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McCain Presidency Would Likely Expand Bush Africa Policy

Former State Department official offers views on a McCain administration

 Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., holds Elisha Dube, 5-weeks-old, at a rally at Zanesville High School, in Zanesville, Ohi...

McCain 2008

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., holds Elisha Dube, 5-weeks-old, at a rally at Zanesville High School, in Zanesville, Ohi...

If elected as the next president of the United States, Republican Party nominee John McCain most likely would pursue and possibly expand upon many of the policies put in place during the Bush administration, according to Herman J. Cohen, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

In a recent interview with, Cohen offered his thoughts — drawing on his extensive background in African affairs — on what a McCain presidency would mean for Africa.

In a separate conversation, asked Howard Wolpe, career Africanist and former chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa in the U.S. House of Representatives, to offer his opinion on what an Obama presidency would mean for Africa. (See “Obama Presidency Would Bring New Dimension to Africa Policy.”)

Much of Cohen’s diplomatic career was focused on U.S.-Africa relations. He spent 38 years in the U.S. Foreign Service and served as assistant secretary for African affairs from 1989 to 1993 in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. He previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Senegal and deputy chief of mission in Kinshasa.

Cohen said the current President Bush is enjoying great popularity in Africa as a direct result of his administration’s policies toward the region.

“The Africans have been very happy and most people who follow African affairs in the United States have given the Bush administration pretty high marks. So what I see is the continuation of a lot of emphasis on health care, such as the HIV/AIDS program known as PEPFAR [the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief] and … an effort to get stronger relations with South Africa.”

During the government of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who recently left office, relations were “a bit cool,” Cohen said. “Now, with the change, a McCain administration would try very hard to establish more healthy and warm relations with South Africa.”

Cohen speculated that a McCain administration also would continue the joint military training, counterterrorism programs and peacekeeping training now under way in Africa.


A McCain administration would place even more emphasis on promoting private-sector economic development in Africa, Cohen said.
Close-up on Herman J. Cohen (Courtesy of Herman J. Cohen)
Herman J. Cohen

“The Millennium Challenge Corporation is very strong on private-sector [development], and I think you will see the United States Agency for International Development moving to finance even more private-sector activity to help even more Africans themselves become investors,” he predicted.

“Now that Africa is becoming more open to the private sector, they need the infrastructure to make it work. You know, for many years they were kind of suspicious of the private sector and had all sorts of socialist economies. Now that they are becoming more open,” they need help in this area, Cohen said.

“People are not going to invest unless they have reliable electricity, reliable telephone service that does not cost so much, reliable roads and water supplies. Now that they want to do private-sector development, we have to help them with the means to make it more attractive to get investors.”

When asked if a McCain administration might have even closer links with Africa’s business and investment sector, Cohen replied: “I think so. Not that the current administration has been lacking, but I think there will be a greater emphasis.”

Cohen said he is now working as a private consultant on a power project in Togo that will be privately owned and financed through the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. “They provided 100 percent financing for this private project, so I think this is going to happen more and more.”

Assessing the U.S.-Africa relationship, Cohen said that Africans and Americans have long shared close bonds of friendship because the United States has never been a colonial power in Africa. That makes a difference.

Additionally, he said, Americans have done a lot of good things in Africa — projects that have a direct positive impact on “the man in the street.” They have eliminated smallpox and are working very hard to fight HIV/AIDS through PEPFAR, have fed millions of starving Africans through billions of dollars in food aid, are helping Africans in their fight against terrorism and have long worked for the good of all Africans through programs such as the Peace Corps.

“Africans feel very vulnerable” on terrorism, Cohen said. “Africans don’t believe in jihad, and even in the Muslim countries, they want to stay away from that, so they are very anxious for the Americans to cooperate with them in prevention of religious extremism.

“So, all of these things added together means that the United States is seen very favorably,” he said. Thus, many of the positive trends that were put in place during this Bush administration are likely to continue and grow during a McCain administration.

Cohen acknowledged his worries about the ongoing financial crisis and its possible impact on aspects of U.S. foreign policy such as foreign assistance.

“Whoever wins the presidency is going to be faced with this very severe issue” that could affect some U.S. programs significantly, he said.

For more information on McCain’s foreign policy positions, see “Candidates on the Issues” on