IMMEDIATE RELEASE 16 September 2014
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Amidst all the dire headlines of violence and unrest in the world, Americans should not lose sight of the fact that the U.S. is uniquely equipped to handle a variety of crises, not as fighters but as humanitarians. Not since the days of the Roman Empire has one country been so far ahead technologically, militarily and medically, which is why talk about America in decline is just that, talk. When it comes to action, no nation can match the U.S. when it decides action is needed. And unlike most of the decisions President Obama is called upon to make, combatting an epidemic is an easy call.
For a president who has been notably reluctant to deploy the U.S. military, Obama moved decisively this week to order 3,000 troops to West Africa to help contain and control the spread of the Ebola virus. The already fragile health care systems in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the hardest hit countries, have been overwhelmed by the growing numbers of the sick and infected, and pleading with the World Health Organization for resources and reinforcements.
This is not only a humanitarian disaster that could potentially take thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives, but for Obama it is also a challenge to America’s national security. In the past, outbreaks of Ebola were limited to rural areas where they quickly burned out, claiming a relatively few number of lives. This is the first time the disease has been urbanized, and if action isn’t taken, it’s only a matter of time before someone who is ill gets on a plane and brings Ebola to the U.S.
The closest analogy to a globally spreading virus is the outbreak of SARS that in the spring of 2003 was detected in Asia. Realizing that it could spread very rapidly, governments in Japan and China intervened, screening people at airports and detaining anyone who appeared sick. The virus was contained, and no Asian government would have entertained the notion of the United States coming in to help.
Help then wasn’t needed, and U.S. motivation would have been suspect. What’s happening in Africa today is an entirely different situation. Governments that are not very stable, and scrambling to keep civil order amidst a panicked population, are eager for the U.S. to step in. Obama recognizes the seriousness of the situation, pairing a visit to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta Tuesday with a visit the following day to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the headquarters of Central Command is located.
While the president is facing much skepticism about his plan to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS, the self-described Islamic state, everyone across the political spectrum applauds his decision to deploy American troops on the ground in West Africa in what could be the military’s first purely medical mission. It could be argued that the president’s hand has been forced by globalization. A disease that starts in Africa won’t stay in Africa, not in the era of easy jet travel. Obama is acting in the interest of the American people as much as the West Africans that the military will be helping.
The medical mission that U.S. troops are embarking upon is not combat related, but it’s not for the faint hearted. It takes a great deal of sophistication and training to set up tent cities and quarantines, and medical facilities that doctors and nurses will feel comfortable working in without inordinate fear for their own health and safety. In announcing Obama’s Ebola initiative, administration officials noted that 5,000 body bags would be sent to the areas suffering the outbreak, along with U.S. expertise on how to safely dispose of bodies with cremation, which is why this mission is combat by another name. The Ugly American of the 1950s is becoming the Good Samaritan American of the 21st Century.
© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND