- The Washington Times - Friday, November 23, 2001

President Bush's approval rating hovers between 84 percent and 87 percent, and, depending on which poll you follow, a majority of Democrats 57 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll say he is doing a better-than-expected job. That is a stark contrast to a Zogby poll in May, which put Mr. Bush's approval rating at 55 percent.

None of the statistics, however, is surprising. After all, this is a president who talked the talk during the presidential campaign. Then, afterward, he put policies and legislation where his mouth once was. He immediately jumped onto issues important to Americans (including education and social service programs) and coalesced with special constituencies (including the Congressional Black Caucus and black ministers). Now, commanding the first war of this millennium, Mr. Bush is being measured quite favorably week in and week out by the very folks who voted against him.

Interestingly, though, with most of the national news rightfully focused on the war on terrorism, it's easy to forget that there is far more to the world than the United States, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Consider homelessness and humanitarian aid. On Tuesday, Mr. Bush announced more than $1 billion in federal grants to support emergency and transitional housing programs, as well as other housing entitlements. On Monday, he spoke about the U.S. government's humanitarian aid efforts in Central Asia, where, with considerable U.S. support, the U.N. World Food Program has increased its daily rations from 200 metric tons to 2,400 tons, and where, as winter approaches, blankets, shelters and other necessities are being donated. All told, the United States has given more than $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 1979.

Haiti where U.S. interests are to promote democracy, stifle drug trafficking and reduce illegal immigrants from reaching America's shores should be as fortunate. Indeed, about 150 Haitians died in recent days after capsizing off the coast of Florida, and about 400 others were returned to Haiti. Such en masse life-or-death undertakings didn't make headlines in recent months because Haiti was headed in the right direction.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IAD), again with considerable U.S. support, had agreed to loan Haiti's Aristide government $146 million for public works, education and health care projects. One public works project, for example, would be for much-needed potable water and with one in 10 Haitians infected with HIV/AIDS, clean and safe water is extremely important. All those projects, to the same end, would create jobs for the people who live in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Haiti's check was in the mail until earlier this year, when the Clinton administration busied itself with last-minute presidential pardons, goodies for environmental causes and other farewell gifts (and washed its hands of Haiti after that costly and embarrassing military debacle). For more than one reason including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's shortsightedness and the absence of a strong Western Hemisphere diplomat in the State Department I don't think Haiti is even on Mr. Bush's radar screen not yet anyway.

But the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is making noises. In a Nov. 8 letter to Mr. Bush, the 38-member caucus requested a meeting with him to discuss the IAD loans and U.S.-Haiti policy.

I hope the CBC doesn't drop the ball on this, because it is one of the few concerns the caucus has wholeheartedly rallied behind in many years that makes sense.

Likewise, I hope Mr. Bush and the caucus do have a tete a tete. Indeed, if 57 percent of Democrats agree with how he's handling his presidential chores, and with mid-terms around the corner, there might be more to this Haiti matter than initially meets the eye.


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