On Tuesday, President Obama announced a troop surge…in West Africa. Not to combat terrorism, of course – to combat Ebola virus. The plan would involve sending 400,000 Ebola home health and treatment kits, thousands more test kits, and logistical equipment to construct 17 treatment centers in Liberia, according to The New York Times. And the plan would involve 3,000 American troops.
It’s not that the Ebola virus outbreak isn’t a serious issue. Obviously, it is – Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg said that five million people could die before containment of Ebola is achieved. But thus far, Ebola is far less of a health problem in Africa than malaria (well over 500,000 deaths each and every year on the continent) or AIDS (well over one million deaths in Africa in 2012). It is also worthwhile noting that we were warned that bird flu could kill “150 million” people in 2005, according to a UN health official; another official stated that the total dead could mount to between 2 million and 7.4 million. The grand total number of deaths from H5N1 virus from 2003-2014, according to the World Health Organization: 386 deaths.
Ebola is more dangerous than H5N1 because it is more deadly. But like H5N1, it is not airborne in transmission, which limits its transmissibility in areas where people do not frequently come into contact with the blood and stool of others.
And yet we are sending troops to Africa yesterday, propelled by a frighteningly urgent statement from the president.
President Obama’s refusal to place troops on the ground in Iraq has led to the rise of ISIS in the region; his placement of troops on the ground in West Africa may not do much against a foe that goes much deeper than a simple outbreak, extending to incredible governmental incompetence, cultural ignorance, and structural instability. Undoubtedly, US troops can be used to build hospitals and act as a large-scale Peace Corps. But they are far better qualified to kill terrorists in the Middle East – and as both General Martin Dempsey and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, American boots on the ground will likely be necessary to defeat those terrorists.
Even if we endorse the idea of thousands of American troops administering treatment of Ebola in Africa, the irony of sending thousands of troops to Africa to fight a situation markedly less concrete than ISIS should be lost on no one. President Obama’s comments on the Ebola outbreak closely mirror his statements on ISIS – and yet Obama is sending troops to Africa, not to fight ISIS.
Yesterday, Obama explained, “If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people affected, with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us.” The same could have been said about ISIS – and, indeed, ISIS has already impacted hundreds of thousands in both Syria and Iraq, with significant economic, political, and security implications. Yet troops head to West Africa, and Obama vows never to send troops to Iraq.
Yesterday, Obama averred, “[Ebola is] a potential threat to global security if these countries break down.” Of course, George W. Bush warned of exactly that over and over before leaving office; nonetheless, Obama withdrew all forces from Iraq, and the country predictably broke down. The same holds true in Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and a variety of other countries. But we’re supposed to believe that the breakdown of Liberia and Sierra Leone threatens global security?
Yesterday, Obama stated regarding Ebola victims, “These men and women and children are just sitting, waiting to die, right now.” He should talk to the Yazidis.
Yesterday, Obama said, “Right now, the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is very low, but that risk would only increase if there were not a robust response on the part of the United States.” The same is obviously true of ISIS. Yet the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the lack of risk to the American homeland makes ISIS a regional more than international threat.
So why Obama’s sudden desire to put troops in harm’s way in Africa? In order to look decisive, given the fact that his indecision in Iraq has blown back on him, Obama now paints himself as a bold leader going where others will not. “We have to act fast,” he warned yesterday at the Centers for Disease Control. “We can’t dawdle on this one.” But Obama has already waited six months to do anything about Ebola. This may be the right decision, but there is no question it is also a political one.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.