Liberals Against Africa

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I’m still awaiting the day when New York Times op-eds will cost $50 to read; that way, we won’t have to click on them accidentally. Today’s “offering,” by Nick Kristof, goes yard for nine paragraphs bashing liberals and praising Bush to high heaven for his, er, aid in Africa, only to stop in paragraph ten to say: “The divide I portray between the left and right is, of course, a caricature.” Oh, thanks. Only after this wry admission do we learn, at the very bottom of the column, that Bush’s anti-condom crusade in Africa has in fact cost untold lives, that his signature aid project, the Millenium Challenge Account, is a dud, and that the president is more concerned with tax cuts for the rich than helping Africa. But the headline to the column? “Bush, a Friend of Africa.”

By the way, Bush has not boosted aid to Africa by two-thirds, as Kristof claimed—the figure is actually 56 percent, and drops to 33 percent if you discount money for food aid, which goes to American farmers. The two-thirds figure is in nominal dollar terms; presumably Kristof doesn’t understand the difference. (Also, in what sense is Bush “setting in motion an eventual tripling of aid for Africa”?) But Bush is better than Bill Clinton? Well, then give the man a ribbon, but that’s setting the bar awfully low. Meanwhile, Kristof offers up a “magnificent example” of the “standard conservative approach” to aid in Africa: the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which he claims is a missionary hospital set up by American conservatives. In fact, it is no such thing; the hospital is Australian in origin, has as its principle American sponsor a Quaker foundation, and works in partnership with… the United Nations Population Fund—precisely the sort of “weak-kneed” multilateral organization Kristof spends nine paragraphs insulting.

At any rate, this seems to be the disturbing new trend in the run-up to the G-8 conference: liberals making the “counterintuitive” claim that the “liberal” aid approach to Africa is doomed. Now on the one hand, it’s true, it’s time to rethink our approach to aid in Africa. But the relentless attacks on the United Nations and other aid organizations has a bit of the ol’ baby-bathwater quality to it. So we have Slate editor Jacob Weisberg attacking Jeffrey Sachs’ UN Millenium Project without, apparently, taking the time to actually read anything about the project. None of the “objections” Weisberg raises in the piece are things Sachs hasn’t already thought and worried about. (Plus, Weisberg’s proposed alternative here is the “free trade will eradicate world poverty” line; opening first-world markets is a good step, but not even close to a panacea.) And that’s just it: if either Kristof or Weisberg took the time to read Sachs’ proposal, or acquire even a passing familiarity with what these liberal aid organizations actually do, they’d see that many of their criticisms are, as Kristof sort of admits, mostly caricatures, which doesn’t do anyone any good.

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