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Both parties agree: George Bush deserves credit for AIDS relief

Former President Bill Clinton barely mentioned foreign policy in his spirited defense of President Obama's record on Wednesday night, though he did praise his wife for helping "build a world with more partners and fewer enemies."

But one line in particular caught my eye. In a section on the contributions Republican presidents have made to the country, here's what he had to say about former President George W. Bush:

I have to be grateful, and you should be too, that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries.

Clinton was alluding to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which Bush established in 2003 and which now supports antiretroviral treatment for 4.5 million people around the world. But what's particularly notable about the reference is that, during a convention season designed to draw sharp distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, the two parties have found common ground on at least one point: the success of Bush's efforts to fight AIDS.

The Democratic platform, which condemns Bush's war on terror, focus on Iraq, and attitude toward the United Nations, praises the former president's global health record. "Building on the strong foundation created during the previous administration," the document notes, "the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has expanded its prevention, care, and treatment programming." OK, so the Democrats don't mention Bush by name. But still.

The Republican platform only mentions Bush twice -- in the context of tax cuts and AIDS relief:

PEPFAR, President George W. Bush's Plan for AIDS Relief, is one of the most successful global health programs in history. It has saved literally millions of lives. Along with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, another initiative of President Bush, it represents America's humanitarian commitment to the peoples of Africa, though these are only one aspect of our assistance to the nations of that continent.

Bush himself certainly recognized the importance of PEPFAR. In his memoir Decision Points, he cites preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11 as his greatest achievement. But he also writes about his AIDS initiatives at length, explaining that he hoped PEPFAR "would serve as a medical version of the Marshall Plan." 

PEPFAR, of course, has attracted its share of criticism over the years for focusing on abstinence and consuming a disproportionate amount of U.S. global health funding, among other issues. But for now at least, it's just about the only Bush initiative that Republicans aren't evading and Democrats aren't denouncing.

LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images

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What Bill Clinton had to say about Obama's foreign policy in 2008

On Wednesday evening, former President Bill Clinton will issue a full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama at the Democratic convention in Charlotte. But as the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza recently pointed out, the frayed relationship between the two Democratic leaders -- tested by the bitter 2007-2008 primary contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton -- has never fully mended. 

Before Hillary Clinton dropped out of the Democratic primary, the former president did have the occasional good thing to say about Obama when it came to foreign policy. In July 2007, for example, he refused to be drawn into a dispute between Obama and his wife over whether the United States should meet with the leaders of hostile nations without preconditions. All the Democratic candidates, he noted, had "a vigorous agreement on the big question, which is, 'Should we have more diplomacy?' The answer is yes."

But Obama and Clinton clashed over  two of the defining issues of the campaign: the Iraq war and Obama's inexperience.

The spat over the war in Iraq began in November 2007, when Clinton told a crowd in Iowa that he had "opposed Iraq from the beginning," even though he was on record supporting the war in 2003. When asked about the comments, Obama quipped, "If he did [oppose it], I don't think most of us heard about it." 

Then, during a talk at Dartmouth College in January 2008, Clinton mocked the Obama campaign for celebrating the candidate's opposition to the Iraq war back in 2002 (that same year, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq). 

"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment ... and never got asked one time, not once, well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution, you said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war ... and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?" Clinton asked. "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

Obama had indeed expressed support for the ongoing war effort during the 2004 presidential election, but he had also reiterated his opposition to the original invasion. Obama criticized Clinton for repeating "this notion that somehow I didn't know where I stood in 2004 about the war. He keeps on giving half the quote. I was always against the war."

Clinton also attacked Obama's lack of experience in interviews with Al Hunt and Charlie Rose in the final months of 2007, arguing that Obama was ill-equipped to handle foreign-policy issues like terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Rose noted that experienced officials had orchestrated the war in Iraq, Clinton responded:

I remember the first time Senator Obama said that, said, you know, [former Vice President Dick] Cheney and [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld had a lot of experience. And that has great superficial appeal. But let me make the argument in another context. That's like saying that because 100 percent of the malpractices case, medical malpractice, are committed by doctors, the next time I need surgery, I'll get a chef or a plumber to do it.

Here's the full video (the discussion of Obama begins at 24:00, and the quote above comes at 35:00):

With the debate over the Iraq war, the hand-wringing over Obama's lack of experience, and the rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all things of the past, we'll hear Bill Clinton deliver a very different assessment of Barack Obama this evening. The question now turns to just how effectively he'll make the case for granting the president four more years in office.

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