Who does laundry for the Leader of the Free World?

This was one among many questions Bob Geldof had for George Bush. Geldof — you know, the guy behind retro-human-rights-cool “Live Aid” and modern-day-human-rights-chic “Live 8” — flew on Air Force One as Bush hopped around Africa. He got some face-time with the president, and from it he made an interesting, punchy article for Time. Here’s the snarky opening:

    “I gave the President my book. He raised an eyebrow. “Who wrote this for ya, Geldof?” he said without looking up from the cover. Very dry. “Who will you get to read it for you, Mr. President?” I replied. No response.”

It’s a cheap shot to include this, maybe, and surely to use it as the lead. But the Geldof article is, surprisingly, a considered look at Bush and his competing legacies, of PEPFAR and other medical aid in Africa, on the one hand, and of what ‘American humanitarian intervention’ looks like in Iraq, on the other. Bush talks about wanting to see decisive action in Darfur, and Geldof deftly makes the point that the country he leads is not exactly in a position even to suggest what that should look like, let alone issue a demand:

    “Action may very well be his wish, but because of the U.S.’s intervention elsewhere and his own preemptive philosophy, it is now unacceptable for the U.S. to engage unilaterally. By his own deeds, he has rendered U.S. action in Darfur impossible. As for the rest of the world, for all their oft-spoken pieties, they seem to be able to agree on precisely nothing. Meanwhile, the rape and killing continue, Khartoum plays its game of murder and we won’t even pay for the helicopters that the U.N. forces need to protect themselves. Pathetic.”

They wind up, against Geldof’s will, talking about Iraq. He tries to avoid it, but I suppose avoiding Iraq in a conversation with Bush is like avoiding the Eucharist in an encounter with the Pope. One thing is just always, unavoidably, part of the presence of the other. And eventually, Geldof tries to make the cost of it all clear:

    “At one point I suggest that he will never be given credit for good policies, like those here in Africa, because many people view him “as a walking crime against humanity.” He looks very hurt by that. And I’m sorry I said it, because he’s a very likable fellow.”

There’s a lot more here, and it’s not a Bush-bash. A likeable fellow and all that. Also a funny exchange about how, exactly, those presidential undies do get cleaned when you’re bopping ’round a continent.

Like Bush or no, Geldof raises a good point (made by many others before him; I first heard it in Samantha Power’s classroom in 2004) about what Iraq may have cost us, and possibly lot of other people, many of them in IDP camps in West Darfur. But maybe you disagree with Geldof. I invite you to have it out here, in the comments.

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