George W. Bush is arguably the most unpopular president in recent memory. He invaded Iraq, bungled Katrina and failed to stop the banking crisis that led to the latest Great Recession. Yet he did some other stuff too. Stuff that often gets overlooked. Stuff that’s even kinda awesome. Here are 10 reasons “Dubya” may have secretly been a kickass president.
10. Saving Millions of African Lives from AIDS
You might not have heard of PEPFAR. Launched in 2003, the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief was one of George W. Bush’s greatest achievements. How great, you ask? Try this for size: it’s estimated that PEPFAR could have saved over five million lives.
Bush was genuinely shocked by what HIV was doing to the African continent, and wanted to do something about it. PEPFAR was the largest global health initiative targeting a single disease in history. As of 2015, it provides 7.7 million people with antiretroviral treatment, and runs HIV screenings for another 56.7 million. In a single year, it provides treatment to more pregnant women than there are people living in the whole of Illinois. The lowest estimates of African lives saved thanks to PEPFAR is around 3-4million. The true number is probably much, much higher.
The crazy part is, that’s not even the whole of it. Studies have shown PEPFAR is increasing employment in targeted countries, getting more women into the workforce, and even reducing deaths related to tuberculosis. By one estimate, African countries with PEPFAR have seen all causes of adult death reduced by around 16 percent. If you took everyone alive today thanks to PEPFAR and gave them their own country, it would be at least the size of Finland, and probably much, much bigger.
9. Saving Millions of African Lives from Malaria
It wasn’t just HIV Bush hated with a passion. While saving all those people from AIDS, he also found time to take on malaria.
If you’re living in Europe or the States, you probably don’t worry much about malaria. Lucky you. Malaria is one of the most dangerous diseases on Earth, and roughly half the world’s population is at risk of getting it. This means excruciating pain, misery, and sometimes death. Because God apparently hates us, it also disproportionately targets children and pregnant women.
One of the worst-affected regions is sub-Saharan Africa. Traditionally, this region of Africa has been of almost zero concern to the White House. Prior to Clinton, barely any sitting presidents had bothered to visit. Bush not only went there repeatedly, he took a deep interest in improving its people’s lives. And that meant taking on malaria.
The President’s Malaria Initiative managed to halve malaria cases in 15 African countries. It’s one of the main reasons malaria deaths have fallen by 50 percent worldwide since 2000, saving millions of lives. Bush has since been honored by anti-malaria charities as a true humanitarian for his efforts to combat the disease.
8. Recognizing Kosovo
Kosovo is Europe’s newest country, and only the second-newest in the whole world (South Sudan stole its crown in 2011). Formed from an ethically-Albanian enclave in Serbia, it finally reached statehood in 2008. That it got there at all is mainly thanks to George W. Bush.
In 1999, Serbia launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo that was only halted thanks to US air strikes. Although this was under Clinton, the future of Kosovo could have easily unraveled if his successor wasn’t interested in the region (remember this when we get to #2 below. You’ll see why). The world needn’t have worried. From the get-go Bush was a loud champion of Kosovo’s right to statehood. By 2007, he had declared the nation must become independent.
Since Russia was backing Serbia’s claim to Kosovo, Bush was just about the only world leader who could follow through on this promise. It worked. With US-approval, Muslim Kosovo became Europe’s youngest nation. Albanians were so delighted with this that they erected a statue of Bush near the border, while in Kosovo a street was named after him.
7. Calling Darfur a Genocide
Since 2003, the Darfur region in Sudan has been in the grip of an on-again, off-again deadly war. ‘War’ may be a polite term for it; many have called the battle raging there a genocide. One of the first to use this label was George Bush. At a time when the rest of the world was nervously shuffling its feet and trying not to look the people of Darfur in the eye, the president came right out and declared the mass-killings of civilians a genocide.
Because the US was already mired in the mess of Afghanistan and Iraq, the White House held off from sending troops into another Muslim country. But Bush did organize a massive relief effort to save those in the refugee camps from starvation. He also helped get the UN involved, resulting in an uneasy peace that collapsed in 2011, but saved thousands of lives while it lasted. Even today, with the genocide still ongoing, it’s reported that many people name their newborn babies George Bush in recognition of the president’s efforts.
6. Establishing the World’s Largest Marine Park
The Bush White House had a pretty crappy record on the environment. The moratorium on offshore drilling was lifted on his watch, and nothing was done to stop climate change. On the other hand, one of Bush’s last acts as president was to create three new sanctuaries in the Pacific to protect marine life. Together, they made the largest protected marine park in the whole of the world.
Known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the protected area covered around 100,000 square miles of ocean – roughly the size of Colorado. It stopped any fishing within 50 nautical miles of seven islands, providing protection to countless sharks, whales, sea turtles and species of fish. The park was so awesome, in fact, that Obama jumped on it too. In September of 2014, he expanded the thing to four times its original size, meaning you could drop the whole of Texas in there and still have room for California. He wouldn’t have been able to do this if Bush hadn’t led the way.
5. Leading the Call for Tsunami Relief
Researching this list, we’re starting to think maybe Bush is the most-overlooked humanitarian in history. Aside from all the awesome stuff with Africa we mentioned, he also led the way in calling for tsunami relief following the Indian Ocean Earthquake.
