Two and a half years ago in Australia I was speaking to a young Zimbabwean man who said President Clinton was one of the greatest presidents in American history. As eight years of peace and prosperity leaves good memories, especially in the midst of what followed, his remark seemed founded in a level of common sense.
Then, however, he went on to tell me that the other “greatest president” in my country’s history was the current President Bush.
People like people who give them money, a friend explained to me later.
And so our 43rd president, reviled here, unlikely to be redeemed by history, will be remembered well elsewhere.
And although the importance of his one well-founded policy of his President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief should not eclipse the catastrophic effects of his other policies, it is right that Bush be remembered with credit for PEPFAR, in spite of, but with recognition of flaws that put ideology over evidence and thus weakened its effectiveness.
Overall, though, the infusion of money and concrete goals to fight AIDS in the nations hit hardest by the epidemic was the right thing to do, that was two decades overdue by the time it came about.
It can be credibly argued that Bush’s emphasis on faith and ideology made the $15 billion five year plan an easier sell than it would have been for his predecessors, and that is why no one did what should it before.
But it can also be argued that leaders with greater mandates, who were elected, not appointed to office as Bush was, should do the right thing sooner, better, when addressing humanitarian concerns.