So Who's Counting?

By Peter Baker
Monday, February 18, 2008

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania So when is a $200 million funding increase really a $341 million funding cut? When you're careful about how you word it.

As President Bush jets his way across Africa this week, the White House is touting all he has done to fight AIDS, malaria and poverty on the continent, and most activists agree he has done more than any of his predecessors. But some of the claims require a little unpacking.

Take the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. At a briefing in Dar es Salaam yesterday, Mark Dybul, the president's global AIDS coordinator, asserted that the United States is the largest contributor to the fund, which is certainly true. And he said the president has proposed an increase in the U.S. contribution for next year, which is debatable at best.

"The president is requesting an increase for our contribution to the Global Fund, an increase above his last year request from $300 million to $500 million," Dybul told reporters.

A casual listener might think the United States is increasing its contribution to the Global Fund. Not really: As is often the case with Washington budget claims, it's important to look at exactly what is being asserted. Bush did request$300 million for the Global Fund for the current fiscal year, but Congress decided to go further and approved $841 million. So even though Bush's request for $500 million for the next fiscal year is higher than he requested the year before, in reality it would cut the contribution back from the $841 million it is getting in cold hard cash this year.

Dybul acknowledged that when pressed, but said the Global Fund cannot spend that much in a year, and already has lots of "uncommitted resources" it has not used. "You don't want to pile up money," he said.

This Time, No Elephants in Love

The last time Bush came to Africa and went on safari, he and the rest of the first family got quite an eyeful when a pair of elephants started, um, trying to make little elephants right in front of them. "There was one wild young elephant," Laura Bush recalled during a session with reporters here yesterday.

So perhaps it comes as no surprise that five years later, the safari experience is not on the itinerary. The president, a famously indifferent tourist who skipped the Taj Mahal and raced through the Kremlin cathedrals in seven minutes flat, is cramming five countries in six days, with little time for sightseeing. So Laura Bush said they will come back after he leaves office and they have more time.

"We'll come back for sure," she told reporters. "I know we will -- I mean, I will."

She disclosed that the president has made some commitments to their daughters that she seemed to doubt. " Barbara and Jenna say their dad promised them that they would go on a big safari," she said.

Then she added sardonically, "This is [like] the promise that he made to take them to the Grand Canyon camping, too."

Just guessing, here, but it sounds like the twins never made it to the Grand Canyon -- at least not with Dad.

The 'Grumpy Guy'?

Now we know why Bush seemed a little tired in Tanzania. If the jet lag on his 16 hours of flying to Dar es Salaam were not enough to tire out even the strongest 61-year-old, evidently reading old U.N. reports on Kosovo would finish the job. Asked during a news conference yesterday whether the United States would recognize Kosovo's independence, Bush wandered around the question without giving a direct answer. Tabassum Zakaria of Reuters pressed him. "I suggest you study the Ahtisaari plan," he scolded her, referring to a U.N. plan for supervised independence that he supports.

Then, realizing that might have come across more harshly than he meant it, he quickly added with a laugh, "Not to be like the, you know, grumpy guy."

New Job for McClellan

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the beat goes on. Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary and longtime Bush aide whose book is being eagerly anticipated for the spring, has landed a gig at Apco Worldwide, where he will serve on the international advisory council for the public affairs and strategic communications firm. McClellan already serves as senior vice president of corporate and government affairs at HHB Inc., a consulting and technology firm.

Moving on Up

The president continues to shift around aides and dole out better titles as he sets his team for the final stretch. Last week, he promoted speechwriters Christopher Michel and Matthew Latimer to deputy directors of speechwriting. He also gave two of the first lady's aides, Sara Armstrong and Meghan Clyne, the rank of special assistant to the president and named one of Vice President Cheney's aides, Mark J. Webber, senior director for South and Central Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

Quote of the Week

"I don't have many excuses, except I've been a pretty busy guy."

-- President Bush, when asked by a Tanzanian reporter why it took him so long to visit.

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