President Dubya loves to crusade against the "axis of evil" in his war on terrorism--but he formed an unholy alliance with the countries that make up the "axis" to declare war on the condom as a weapon in the fight against AIDS at the United Nations special session on children that concluded in New York on May 10.
The US delegation to the UN children's summit, headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, made common cause with Iran and Iraq--two of the three countries that Bush declares make up the "axis of evil"--in watering down the summit's official concluding declaration, eliminating any references to the right of the world's children to "reproductive health services and education." That language--already agreed to by five previous international conferences to which the United States was a party (including the UN special session on AIDS)--meant that both birth control (condoms) and abortion services to protect the health of children would be recognized as an integral part of children's rights worldwide. The Thompson-led delegation took the ostrich-like position that abstinence was the only form of sexual education it would support.
In its intransigent opposition to any acknowledgment of condom use as a way to fight AIDS and adolescent pregnancy, the United States was also joined by such beacons of enlightenment as Sudan (which Bush is preparing to invest with Special Forces troops in the hunt for Al Qaeda supporters), Libya, Syria and the Vatican. Arrayed against the US-led obstructionist effort was an overwhelming majority of the 180 delegations and sixty world leaders participating in the conference, including not only nearly all the Western democracies but the largely Catholic countries of Central and South America.
The US delegation was stuffed with conservative anticondom extremists, including a representative from Concerned Women of America and John Klink, the former Vatican lay diplomat whose nomination by Bush to head the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration had to be withdrawn last year because of fierce opposition from the Senate. American threats to refuse to sign any declaration that contained even oblique references to condoms and abortion were the culmination of a two-year campaign by an ultra-right coalition led by religious conservatives; the World Congress of Families (WCF), which includes conservative reliigious institutions, a raft of antiabortion and abstinence-only groups; and the Heritage Foundation. The WCF has worked hand in glove with the Bush Administration to make the children's summit a target in the war on the condom, (Thompson's, Assistant Secretary for Children and Family, Wade Horn, an ultraconservative who was a key strategist of the US position at the UN children's summit, was the keynote speaker at the WFC's last meeting).
The Child Rights Caucus, made up of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations from around the world, blasted the US stance as "an attack against the global consensus on the human rights of children that has built over the last twelve years," adding, "for the millions of girls who marry before the age of 18 or who are forced into sexual relationships, abstinence is not an option, and lack of access to appropriate education and services can be life-threatening." And the International Women's Health Coalition's Adrienne Germaine underscores that "particularly in Asia and Africa--where sex with a virgin is considered safer, and where there is a widespread myth that having sex with a virgin cures AIDS--the American abstinence-only position is a dangerously sick joke." The United States has already spent $500 million in abstinence-only sex education at home--more than twice as much as it has donated to Kofi Annan's Global AIDS fund.
Germaine, who served on US delegations to earlier world conferences during the Clinton Administration, decries "the pure theocratic ideology on the part of the Bush Administration" and says the United States "behaved like a big bully," threatening a host of countries, especially in Latin America, with trade and aid reprisals in the months leading up to the UN summit if they didn't toe the no-condoms, abstinence-only, antiabortion line. ("We have the State Department cables to prove it," Germaine reports.)
By using its superpower status to effectively veto the language in the final declaration of the children's summit it found offensive, the Bush Administration has weakened the global effort to fight AIDS, particularly in those developing countries whose governments have only just begun to come to grips with combating the epidemic through scientifically proven means like the condom, according to NGO representatives at the summit. Bush's paleolithic obscurantism about the condom is nothing new. Here at home, he has stacked the President's Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS with abstinence-only advocates and condom opponents (as well as campaign contributors and drug company executives); and increased by 33 percent the amount the United States spends on domestic "abstinence-only" sex education. But now, Bush's bizarre anticondom coalition with "axis of evil" countries reveals a glaring contradiction in his foreign policy. And, by joining with countries he has flayed as "rogue states" to dilute the UN's battle against the decimation of the world's young by AIDS and unwanted pregnancies, the Administration has made a mockery out of Bush's campaign rhetoric that "no child shall be left behind."