You probably remember that one. On December 26, 2004, an earthquake triggered a tsunami that triggered floods, that triggered landslides, that triggered fires, that triggered one of the biggest disasters in human history. Around 230,000 people died, about as many as have been killed in the Syrian civil war. It also led to one of the most-humbling relief efforts the United States has ever seen.
After a slow initial response, Bush appointed both his dad, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton to spearhead the fundraising efforts. With the triple-whammy of presidents asking ordinary people to help, Americans started giving in droves. It’s estimated a third of all households donated to the fund, with the Federal government then matching that funding. 16,000 US personnel, 100 aircraft and dozens of ships were additionally sent to help with reconstruction. He may have screwed up Katrina, but Bush definitely got this one right.
4. Leading the Call for African Debt Relief
Not so long ago, sub-Saharan Africa was choking on public debt. Not in the way the USA, Spain or even Greece are. Dozens of countries had so many debts to fulfill at so high a cost that they couldn’t even provide basic services. Since many of these debts had been run up by corrupt dictators, it felt unfair to make the populations pay. So people decided the solution was to plump for debt forgiveness. Want to guess which president backed this move?
If you answered “George Bush” then congratulations, you’ve figured out how this thing works. The conservative president backed calls for debt forgiveness for 27 African countries. According to the BBC, he was responsible for seeing $34 billion in debt written off.
That’s a huge amount, and it clearly worked. Countries that went through debt forgiveness programs now borrow less and spend more on improving poor citizen’s lives. They have greater transparency and falling poverty, and are less-likely to take on more debt in the future. Once again, if this article proves anything, it’s that Bush was a regular freaking hero on the African continent.
3. Passing Medicare Part D
We’ve talked a lot about Bush’s foreign policy achievements. It’s worth remembering he had some domestic ones, too. Perhaps one of the greatest was passing Medicare Part D.
Part D allowed prescription drugs to be bought on benefit, meaning the state shouldered some of the costs of keeping elderly people on their medications. While Tea Partiers might balk at the state shouldering any cost, it saved plenty of money in the long term. With average monthly premiums of just $31, Part D has kept chronic illnesses at bay in a generation, and generally helped people live longer, better lives. As a result, the taxpayer hasn’t had to stump up the cost when those conditions go critical thanks to lack of treatment.
It also saved money for low-income seniors, too. Before Part D came in, seniors were paying anywhere between $300 – $2,000 extra to meet prescription costs. Thanks to Bush pushing this through, getting old in America is now far less expensive than it used to be.
2. Giving South Sudan Hope
In 1983, Sudan collapsed into a deadly civil war. On one side was the northern, Muslim population – the same jerks who went genocidal on Darfur in 2003, as noted above – on the other was the Christian and animist South. The war lasted over 20 years and claimed around two million lives. The only reason it stopped was thanks to Bush.
Bush was an absolute genius on Sudan; a walking encyclopedia who knew everything there was to know about the conflict. In 2005, he brokered a landmark north-south peace deal that stopped the conflict and gave the south a chance to split off and form its own state. His actions saved countless lives and stopped one of the oldest ethnic conflicts in the world.
If you know anything about South Sudan, you might be wondering why we included this. Created in 2011, South Sudan quickly erupted into its own civil war and is now one of the worst places on Earth. There are reports of rape, mutilation and forced cannibalism and millions have been displaced. Some achievement, huh? Well, this isn’t really Bush’s fault. It’s Obama’s.
Remember what we said in the Kosovo entry about Clinton needing his successor to remain interested in the nation’s plight? That’s South Sudan all over. Bush’s plan for the region was idealistic, but he knew enough, was committed enough, and had respect enough to at least make a good stab at forging a new country. Unfortunately, Obama didn’t. The US desk for South Sudan was effectively empty for months at the start of his presidency, just when everything went to hell. Analysts and experts now largely blame the Obama White House’s inaction for failing to help the fledgling nation get on its feet. Bush gave the people of South Sudan hope. An accident of timing and a disinterested new president took that away.
1. Fighting Cancer in Africa
If there’s one thing we’re taking away from writing this, it’s that Bush was a freakin’ hero to Africa. Not content with all the awesome things he did for the continent as president, he’s since gone on to spend his retirement tackling cancer.
We don’t mean Bush has put aside some money and sent it to an anti-cancer charity or anything like that. We mean he personally has gone to Zambia and other places and helped build and refurbish cervical cancer-screening units. He’s also thrown his name and wealth behind new cancer projects, the most-successful of which may be Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. Launched in 2011, it has so far screened 200,000 women for cervical cancer, another 6,000 for breast cancer, and provided vaccines to 40,000 teenage girls to protect against the virus that causes cervical cancer. We don’t have much data on number of lives saved so far, but we’re guessing it can be easily summed up as “a lot.”
So yeah, he may have led the US into a disastrous war in Iraq that left thousands dead and the region no-more secure. He may have completely bungled Katrina and failed to find Bin Laden. But the 43rd president also did some pretty spectacular stuff in his time. Perhaps even enough to cancel out all the bad bits.