Interview With the South African Broadcasting Corporation
Simon Marks. Mr. President, thank you very much indeed for talking to us here today. Let me start by seeing if we can perhaps make a little bit of news.
Liberia: Many West African leaders have asked you to send U.S. peacekeeping troops to join a multinational stabilization force in Liberia. Are you going to? If so, how many and for how long?
The President. We're in the process of determining the course of action necessary to see that peace and stability reign in Liberia. And some of our military people are meeting with ECOWAS leaders today. And I haven't made a decision yet.
Mr. Marks. Are you closing in on a decision?
The President. Yes. Every day that goes by is closer to a decision. But I need— before I make decisions, I like to have facts, and I'm gathering the facts necessary to determine what is necessary, who's willing to participate.
The one thing that must happen is, Charles Taylor has got to leave. A condition for any kind of operation that stabilizes the country is for Mr. Taylor to leave the country, and hopefully, we can achieve that objective diplomatically. Colin Powell is working closely with Kofi Annan and others at the United Nations to prepare the groundwork, if possible, for Mr. Taylor's departure.
Mr. Marks. Let me switch countries, if I may, and ask you about Zimbabwe. A short while ago your Secretary of State, Colin Powell, wrote in the New York Times that "South Africa can and should play a stronger and more sustained role in resolving matters in Zimbabwe." Specifically, what would you like to see President Thabo Mbeki do in Zimbabwe that he's not already doing?
The President. Insist that there be elections. Insist that democracy rule. Insist that the conditions necessary for that country to become prosperous again are in place.
I agree with the Secretary of State. I certainly don't want to put any pressure on my friend, but Zimbabwe has not been a good case study for democracy in a very important part of the world. And we hope that not only Mr. Mbeki but other leaders convince the current leadership to promote democracy.
Mr. Marks. Do you think quiet diplomacy can work?
The President. I hope any kind of diplomacy can work. So far, diplomacy hasn't worked. That's part of the problem. You know, it's an interesting question. I guess writing an article may not be viewed as quiet diplomacy, since it was quite public. But I also have spoken out on Zimbabwe. It's a bad example.
Let me give you one reason why. There's a lot of starving people in sub-Sahara Africa; yet, Zimbabwe used to be able to grow more than it needed, to help deal with the starvation. We're a nation that is interested in helping people that are starving. We're going to spend a billion dollars this year on programs to help the hungry. It would be really helpful if Zimbabwe's economy was such that they would become a breadbasket again, a capacity to grow more food that's needed so that we could help— they could help deal with the hunger. And yet, the country is in such that, you know, in such a condition that the agricultural sector of its economy is in shambles right now.
HIV/AIDS Initiative/Debt Relief
Mr. Marks. On HIV, you surprised many in Washington by the vigor with which you've embraced the battle to combat HIV/ AIDS. Some say you could do even more by more enthusiastically embracing debt relief for Africa. You favor it enthusiastically for Iraq; why not more enthusiastically for Africa?
The President. Well, let me start with the HIV program. I mean, enthusiasm is to the tune of $15 billion—that's pretty darn enthusiastic—to deal with the pandemic. And I also have agreed to increase the direct developmental aid grants from the United States by 50 percent. However, we expect countries, whether they be in Africa or anywhere else, that are applying for this money to embrace the habits of a free country, like transparency, anticorruption, making sure the people are educated and receive health care. So we're doing a lot in America.
There is a program in place for debt relief. And I would like to see that program implemented in full. I also called for the World Bank to give more grants rather than loans. And so our program across the board is compassionate, in my judgment, because we care about Africa and we care about the people of Africa.
Mr. Marks. And as you head to Africa, you are obviously aware that there are a large number of people on the continent who disagree with many of your policies, particularly your decision to move into Iraq, some of them very prominent personalities. When a statesman like former South African President Nelson Mandela says the very personal things about you that he has said in the past and continues to say even this week, that's got to hurt.
The President. No. I did the right thing. My job is to make sure America is secure. And if some don't like the tactics, that's the nature of a free world, where people can express their opinion.
I admire Nelson Mandela. As a matter of fact, my administration was the one that gave him the Medal of Freedom because of his courage and bravery. I just happen to disagree with him on his view of how best to secure America.
But you can be rest assured that if I think America is threatened, I will act. And you know, I understand criticism. I mean, look, but I'm not the kind of person that runs around trying to take a poll to determine what to do. If I believe it's necessary for my country, I will act.
I also believe it's necessary, when we see people enslaved, to work on behalf of their freedom, because this country believes that freedom is the desire of every human heart. And one of the great benefits of our action in Iraq is not only going to make America more secure, but it's going to make the Iraqi people more free. And you know, these mass graves we're finding is just the tip of the iceberg about what these poor people had to suffer at the hands of Saddam Hussein. And it's that kind of suffering that troubles me. And I believe the use of—proper use of power by America will make the world more peaceful, America more secure, and as importantly, people more free.
Mr. Marks. Mr. President, bon voyage.
The President. Thank you, sir.
NOTE: The interview was taped at 1:17 p.m. in the Map Room at the White House for later broadcast. In his remarks, the President referred to President Charles Taylor of Liberia; Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the United Nations; President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa; and former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview.
George W. Bush, Interview With the South African Broadcasting Corporation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/216266