Alex Blaze

Pass the PEPFAR, join the bipart-gasm, and redeem colonialism

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 30, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, Politics, Politics
Tags: bipartisanship, George W. Bush, HIV/AIDS, Joe Biden, Michael Gerson, PEPFAR, Senate, Tim Coburn

There is just too much wrong with this Michael Gerson column on PEPFAR reauthorization for me not to address it here on Bilerico. According to him, the PEPFAR reauthorization proves that politics is meaningless and that the Bush Doctrine, not just Bush himself, is great.

Seriously. Check it out:

First, it is the congressional affirmation of a major legacy of George W. Bush -- a grand, aggressive international compassion that dwarfs the Peace Corps and is unequaled since the Marshall Plan. Despite charges of simplistic militarism, the Bush Doctrine actually includes three elements: the preemption of emerging threats, the encouragement of responsible self-government, and the promotion of development and health as alternatives to despair and bitterness.

In service of this third goal, Bush has more than quadrupled aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Americans are only dimly aware of this fact. Men and women in the remotest African villages are better informed. Historians will find it undeniable.

PEPFAR funding is definitely a good thing, but it doesn't redeem the idea that was responsible for putting us in Iraq in the first place. I'm guessing one newspaper that cheerled us into one of the most barbaric and violent exercises in colonialism in the history of the US is looking for a way to save their reputation. But this doesn't cut it.

The money that's being given will do some good, but it doesn't mean that the Bush Doctrine is anything more than our Frat Boy in Chief's wet dream to decide who lives and who dies as a moral justification for an oil war.

All three parts of the Bush Doctrine that Gerson identifies are soaked in the arrogance that we, as the US, can decide how everyone else in the world lives. The first two are more obvious; preemptive war pretty much justifies attacking anyone that pisses us off (see the mountains of WMD's found in Iraq as proof), and developing governments in other countries, in our own image and presumably to serve our own interests, is the exact opposite of what foreign policy should be doing to develop a more peaceful world for everyone to live in.

Taken in that context, the gift that is PEPFAR, the good that it will do, is no more that the "who lives" part of "decide who lives and who dies." Tying PEPFAR to the Bush Doctrine doesn't redeem the latter; instead it makes the former poison. It's an awful, awful way to look at the funding, seeing it simply as the flipside to killing who knows how many Iraqis, and I hope (against everything I know) that that isn't the reason we're sending the cash.

As a bonus, Gerson moves on to a little kumbaya:

Then I made the worst mistake of the commentator: actually meeting the object of your scorn. I found, as usual, that disdain is easier from a distance. Though we remained at odds on some issues, Coburn politely assured me that his motivation was not stinginess. His main goal was to increase the number of people receiving treatment.

So let the record show: After a compromise that accommodated his concerns, Coburn not only supported the bill but urged other conservatives to do the same. [...]

Second, the passage of the PEPFAR expansion displayed the reviled Democratic Congress at its best. When I asked one administration official to identify some heroes in this legislative fight, he responded: "Joe Biden." "Biden was unbelievably professional," he said, "patient with the hysterics of other senators and always looking for compromise." Along with Howard Berman in the House, Biden achieved a bipartisan agreement during an election year, in a branch of government overwhelmed by cynicism and bitterness. This is the way government is supposed to work.

Third, this legislation served to isolate and discredit that element of American politics that refines hatred of government to a toxic purity. Sens. Coburn and Richard Burr eventually accepted a reasonable compromise.

Since Gerson's nothing more than a Bush staffer-turned-journalist who dreamed up Bush's famous "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" metaphor, a partisan hack who hates partisanship unless he's getting his way, he's in no position to be cheering on compromise. That's not what the Bush Administration is known for.

It's a great move, what the Republicans have been able to do over the years in redefining "bipartisanship" as "agreeing with Republicans" and "compromise" as "caving in to Republicans." While it's a little heavy-handed here, what with not questioning at all Coburn's motivations, concerns, or compromise and only saying Biden is a hero because someone who works for Bush told him so, it's necessary to push a conservative agenda. And since Gerson was on Bush's payroll in the past (not disclosed in this column, of course), nothing more should be expected of him.

The revolving door between political hackery and journalism needs to stop. But, since it won't, at least we'll get to hear howlers about how fighting AIDS in Africa means that the Iraq War was justified.

It's great for humor, but it doesn't say much for the press. A journal as respected as the Washington Post shouldn't be participating in revising history to support a dictator wannabe's every whim and legacy.

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For those not aware, PEPFAR is the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. That bit'll help put the rest of the post into context. :)

I am surprised that the Bush Doctrine would be defended at this late date - clearly it was a disaster. And to say that health assistance to Africa (which is very laudable, one of Bush's few redeeming actions) justifies the Bush Doctrine is simply astounding.

Yes, Gerson, a Bush loyalist, is trying to whitewash the Administration's ugly policy by linking it to something unrelated.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 31, 2008 2:36 AM

"...the encouragement of responsible self government" presumes we are a responsible self government that can stand as Reagan said: "as a gleaming city on a hill."

While Reagan was president HIV and AIDS victims were dieing largely with disorganized neglect and no hope of treatment. History is often written by the unworthy, for the undeserving who only remember their own prejudices.

I am left wondering if Halliburton Corporation supplied those mosquito nets. I am wondering who the sources are in the USA providing the medicines and what discount was given (if any) for this wonderful good for Africa. I wonder if Mr. Gerson is making the ultimate mistake of hubris. Does he truly believe his own lies?

haha, thanks bil.

I don't get it either, Dale. But I think that they're trying to still salvage the idea of super-interventionist foreign policy even if it didn't work out in Iraq. You can see it in the neo-con line that the war in Iraq was "mismanaged," the implication being that the underlying justification was good but that Bush was just incompetent.

I hate to think it, but I think that people are going to buy it. People pretty amazingly thought that at the beginning of the Iraq War, even though the US had never set up a successful, democratic government anywhere it had tried before. But 30 years from now there'll be another country that'll need to be liberated and Americans will be there with justification's like Gerson's to cheerlead that war on.

If only American history schools actually adequately covered anything after WWII.