Abstinence Bushie Busted!
Randall Tobias, hypocrite.
ABC News and the Washington Post are reporting that Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias resigned April 27 after confirming to ABC News that he's on Jeane Palfrey's little list. Palfrey is a D.C. madam under prosecution who's been receiving, through her attorney, phone calls from lawyers for various prominent johns begging her not to make their clients' names public. Tobias is administrator of the State Department's foreign aid programs.
Tobias' resignation was announced at 5 p.m. on a Friday, traditionally the hour for releasing bad news, because reporters are busy making weekend plans, and readers, at least in theory, pay less attention to news that comes out on a Saturday. The strategy seems to have worked in this instance, because neither ABC News nor the Post reported one highly relevant detail: Tobias is the Bush administration's leading advocate of abstinence-only programs abroad!
Here's what Tobias told PBS' Frontline in March 2005, when he was Bush's global AIDS czar (I quote this at great length because, well, why not?):
Well, the heart of our prevention programs is what's known as ABC: abstinence, be faithful, and the correct and consistent use of condoms when appropriate. This is not an American invention; this is something that President [Yoweri] Museveni in Uganda figured out over time when he recognized that there was an enormous problem in Uganda.
And it's also not "ABC: Take your pick." It's abstinence really focused heavily on young people and getting them to understand that the best way to keep from getting infected is to be abstinent and not engage in sexual activity until they are old enough and mature enough and get into a committed relationship, such as a marriage. B is being faithful within that committed relationship. And A and B, those two things together clearly had a huge impact in bringing the infection rates down in Uganda.
C recognizes the fact that there are individuals in high-risk circumstances who either by choice or by coercion are going to find themselves unable to follow A and B, and therefore they need to have access to condoms, and they need to understand the correct and consistent use of condoms. I think more and more of the experts, the people who really understand the prevention requirements with HIV/AIDS, have come to endorse ABC in a very balanced way as the appropriate prevention centerpiece.
But I would also add that as important as ABC is, the fact is that this is a disease where 50 percent of the people infected in the world are women. When I cite those numbers to people here in the United States, I find most people are astonished. They just have no idea about that. In some countries in Africa, it's well above 50 percent that are women and girls. In many cases this is driven by cultural factors, where young girls are having sex with older men and [are] coerced to do that, where women aren't regarded as equal citizens with men. So there are lots of things that need to be done addressing those kinds of cultural issues also.
A long-term study authorized by Congress nine years ago recently found that abstinence-only programs don't work here in the United States. Tobias would appear to provide a convenient anecdotal illustration of that finding (though he claims he only got a "massage").
Another retrospectively risible portion of Tobias' Frontline interview concerned a legal requirement that recipients of U.S. aid denounce prostitution:
The Congress I think very appropriately has put into the legislation that created this program that organizations, in order to receive money, need to have a policy opposed to prostitution and sex trafficking. I don't think it's too difficult for people to be opposed to prostitution and sex trafficking, which are in fact two contributing causes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. I think when organizations initially became aware of that requirement, some organizations were concerned about what the implications of that might be, but we implemented that in the first year with non-U.S. organizations. We're now implementing that requirement with U.S. organizations. And so far, I really know of no problems that we've had on the ground.
Now we know there was one problem, but with Tobias' departure that matter is resolved.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of Randall L. Tobias by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.