No Regrets, Even About Genocide

By Dan Froomkin Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, February 20, 2008; 12:33 PM

President Bush doesn’t have second thoughts. It’s just not his style.

Though at times he’s been forced to admit problems during his presidency, he never suggests that he should have taken a different approach.And so he remains largely at peace with himself — even in the face of a genocide that continues years after he called it by that name.Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Darfur region of Sudan since government-armed militias began burning villages, raping women and executing villagers 2003.

Bush’s decision not to intervene more forcefully hung heavy over his visit yesterday to Rwanda, where he toured of a memorial to the victims of that country’s genocide in 1994.

As Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post, the president was obviously affected by his Rwandan visit: “‘This is a moving place that can’t help but shake your emotions to your very foundation,’ Bush said after touring the museum to the 1994 genocide, built on grounds that include mass graves with more than 250,000 bodies. ‘It reminds me that we must not let these kind of actions take place.’

“But unlike Bill Clinton, who came here in 1998 to admit he should have done more to stop the Rwanda genocide, Bush said he feels no guilt and harbors no regret over Darfur — except regret that others have not done what he has pressed them to do. He opted not to send U.S. troops unilaterally into Sudan and instead has tried to help assemble an international peacekeeping force that has yet to fully deploy. . . .

“‘I’m comfortable with the decision I made,’ he said. ‘I’m not comfortable with how quickly the response has been.’ . . .

“Yet activists say it has not been enough. ‘There is a lot about Darfur that all of us, the president included, should regret now,’ said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition. . . .

“So far, just 9,000 peacekeepers are on the ground and major military powers have yet to come up with needed helicopters. China has blocked sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. And Sudan continues to defy the international community as militias renew violence and burn down villages. ‘How can anyone have a clear conscience about what’s happening in Darfur?’ Fowler asked.”

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times: “The issue of Sudan government’s brutal suppression of a rebellion in Darfur has shadowed Bush during his five-nation trip to Africa, even as the president has sought to focus on political progress and the fight against diseases on the continent. . . .

“Since 2003, at least 200,000 people are believed to have died from violence, hunger and disease as the Sudanese government, often using militias as proxies, sought to suppress a rebellion in the region. Some Darfur activists have put the toll as high as 450,000. The Sudanese government says 5,000 have died.”

Lessons Learned?

After the Rwandan genocide, it was clear that the United States, the United Nations and others were tragically and unforgivably wrong not to intervene.

Bush seemed to get a hint of that yesterday, explaining at his joint news conference with the Rwandan president that “one of the lessons of the genocide in Rwanda was to take some of the early warnings signs seriously.”But then he went on: “Secondly, a clear lesson I learned in the museum was that outside forces that tend to divide people up inside their country are unbelievably counterproductive. In other words, people came from other countries — I guess you’d call them colonialists — and they pitted one group of people against another. And an early warning sign was — and it’s hard to have seen it, I readily admit, but I’m talking earlier than 1994, and earlier than the ’90s — was the fact that it become a habit to divide people based upon — you know, in this case, whether they were Tutsi or Hutu, which eventually led to exploitation.”As a result, he said: “I would tell my successor that the United States can play a very constructive role. I would urge the President not to feel like U.S. solutions should be imposed upon African leaders. I would urge the President to treat our — the leaders in Africa as partners. In other words, don’t come to the continent feeling guilty about anything. Come to the continent feeling confident that with some help, people can solve their problems.”

It was an obvious attempt to defend his decision not to send U.S. troops into Darfur — but it’s a perversion of the lesson of Rwanda.

The lesson of Rwanda is the need to act.

AIDS in Africa

Craig Timberg writes in The Washington Post: “Five years after President Bush vowed to ‘turn the tide against AIDS’ in Africa, he is traveling across a continent where the government’s $15 billion investment has extended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and eased the sense of certain doom once experienced by millions of others.

“But in the worst-hit areas, clustered mainly on Africa’s southern tip, the tide has decidedly not turned. The epidemic continues to spread at a torrid pace that shows little sign of easing, with people contracting HIV much faster than sick ones can be put on crucial antiretroviral drugs, research shows.

“Bush’s initiative, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has not found a way to prevent a significant number of the estimated 1.7 million new cases of HIV each year in Africa. Nearly half of today’s 15-year-olds in South Africa, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program, will contract the virus in their lifetimes at current infection rates, estimates show.

“‘They’ve turned the treatment tide in a fundamental way,’ said Francois Venter, president of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, who works on several programs that receive PEPFAR funding, referring to administration officials. ‘In terms of prevention, they haven’t. . . . It’s quite clear that [South Africa’s] prevention programs have failed completely.’ . . .

“Studies have shown that family planning could avert far more infections than antiretroviral drugs because many women, especially those with HIV, want fewer children. Critics say [that restrictions on family planning advice], along with PEPFAR’s emphasis on untested abstinence programs, exists mainly to win support from conservative congressional Republicans, undermining the full potential of a program that the White House bills as one of the biggest humanitarian ventures in history.”

Columbia University Africa expert Josh Ruxin writes for NiemanWatchdog.org that Bush has allowed ideology to triumph over science: “Under the current policy, as much as one third of the money allocated to HIV prevention goes to abstinence-only campaigns. For many, the lack of information about sex and how to prevent HIV/AIDS, coupled with little or no access to condoms only increases the risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS.

“A November report by the United Nations estimated that of the 2.5 million children in the world with HIV, nearly 90 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa and the overwhelming majority of those acquired the infection from their mothers. Yet funding for family planning has fallen in spite of recent studies showing it is more effective in limiting the number of HIV positive children.”

A Ghanaian reporter confronted Bush on that issue at today’s press conference: “President Bush, we know that your support for the fight against HIV/AIDS has been driven by promoting sexual abstinence and fidelity to each other’s partner. In African societies, we know that this doesn’t really strike a chord because multiple sexual relationships or partner relationships is the reality, though it’s not spoken of in public. So how realistic an approach would you want to be adopted in fighting HIV/AIDS within this particular context? Thank you.”Bush insisted that the program, as it exists, is working just fine. “I monitor the results. And if it looks like it’s not working, then we’ll change,” he said. “But thus far I can report, at least to our citizens, that the program has been unbelievably effective. And we’re going to stay at it.”
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