George W. Bush: Great Humanitarian
Which United States president will go down in history as the greatest humanitarian to have served in the office? The Republican Herbert Hoover is often known as the “Great Humanitatarian” for his work administering famine relief in post-World War I Europe (and Bolshevik Russia) in the 1920s — but he did all that before he actually became president. Others might make the case for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democrat who succeeded Hoover in the White House, whose New Deal initiatives relieved poverty and sickness on a grand scale within the United States.
But I’d suggest that there’s one president whose contribution dwarfs all the others. Unlike Hoover, he launched his program while he was in office, and unlike FDR, he received virtually no votes in return, since most of the people who have benefited aren’t U.S. citizens. In fact, there are very few Americans around who even associate him with his achievement. Who’s this great humanitarian? The name might surprise you: it’s George W. Bush.
I should say, right up front, that I do not belong to the former president’s political camp. I strongly disapproved of many of his policies. At the same time, I think it’s a tragedy that the foreign policyshortcomings of the Bush administration have conspired to obscure his most positive legacy — not least because it saved so many lives, but because there’s so much that Americans and the rest of the world can learn from it. Both his detractors and supporters tend to view his time in office through the lens of the “war on terror” and the policies that grew out of it. By contrast, only a few Americans have ever heard of PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush announced in his State of the Union address in 2003.
Team Obama is planning to cut PEPFAR, as Caryl notes. This is incomprehensible, given that PEPFAR funding makes up a minuscule portion of the budget, and yields so much good for so little cost. The following paragraph is worth excerpting as well:
“Bush did more to stop AIDS and more to help Africa than any president before or since,” says New York Times correspondent Peter Baker, who’s writing a history of the Bush-Cheney White House that’s due to appear in October. “He took on one of the world’s biggest problems in a big, bold way and it changed the course of a continent. If it weren’t for Iraq, it would be one of the main things history would remember about Bush, and it still should be part of any accounting of his presidency.”