live Aid founder Bob Geldof said Mr. Bush is far more committed than Mr. Clinton to fighting AIDS and famine on the continent.

“Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn’t talk but does deliver,” said Mr. Geldof, an Irish musician and activist who in 1985 staged the world’s largest rock concert to combat starvation in Africa.

“You’ll think I’m off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical, in a positive sense, in the approach to Africa since Kennedy,” he said.

In February actor Richard Gere lashed out against Mr. Clinton’s record during an AIDS benefit attended by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

“Senator Clinton, I’m sorry, your husband did nothing for AIDS for eight years,” Mr. Gere said from the podium, although Mrs. Clinton had left the room.

Mr. Clinton later belittled Mr. Gere for the remark.

“I don’t blame Richard Gere, because he’s an actor. He doesn’t know,” Mr. Clinton told CNN. “I think that somebody told Richard Gere something because they were trying to score a few political points.”

Although Mr. Clinton praised his successor for showing “great growth on this issue,” he defended his own record on AIDS.

“We more than doubled domestic spending,” he said. “We established the AIDS czar, the AIDS council. We started the vaccine initiative. So I am very proud of our record, and we did it in a hostile environment.”

Mr. Bush described his policy on AIDS and other problems facing Africa as a series of “bold initiatives” backed by a “well-intentioned administration.”

“Look, I have been talking about Africa since I was sworn in as president,” he told African journalists at the White House on Friday. “I’ve met with 22, I believe it is, heads of state here.”

“We not only care deeply about the pandemic of AIDS,” he added, “we hear the cries of those who are sick and tired of corruption on the continent of Africa. And therefore we’ve got a new approach.”

Mr. Bush tacitly acknowledged that it was Mr. Clinton who signed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which rewards African nations for establishing free trade and free markets.

“Certainly, the AGOA initiative was not my administration’s initiative. I readily understand that,” Mr. Bush said. “But we built on the AGOA initiative because I believe in free trade.”

New Jersey Rep. Donald M. Payne, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee’s Africa subcommittee, said Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton have done more for Africa than any previous presidents. But he said the jury is still out on whether Mr. Bush’s policy is better than his predecessor’s.

“I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate Bush’s record yet. He’s only been in there for three years,” Mr. Payne said. “It took Clinton two terms to achieve what he did.”

Although Mr. Payne praised Mr. Bush for his AIDS initiative and the antipoverty Millenium Challenge Account, he said the president has not done enough to combat discrimination against Christians in Sudan.

“I’m very partisan, but I’m also fair,” Mr. Payne said. “I am encouraged that he’s going to Africa. But it seems like he’s doing a lot of traveling in a short time.

“I don’t want to be overly critical, but he’s going to probably do three or four countries in two or three days, so I’m not so sure how much he can accomplish,” he added. “He can get some good pictures.”

Mr. Foote, of the Constituency for Africa, said the president’s trip will build on the accomplishments of Mr. Clinton.

“Clinton opened the door and broke some new ground when he went to Africa,” he said. “But in terms of the content, there wasn’t much delivered.

“While Clinton said, ‘Yes, in fact, Africa matters, and we ought to give it some thought,’ he really was playing to the African-American community,” he said. “When you say Africa matters, you’ve got to beef up the team, and he didn’t do that.”

“The Bush team looked at the continent, understood what they needed to do and did it,” he said. “I mean, that’s Bush’s hallmark; he sizes the situation up and then he’s ready to move.

“He’s handled it a lot more substantively,” Mr. Foote said. “Clinton gave us a bone, and Bush put some meat on the bone.”

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