President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta this week to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel.
It's one of the most aggressive responses in U.S. history to a disease outbreak. Michele Richinick reported
that "as many as 3,000 military personnel will assist in training new health care workers and building treatment clinics in the countries affected by the disease," and some of our financial resources will be used to "construct 17 new treatment centers, each with 100 beds, and 10,000 sets of protective equipment and supplies to help 400,000 families protect themselves from the epidemic that is spreading exponentially."
A day later, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, announced plans to establish "a new on-the-ground mission in West Africa to coordinate the struggle against Ebola," while the World Bank Group issued a report warning of a "potentially catastrophic blow
" to the economies of countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
Right-wing media are using President Obama's plan to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as another opportunity to attack him. Conservatives are calling the president a "hypocrite" because he's sending "more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS"; labeling the plan "arrogant" because of problems with HealthCare.gov; and accusing him of trying to "change the subject" by "fighting a really bad flu bug."
It was former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) who equated the Ebola virus with a "really bad flu bug."
Rush Limbaugh added, "We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists.... I didn't know you could shoot a virus. Did you?"
For what it's worth, there's a credible argument to explain why a military component should be part of the response to an outbreak like this. Julia Belluz had an interesting piece
on this yesterday, noting the larger debate.
Obama has repeatedly referred to the threat of Ebola in security terms, arguing the virus could cripple the already fragile economies in the African region. He's made the case that this will have consequences for not only the security of countries there, but also for nations around the world -- even if the virus doesn't spread beyond Africa. For examples of this war-like mentality, look no further than the president's address, delivered Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta: "If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us. So 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. That has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease."
It's a fairly easy argument to make. There are critics of the "securitization" of these public-health crises, but in countries facing "potentially catastrophic" economic and destabilizing conditions, it's not hard to imagine unrest and possible violence.
The point is not to "shoot a virus"; it's to create conditions in which people who contract the virus can receive care.