Deemed “Operation United Assistance,” the U.S. military will deploy about 3,000 personnel to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. The White House website has a handy “Fact Sheet” to explain, but in broad terms.
As Howard Portnoy observed, President Obama is “committing U.S. military to the war on Ebola in West Africa,” while steadfastly avoiding “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State has claimed the lives of even more innocent souls.
The official word on the Ebola crisis is somewhat of a study in contradictions, as the epidemic is frequently described by government officials and the United Nations in apocalyptic terms, while at the same time, vast reassurances have also been offered.
Ebola is not often described, notably, as a “global health threat,” but rather, a “threat to global security.”
On Tuesday, President Obama said,
This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security. It’s a potential threat to global security, if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic,” he said, “that has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease.
Well, that is scary – albeit fuzzy. If people “panic” in Liberia, it is still unclear how that would threaten “global security.” But Obama also reassured that “…the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low.”
As an aside, the State Department purchased a whopping 160,000 hazmat suits and 10,000 “Cadaver Bags” (see here and here) to be shipped to Liberia. Would thousands of body bags being shipped to your neighborhood cause you to panic? Or, the question should be, perhaps, who wouldn’t panic? This author weeps for the woman in the white dress in the featured photo. How frightened she must be to be hauled away in front of a crowd of onlookers by strange men who suspect she is inflicted with a potentially deadly virus.
This appears to be the same woman in another photo (via Reuters):
On Thursday, the BBC reported that during a UN Security Council meeting, the council referred to the epidemic as a “threat to international peace and security.” But on the other hand,
[the] resolution also calls for travel bans imposed by some states to be lifted, saying the countries need to have access to aid instead of being isolated.
But one of the goals of Operation United Assistance (see below) is to provide an “air bridge” so that aid could be delivered. If this threat is as deadly serious as is being portrayed, wouldn’t temporary travel bans play a large part in isolating the Ebola virus?
A study in contradictions.
Operation United Assistance
Back to the question of why the United States military is needed, CNN reported (vaguely) that “Liberian leadership asked that the U.S. military step in to help support civilian efforts there.” Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of the U.S. Army Africa, “will coordinate the military’s efforts to improve logistics, to build additional field hospitals and to create what the President called an ‘air bridge’ to bring in additional supplies and health care workers.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the military personnel will “coordinate international aid, build treatment centers and train health-care workers…”
A particularly creepy editorial at Bloomberg BusinessWeek recommends “a ready force of 15,000 within 30 days, with almost as many health-care personnel to deal with patients and medical screening.” Just so you know, the author of this piece, Steve Brozak (and Anne Marie Noronha, a research associate), is the Managing Partner and President of WBB Securities, LLC, an “investment banking and equity research” firm focused “in three primary areas of the life sciences including the biotechnology, specialty pharmaceuticals and medical devices sectors.”
The article continues,
Why is such an organized and robust strategy required? Reports from Liberia indicate that the situation is desperate. Hospitals have become quarantine zones for the dead and soon-to-be dead. Medicine is no longer even being used on people infected with Ebola. It is especially clear that the Liberia’s government is incapable of managing a response; even elected officials have fled the nation. Doctors and nurses have either perished from Ebola or have left the country due to a lack of support and concern for their safety.
Amid the collapse of health-care infrastructure, it is only a matter of time before total chaos descends. The number of infected people is spiraling out of control, with estimates of human infection unreliable. In past outbreaks, transmission contacts in remote areas were counted by the tens; today’s infected contacts can reach the hundreds in an urban setting.
While the authors do a good job of explaining the gravity of the situation, this author is still having difficulty understanding why soldiers are needed. Is it that they are there to serve purely as logistical support? Or, are they really there to assist with unrest? Not to be glib, but if the goal for the U.S. military is to keep Americans safe, 3,000 troops could certainly be used on the southern border.
One last quick aside: The 1918-1919 Influenza pandemic was spread worldwide by soldiers. Global mortality from that largely forgotten pandemic is estimated from “anywhere between 30 and 50 million.” Additionally, an “estimated 675,000 Americans were among the dead.”