President Bush said Thursday that he will delay, if necessary, a planned trip to Africa to make sure Congress extends the law on government eavesdropping.
But the trip has been long in the works — and part of his effort to tout the softer side of his foreign policy agenda.
The president made clear Thursday that he isn't ignoring trouble spots on the continent. He says he will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya to deal with the post-election violence there. But mainly his five-nation tour will highlight good news stories.
This is clearly a trip about building a different sort of legacy for Bush. Before he spoke Thursday at the Smithsonian's Museum of African Art, his aides played a newly produced video touting PEPFAR — a $15 billion program to fight HIV/AIDS.
The Africa trip is meant to highlight the administration's work on AIDS and Malaria. Bush's former speech writer Michael Gerson says the Bush years should be known for its soft power approach in Africa.
"Everyone on the continent knows the word PEPFAR, and that's something that no Americans know. So it has made a real difference. You know, America has image problems in the world, but right now we don't have huge image problems in Africa," Gerson says.
There are disagreements in Congress over parts of the program — the emphasis on abstinence in fighting HIV/AIDS for instance — but overall, this is an area where the president does have bipartisan support.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden wants to boost Bush's budget request for the program, which he says trumpets America's values and not just its power.
"The President's Emergency Action Program for HIV/AIDS has saved more than a million lives. It may be the greatest legacy this president leaves," Biden says.
The president is also using the trip, and his speech Thursday, to talk about the Millennium Challenge Corporation — an initiative that pours money into countries that have a clear track record on good governance.
"America is serving as an investor, not a donor. We believe that countries can adopt the habits necessary to provide hope for their people," Bush said in the speech. "That's what we believe, and we are willing to invest in leaders that are doing just that."
He plans to meet some of those leaders on this trip — in Ghana and Benin — and will sign a $700 million aid deal with Tanzania's president when he's there.
Tanzania just had a big shakeup after the prime minister and other officials had to resign in a corruption scandal.
Nathaniel Heller of Global Integrity says this shows that Bush can't simply take a victory lap but must push for more change. Heller says it is too early to judge the Millenium Challenge Corporation initiative.
"Whether people like it or not, countries are, in practice, responding to what has been coined the MCC effect — basically a big, giant green carrot with lots of money hanging off of it — and they are undertaking reforms, sometimes some of the tough ones. So again, longer term, it could be very powerful," Heller says.
The MCC was slow to start moving money out the door — and even the president's budget requests to Congress don't come close to the $5 billion a year he initially promised to spend.
The president's legacy on foreign policy in Africa is also mixed. He's expected to visit Liberia, which has emerged from a devastating civil war, and Rwanda, which suffered a genocide in the 1990s and was among the first countries to offer peacekeeping troops to Darfur.
In his speech Thursday, the president couldn't ignore Darfur or the post-election violence in Kenya, where former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan is mediating a solution.
"When we're on the continent, I've asked Condi Rice — that would be Secretary Rice — to travel to Kenya to support the work of the former secretary general, and to deliver a message directly to Kenya's leaders and people: There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse, and there must be a full return to democracy," Bush said.
He didn't mention Somalia, where a U.S. strategy to fund warlords in a bid to nab terrorism suspects backfired.
Anthony Holmes, a former ambassador now with the Council on Foreign Relations, says there are plenty of other trouble spots, like Zimbabwe.
"We talk the talk, but we've discovered that our leverage is very limited; that when it comes to prioritizing the expenditure of American resources around the world, Africa still comes very close to the bottom of the list," Holmes says.
Except, he adds, when it comes to funding the fight against HIV/AIDS and Malaria.