Jan. 25, 2016 | Foreign Policy

If you weren’t paying close attention during the president’s final State of the Union speech — and perhaps even if you were — you probably missed the shout out to one of the great foreign policy success of George W. Bush. In a speech that was otherwise criticized for its sunny characterization of perilous times, it was a welcome if brief indication that, from the beginning of his first term, Barack Obama embraced what was then and still is widely viewed as George Bush’s most enduring legacy — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the subsequent President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). Here, the progress is real and the president’s optimism appropriate.

What the president surely understands is that, more than a decade on, Bush’s vision for defeating global AIDS and malaria is more than a humanitarian success story — it is a foreign policy success story that has profoundly redefined our relationship with sub-Saharan Africa. This success likely has broader implications for America’s standing in the world that are still not fully understood or appreciated. Certainly, President Obama is viewed positively in Africa, in no small part because of his African heritage, but there can be no doubt that he stands firmly on the foundation laid by President Bush.

The fact that the president singled out malaria as worth his and Congress’ special attention in his final year is significant. Although sometimes viewed as a kid brother to the United States’ global AIDS program, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the progress against malaria in the past decade has brought us close to a true milestone of human history. When I began working on malaria at USAID in 2004, the disease killed more than a million people annually — the vast majority of them African children. Since then, deaths have been cut roughly in half, and endemic countries and donors are looking to achieve a state just short of eradication in coming years. One of mankind’s deadliest and most persistent killers is in retreat.

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