January 30, 2003
Many surprised when Bush urged war on AIDS in Africa
Political, spiritual dynamics guided decision, some say
By DANA WILKIE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Even AIDS activists were stunned Tuesday
night when President Bush proposed spending billions of dollars
to battle the deadly disease in Africa, but the spiritual and
political dynamics behind the pres ident's announcement may
help explain the surprising decision.
Religious and missionary leaders – who have the ear of the
churchgoing president and of large congregations that vote –
have seen how the disease has devastated the continent, and
have urged Bush to put America on the front lines in the battle
against the disease.
"I don't write this off as Bush being politically cynical and just
trying to curry favor with" religious voters, said Robert Tuttle, a
George Washington University Law School professor who
studies how the White House is influenced by religion and faith.
"Some of this really is an outgrowth of the mission work of
evangelical religious groups in Africa."
The policy also is the result of a concerted effort to address the
African AIDS epidemic by others outside and inside the
administration, especially Secretary of State Colin Powell and
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
On the African continent, nearly 30 million people have the
AIDS virus – including 3 million children under the age of 15.
There are countries in Africa where more than one-third of the
adult population carries the infection. More than 4 million
require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent,
only 50,000 AIDS victims are getting the medicine they need,
according to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
The "Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," which the president
announced in his State of the Union address Tuesday, would
spend $10 billion in new money and $5 billion already allocated
over five years to deliver life-saving drugs and educate people
on how to prevent the disease.
The White House estimates the money will prevent 7 million new
infections, give drugs to 2 million people and provide care for 10
million HIV-infected patients and millions of orphans.
Bush's plan is designed to help the most afflicted countries in
Africa along with Guyana in South America and Haiti in the
The plan, which must still pass the Republican-controlled
Congress, represents an enormous increase in the U.S.
government's commitment to addressing the international AIDS
crisis, and it outstrips anything done by past presidents.
Currently, the administration spends about $1.5 billion a year
both at home and abroad, and contributes $500 million to a
global AIDS fund.
Critics have dismissed the current effort as too small, and
officials with the United Nations have said $10 billion in global
AIDS spending is needed annually.
The Global AIDS Alliance, a nonprofit group in Washington,
"commends the president for asserting leadership." But the
group also voiced concerns about the plan.
"The fight against AIDS will need more resources from the U.S.,
with faster delivery, than what the president is proposing," said
Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance.
"We will need fast action by Republican and Democratic leaders
in the U.S. Congress to deliver on an appropriate package."
For some, Bush's level of commitment raises questions about
who – or what – motivated the president to outdo even
Democrats on the issue.
"The irony with regards to this administration is that
expectations were very low around AIDS (funding)," said Cesar
Portillo, chief of public affairs for the AIDS Healthcare
Foundation, one of the nation's strongest advocates for AIDS
funding. "The inclination has been to perceive HIV as the domain
of the Democrats ... but (the White House) responded with much
more energy and effectiveness on global AIDS than their
predecessors ever did."
Anthony Fauci, a senior National Institutes of Health official,
told several news organizations that condom distribution would
be part of the prevention component – but so would abstinence
Many Christian conservative organizations, a pillar of Bush's
domestic support, believe that distributing condoms promotes
promiscuity, and they have emphasized abstinence.
White House representatives did not return calls seeking
comment on the motivation for Bush's AIDS plan.
Bush is a self-professed born-again Christian who credits his faith
with helping him quit drinking. He attends a Methodist church
and says he reads the Bible every day. His religious leanings –
which tend to align him with conservative Christian groups –
also put him in contact with church leaders who have witnessed
the grim situation in Africa and who can bend the ear of the
president, or his advisers.
In South Africa, the Anglican Church regularly advocates for
treatment for AIDS victims. The Lutheran World Federation
provides some of the world's most significant relief in the region.
Representatives for Church World Service – a global relief group
supported by 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox
denominations – met privately with officials in the White House
and the State Department to press for more money for African
Last month, Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal
Church, met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and
repeatedly emphasized the AIDS crisis overseas.
And many seem to agree that one influence on Bush's decision to
invest in the global AIDS battle was the Senate's new majority
leader – Bill Frist of Tennessee, a deeply religious man and a
devout Presbyterian. Frist, a heart surgeon, does medical
missionary work in the poorest and most dangerous parts of
"I think when so many folks who have conservative cover on the
issue – and whom Bush respects – brought this home to him, he
was genuinely struck by the extent of the epidemic," said Tuttle,
the George Washington law professor.
U.S. intelligence officials have warned that the rapid spread of
AIDS in Africa, as well as Russia and other countries, could
destabilize governments, making the disease a potential national
Meanwhile, some skeptics believe Bush was motivated more by
his global trade agenda than by religious leaders.
"He has been trying to advance an economic trade agenda in
Africa, which means showing some sensitivity to African
concerns is important," said Leon Spencer, executive director of
the Washington Office on Africa, a church-sponsored group that
lobbies for government AIDS money.
"If villages are being decimated and people are dying, then we're
not going to have any viable economy that would make (Africa)
a beneficial trading partner with us."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.