- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

This is a week of major evolution, one that will force some rethinking and even reshaping of policies and politics, both global and national.

Globally, the news this week recognizes as now-unchallenged realities that were not long ago derided as pie-in-the-sky soft thinking: That international security must be forged by two equally essential sets of tools — the power tools of military strength and the equally vital solutions of aid that strengthens economies, combats disease and famine, and addresses hopelessness and despair. Because the security of powerful nation-states everywhere can be threatened by the failure of nation-states anywhere — which creates a vacuum that terrorists and rogues may rush to fill.

Domestically, this is one of those weeks that Democrats who are running for president (and the Democrats who are running the Democrats who are running for president) both love and hate. They must love seeing their best issues finally spotlighted by the nonstop news media. But they surely hate the fact that it is their Republican nemesis, President Bush, who owns the spotlight.

There on our TV screens and front pages, we see America’s Republican president — in Africa, of all places. He is touring a continent where only two modern sitting American presidents — Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — cared enough to visit. And he is saying things that liberals have long said, but mostly just to each other in un-televised kaffeeklatches and workshops, while politicians of other persuasions and most Americans seemed mainly not to care.

No more. Mr. Bush began his five-day, five-nation trip to Africa in Senegal, at the island port from which, centuries ago, Africans were sent to the New World as slaves. He spoke powerfully and poignantly about this most horrible part of our past. In days to come, Mr. Bush’s schedule had him pledging to use America’s money, and perhaps even its military (in Liberia), in that faraway and usually forgotten continent, to try to keep states from failing and people from suffering.

One of the most important and symbolically stunning gestures was Mr. Bush’s scheduled visit to Uganda to dramatize the unprecedented success that African nation has had in turning back the devastation caused by AIDS. In 1993, one-third of Uganda’s adults had HIV — by far the world’s highest rate. President Yoweri Museveni mounted a campaign to educate all Ugandans about safe sex and condoms — and now the rate has plummeted to 6 percent.

Throughout his trip, Mr. Bush planned to promote the Millennium Goals aid proposals forged in the United Nations and pushed urgently by Secretary-General Kofi Annan (a great nonfavorite of America’s conservative hard-liners).

All the above may not strike you as a world-shaking evolution, but in a real sense, it is just that. Two years ago, these notions and solutions were considered highly controversial when I began work on a book and television documentary project on weapons of mass destruction and terrorism titled “Avoiding Armageddon: Our Future. Our Choice.” My intention to explore international development aid and combating AIDS as future solutions that have a vital role along with the traditional approaches of securing of vulnerable weapons and fighting terrorists, was considered by most international policy experts I consulted as utopian do-goodism that had no place in a discussion of hardheaded national security.

But by the time my book was published by Basic Books in April, and our series had aired on PBS, the evolution was clearly under way. Along with the book’s chapters on solutions for securing the world’s vulnerable nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and combating terrorism, there are chapters focusing upon Uganda’s success and Nigeria’s plight — both stops on Mr. Bush’s itinerary — and the Millennium Goals. Those solutions were championed by interview quotations from such non-liberals as CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Now Mr. Bush has not only signed on, but taken the lead.

We have all come a long way. Some further than others. Back in February 2000, candidate George W. Bush said on the PBS show, “Newshour With Jim Lehrer”: “At some point in time the president’s got to clearly define what the national strategic interests are, and while Africa may be important, it doesn’t fit into the national strategic interests, as far as I can see them.”

President Bush has seen things he never imagined existed. In Africa, he put a new vision of national and international security before us all. He has talked the talk and walked the walk.

The question now is whether he has what it takes to follow in his own footsteps.

Martin Schram is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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