Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bush and Geldof
President George W. Bush's second term ends in less than a year. It's doubtless that his lasting legacy will be the war in Iraq, and its outcome.

There is, of course, more to the man than his Middle Eastern policy, but few are likely to discuss it. If they choose to, they may hammer the president on spending and what they see as a struggling economy.

And honestly, even though I have supported the President since John McCain bowed out of the 2000 race and continue to do so, I can't describe his tenure as a great presidency. As one who identifies myself as a conservative, I am troubled by his spending, which flies in the face of what a Republican is supposed to be.

I'm troubled by Iraq, obviously. I still believe the war was just and inevitable. But there's little question the first few years were filled with mistakes that cost countless lives. Even though I believe the surge has improved things and hope for a peaceful conclusion, that is far from assured.

Of course, my other problem with Bush has been his inability to stand up to unfair criticism. If I wanted to read about the reasons for war in Iraq, the last place I would go would be a speech by Bush (Christopher Hitchens, a longtime member of the Left and athiest, has made the best arguments).

Then there is Africa. On this issue, I am OK with the President's spending, because I do believe it has had a major positive impact on the continent.

Musician Bob Geldof wrote an article for Time about his conversations with the President on a recent African trip.

What is clear is that Geldof is no fan of the President on many things. He clearly opposes the war in Iraq, and some of the abuses that have occurred because of it.

I don't want to go there. I have my views and they're at odds with his, and I don't want to spoil the interview or be rude in the face of his hospitality. "Ah, look Mr. President. I don't want to do this really. We'll get distracted and I'm here to do Africa with you." "OK, but we got rid of tyranny." It sounded like the television Bush. It sounded too justificatory, and he doesn't ever have to justify his Africa policy. This is the person who has quadrupled aid to the poorest people on the planet. I was more comfortable with that. But his expression asked for agreement and sympathy, and I couldn't provide either.

The discussion on Iraq persists, providing what I thought might be the most interesting paragraph of the piece.

"I'm comfortable with that decision," he says. But he can't be. The laws of unintended consequences would determine that. At one point I suggest that he will never be given credit for good policies, like those here in Africa, because many people view him "as a walking crime against humanity." He looks very hurt by that. And I'm sorry I said it, because he's a very likable fellow.

Bush's intelligence has long been a target of his critics (though I often wonder how he's able to get away with all the things they claim if he lacks a perceptive mind). Geldof himself admits to being amused by the satires.

But the rocker writes Bush is not stupid.

I have always heard that Bush mangles language and I've laughed at the satires of his diction. He shrugs them off, but I think he's sensitive about it. He has some verbal tics, but in public and with me he speaks fluently and in wonderful aphorisms, like:

"Stop coming to Africa feeling guilty. Come with love and feeling confident for its future."

"When we see hunger we feed them. Not to spread our influence, but because they're hungry."

"U.S. solutions should not be imposed on African leaders."

"Africa has changed since I've become President. Not because of me, but because of African leaders."

Geldof closes with comparisons between Bush's Iraq and Africa policies. Again, his opposition to the war is obvious. But his admiration for what the president has done in Africa is just as evident.

But it is clear that since its mendacious beginnings, this war has thrown up a series of abuses that disgrace the U.S.'s central proposition. In the need to find morally neutralizing euphemisms to describe torture and abuse, the language itself became tortured and abused. Rendition, waterboarding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib — all are codes for what America is not. America has mortally compromised its own essential values of civil liberty while imposing its own idea of freedom on others who may not want it. The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives.

Think about that: "Millions of lives." And consider it the next time someone compares our president to Hitler or Satan.

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