Thursday, January 30, 2003

About midway through the State of the Union address the other night, after all the domestic fluff was out of the way (“See!?” his speech writers seemed to be saying, “he’s not just thinking about Iraq, he’s also concerned with the pressing issue of dividend relief!”) Bush launched into what Terry M. Neal of the Washington Post wrote “seemed designed to soften the image of a nation increasingly under fire abroad for seeming obsessed only with war and unilateralism.” That is, Bush proposed (and that’s the key word here) his emergency plan for AIDS relief- asking Congress to ok $10 billion dollars in new funds over the next 10 years to fight AIDS in the hardest hit countries of Africa and the Caribbean. Great. It was a welcome surprise and given Bush’s previous lack of interest in such things, a major shift in the Administrations interest in Africa, albeit a conspicuous one. I fear that it may be nothing more then lip-service and that this newfound compassion for Africa was simply a convenient bridge to what followed- making the case for war against Iraq. I probably shouldn't push the issue of the Administration's motivations too far, after all, if it does prove to be more then a moral smokescreen I'll gladly be humbled. Still, how this proposal will be put into action will call for close scrutiny.

Some Facts-

Earlier this year the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS published a report estimating that between the years 2000 and 2020 “68 million people will die earlier then they would in the absence of AIDS.” Led by Kofi Annan, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was established last year, going so far as to gain a Declaration of Commitment from first world donor countries promising to give $7 to $10 billion dollars a year to the fund. Most activists call for the U.S. to give at least $2.5 billion a year with Europe matching that. So far the U.S. has made two donations totaling $500 million, though it’s important to note that last year Bill Frist and John Kerry did pass legislation in the Senate authorizing about that amount ($2.5 billion), only to have the House ignore it. It’s also important to note that the U.S., via the Agency for International Development, had until recently given a total of $2.3 billion dollars since 1986 to fight AIDS. According to the White House, $1 billion of the newly proposed $10 billion will go to the Global Fund though I’m unsure if that’ll be in one lump sum or parsed out over the next 10 years. In fact, just how the new program will work is still a mystery and details are minimal. The White House is scrambling to figure it out themselves. This much is known, $2 billion would be made available for 2004 and would go up each year after that.

If the U.S. does preemptively attack Iraq over the next few months most talking heads agree that it will cost far more then the $7 billion the first Gulf War cost us. The total cost of the first Gulf War, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, was $61 billion dollars of which $54 billion was paid off by members of the coalition with 1/3 of that paid by Germany and Japan. This time around, given the lack of bonified support from any other first world country with a Treasury large enough to help offset costs (well, England, but come on) it looks as though the U.S. will foot most of the bill.

Dozens of numbers using all sorts of formulas and scenarios have been quoted. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of a short war (about a month) would cost around $44 billion. If you add to these estimates the fact that the U.S. will bear most of the brunt of a post-war stabilization force, costing roughly $20 billion a year and lasting upwards of a decade, that figure swells to over $200 billion. Of course, if it turns out to not be a short war, but is protracted by the urban guerilla fighting some military strategists are concerned about, this number continues to rise. Who knows what the sum total will be, it’s not something the White House likes to discuss and when pressed they mumble something about other countries falling into line and presumably helping to offset the costs.

So, the real point I’m making here (I think) is that the Administration, realized that their touting of the ‘moral imperative’ argument was beginning to wear thin and revealing itself for what it really was- the moral imperative of a very small band of hawks with good public relations skills and a strong imperialistic contempt for the rest of the world (especially the Arab world and recently, “old Europe”). They've taken numerous routes in search of a way to legitimze their case for war (and, more discreetly, oil) and seem to have recently gathered together and decided to “propose” $10 billion in additional funds for countries devastated by AIDS to give their cause the compassionate legitimacy it had hitherto been lacking. The White House told reporters that the plan for these additonal funds has been in development since June and clearly they kept it under wraps until the State of the Union address because they wanted the idea of potentially saving millions of lives to be a surprise!

I do think there is some legitimacy to the cause of disarming Iraq. As Hans Blix has made clear, Iraq has not accounted for a large number of chemical and biological weapons. Iraq says they were destroyed but has no evidence to back this up and it's safe to say that such a claim is dubious. Additionally, there is a sound international consensus that Iraq is not to have possession of such weapons. But does this mean that war is now the only option for this? I don't think so. The inspectors have only just begun and more time is needed. In any case, now the ‘moral imperative’ argument has some compassionate meat to it and critics can’t charge the Administration with being obsessed with narrowly wielding its power for change via the destructive powers of its military it’ll be interesting to see what comes of the new AIDS plan. How will the Administration construct this program? Will they press its necessity with the same kind of singular fervor it’s currently bringing to Iraq? Will they use the program to further undermine those countries that support a woman's right to choose or have clinics that provide abortions? Will the program focus on treatment or prevention and if so, how will they go about it? Where will the money come from? Will it draw from other existing programs and weaken them? Etc...