On the eve of a European mission that faces discord around the conference table and in the streets, President Bush on Tuesday offered his broadest assessment of the United States' global role and set a mandate for fighting poverty by promoting trade.
He proposed that the World Bank and other lending agencies assigned to aid the developing world "dramatically shift" the money they devote to the poorest nations from loans to grants that would not have to be repaid.
Specifically, he proposed that up to half of the $6 billion a year the bank lends the poorest countries be provided as grants for education, health, nutrition, water supply, sanitation "and other human needs."
The speech to the World Bank was the most focused look at foreign policy, international poverty and the responsibilities of wealthy nations that Bush has given as president. It reflected a recognition, often central to his predecessor's diplomacy, that trade holds the promise in the post-Cold War era of expanding democracy and wealth.
At the same time, he drew a line between himself and the vast number of protesters gathering in Genoa, Italy, to demonstrate against the weekend summit of the world's seven largest industrialized democracies and Russia, the focal point of the presidential trip that begins tonight in London and ends Tuesday in Kosovo.
Addressing the demonstrators' central complaint--that expanded trade threatens the world's poorest--Bush said: "They seek to shut down meetings because they want to shut down free trade. I respect the right to peaceful expression, but make no mistake--those who protest free trade are no friends of the poor. Those who protest free trade seek to deny them their best hope for escaping poverty."
Echoing Pope John Paul II, with whom he will meet at the pontiff's summer residence, Bush said that "the great moral challenge" of the era is "placing the freedom of the market in the service of human freedom."
"Our willingness to recognize that with freedom comes great responsibility, especially for the least among us, may take the measure of the 21st century," Bush declared, setting a marker of U.S. policy before the protests begin.
"To all nations promoting democratic government and the rule of law so that trade and aid can succeed, you're not alone. To all nations tearing down the walls of suspicion and isolation, and building ties of trade and trust, you're not alone. And to all nations who are willing to stake their future on the global progress of liberty, you will never be alone," the president said.
Bush, as president, has given few speeches on foreign policy, keeping his focus largely on domestic matters. When he has addressed foreign matters, his attention often has been directed at a particular issue--for instance, his proposal to build a missile defense system.
By contrast, the speech Tuesday addressed a wide range of issues on the diplomatic front burner and presented them in the context of a philosophical approach to the U.S. role in the world. In many ways, the address echoed the moral tone often laced in foreign policy speeches by President Clinton.
Bush said one of his top objectives in Genoa--the city of Christopher Columbus, who is forever linked with the quest for expanded horizons--would be to secure the strong endorsement of his summit partners for a new round of global trade negotiations to begin before the year's end.
Bush will meet with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. The most recent global trade talks ended in 1993, and efforts to launch a new round have failed. He's expected to be challenged by fellow leaders on his proposal to create a missile defense system, which critics charge will undercut the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and about his decision to not support the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on industrial nations to take specific steps against global warming.
Bush presented a defense of what has come to be known as globalization--the ever-tighter weave of economies, both rich and poor, around the world--and put it at "the heart of human liberty stretching across national borders."
"It holds the promise of delivering billions of the world's citizens from disease and hunger and want," he said. The world's needs "are a challenge to our conscience and to complacency."
But, framing his argument as much in terms of geopolitical health as in morality, Bush said, "A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day is neither just, nor stable."
Bush said that in the past, strong nations sought weakened neighbors; now, they seek strong partners to which they can "export their products, not their problems."
"Conquering poverty creates new customers. And a world that is more free and more prosperous is also a world much more likely to remain at peace," the president said.
As he has in the past, he called for a shift in the strategic framework from Cold War doctrine to one that addresses the new threats: cyber-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and "missiles in the hands of those for whom terror and blackmail are a very way of life."
They threaten freedom and progress, he said, "and we will not permit it."
The chief spokesman for the World Bank, Caroline Anstey, said that it lends $6 billion a year to the poorest nations. Overall, the U.S. annually contributes $803 million to the bank. The decision to give the money away, she said, was one not for the bank's officials but for "the shareholders," in effect the major lenders or, specifically, the U.S. and its wealthiest partners.
But, she said, without money coming in to the bank from the payback of its earlier loans, the source of grants would soon dry up unless the U.S. and others increased contributions. Bush did not mention additional U.S. funding in his speech.
Bush also called on the lending agencies, which provide some grants now, to increase the money they provide for education and, reflecting a tenet of his domestic policy, to tie that aid to programs with measurable results.
Bush also entered the growing debate over the role of biotechnology and crops. Europeans have largely rejected the use of bioengineered food, but Bush said the advantages that such scientific advances can bring in boosting crop yields could help the 800 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.