Both parties agree: George Bush deserves credit for AIDS relief

Former President Bill Clinton barely mentioned foreign policy in his spirited defense of President Obama’s record on Wednesday night, though he did praise his wife for helping "build a world with more partners and fewer enemies." But one line in particular caught my eye. In a section on the contributions Republican presidents have made to ...

LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images
LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images
LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton barely mentioned foreign policy in his spirited defense of President Obama's record on Wednesday night, though he did praise his wife for helping "build a world with more partners and fewer enemies."

But one line in particular caught my eye. In a section on the contributions Republican presidents have made to the country, here's what he had to say about former President George W. Bush:

Former President Bill Clinton barely mentioned foreign policy in his spirited defense of President Obama’s record on Wednesday night, though he did praise his wife for helping "build a world with more partners and fewer enemies."

But one line in particular caught my eye. In a section on the contributions Republican presidents have made to the country, here’s what he had to say about former President George W. Bush:

I have to be grateful, and you should be too, that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries.

Clinton was alluding to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which Bush established in 2003 and which now supports antiretroviral treatment for 4.5 million people around the world. But what’s particularly notable about the reference is that, during a convention season designed to draw sharp distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, the two parties have found common ground on at least one point: the success of Bush’s efforts to fight AIDS.

The Democratic platform

, which condemns Bush’s war on terror, focus on Iraq, and attitude toward the United Nations, praises the former president’s global health record. "Building on the strong foundation created during the previous administration," the document notes, "the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has expanded its prevention, care, and treatment programming." OK, so the Democrats don’t mention Bush by name. But still.

The Republican platform only mentions Bush twice — in the context of tax cuts and AIDS relief:

PEPFAR, President George W. Bush’s Plan for AIDS Relief, is one of the most successful global health programs in history. It has saved literally millions of lives. Along with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, another initiative of President Bush, it represents America’s humanitarian commitment to the peoples of Africa, though these are only one aspect of our assistance to the nations of that continent.

Bush himself certainly recognized the importance of PEPFAR. In his memoir Decision Points, he cites preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11 as his greatest achievement. But he also writes about his AIDS initiatives at length, explaining that he hoped PEPFAR "would serve as a medical version of the Marshall Plan." 

PEPFAR, of course, has attracted its share of criticism over the years for focusing on abstinence and consuming a disproportionate amount of U.S. global health funding, among other issues. But for now at least, it’s just about the only Bush initiative that Republicans aren’t evading and Democrats aren’t denouncing.

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

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