There are many things that can be said about the international community on many subjects. In some areas, the work and cooperation achieved by multinational endeavors is nothing but laudable. Sometimes it is not. In that latter respect I shall have a discussion today. Again I choose the subject of the Ebola epidemic, and perhaps I shall reveal how old-fashioned I am, but perhaps that is not such a bad thing. To put it bluntly, the international response is laughable and it is pitiful and it is an insult to the people of West Africa. Further, it has revealed some interesting attributes of international power, rather like, as I have already alluded, to the system of childhood and adulthood (at least as the West tends to do it.) In short, the United States is not living up to its responsibilities as the present great power, and many other nations, all regional players eager to show up the United States, are conspicuously doing nothing. To present an analogy, the baby just got sick and threw up on the carpet, dad is dealing with it a few hours late, and the normally uppity and insubordinate teenage children are quite intentionally absent in their rooms.
Let’s start with the sick children. Simple enough, that’s the few thousands of people in Africa infected with one of the deadliest diseases known to modern medicine. The epidemic is growing fast, and the response is positively lacking, bordering on nonexistent until relatively recently. Thanks to the exponential math that governs the spread of infectious disease, and the understaffed, undermanned, underfunded, and uncoordinated nature of the current response to the crisis, we will see many thousands, if not millions of cases before this particular epidemic has run its course.
Now for the adults. Personal opinion time: I am a believer in noblesse oblige. If you can do good for someone else without truly straining yourself, do it. In other words, the United States, the states of the European Union, and rising powers like China should be actively investing resources in defeating this deadly threat to African growth and progress, not to mention thousands of innocent lives. But let’s take an even more cold and calculated look at the epidemic, for those of you that like the word “isolationism” and eschew a return to the days of George Washington, who would be utterly ashamed of you lot. (By the way, I thoroughly disagree with the idea the United States should revert to that, but that is a discussion for another time.)
Unchecked, Ebola will continue to spread rapidly. For a sense of scale, the basic reproduction number, or R0, of a disease is a measure of its ability to rapidly spread. Measles for instance is somewhere between 12 and 18, depending on the strain. Ebola is currently estimated at the vicinity of 2.9, that is approximately 2.9 people will be infected by every victim on average. That’s between 6 and 9 times less than measles. But that’s also the R0 of Spanish flu, which killed between 50 and 100 million people in the aftermath of World War 1, compared to the 9 million combatant deaths and 7 million civilian deaths. If left unchecked Ebola will continue its meteoric growth and eventually decimate the entirety of Central Africa, and likely spread in pockets across the globe. Are you, if you were the leaders of the world’s many nations, willing to bet the lives of your citizens that the epidemic will burn out before it reaches your borders? As a parent are you willing to let your child play in the yard with the kid across the street who has chickenpox? No, of course not.
Well, what about a travel ban then? No, that is a truly miserable idea. If you are not familiar with the basic premises of why this is an awful idea, go read the press releases of every major public health institution in the world, WHO, CDC, etc. They’re the experts for a reason. Yes, mistakes have been made by many parties in this scenario, but that is no reason to ignore the experts. If your plumber gaffes on repairing your sink, are you going to call your electrician? I hoped not. Same principle applies here. Listen to the epidemiologists. This is what they do, all day, every day. For a travel ban, the first problem is that it is impractical. Borders in central Africa are porous, almost to the point of non-existence in some areas. Banning travel to and from these nations will instill a sense of panic and of being shut out by the outside world. Many infected and uninfected will attempt to flee across borders and become effectively untraceable to international authorities. Outside aid workers will be unwelcome intruders, and the already difficult job of dispensing aid in all its forms, medical care, information, and aid for the uninfected, will become all but impossible. Suffice it to say you should skim my previous post, where I follow the idea of a travel ban to its logical, selfish conclusion of a nuclear holocaust.
Next problem, those unruly teenagers. The anonymity of the Internet I often lament, but for now it ought to slow down all the intelligence services I’m about to piss off in my next sentence. China, Russia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea, Japan, France, South Africa, Venezuela, and every other little nation that loves to brag about its own progress despite the malignant efforts of the Great Satan, to borrow a jihadist phrase, without going into why you owe the US an incalculable debt, grow a pair God dammit. You love to extol the virtues of your soft power, your counterbalance to the evil American hegemony, how you are going to replace the US as the one world leader, or at least challenge their global insidious influence. Well, if you are such great and powerful nations, perhaps the United States should relinquish its role in leading the world efforts to improve the human race. Perhaps they should be ceded to you. Or perhaps not. There is one nation right now significantly investing its own resources in controlling and containing the Ebola outbreak, and it is…..*drum roll*… the United States.
No, I don’t think we will relinquish our global leadership and retreat back within our own borders just yet. And here is why. Globalization, good or bad as it may be in each circumstance, is a frank fact in our modern world. A man can travel halfway around the world in a single day, and for a fraction of what such a journey would have cost even fifty years ago. The connections that run between each and every nation in this international community of ours are too numerous to count, and incalculable in their measure of power. A boon to one nation is at the end of the day a boon to most others, provided it was not at the expense of another. Thusly, damage to one nation is damage to the community of nations, and Ebola is damage, rapidly growing damage to three. This is one of the deadliest diseases known to mankind and it has struck three of the nations least capable of handling it efficiently themselves. This is where the international community needs to step up, all for one and one for all. Unfortunately at the moment, there is no all for one, only one for all, and that one is the United States of America. Until other nations begin their own efforts to end this disease, the burden will rest squarely on the shoulders of the United States to deal with.
Now this is not to say our own efforts are laudable, far from it. To repeat myself, it is too little too late for a truly staggering number of people who will yet be affected, directly or indirectly, by this disease. But our response is accelerating. The deployment of combat engineers to rapidly and efficiently erect cheap Ebola treatment centers was an excellent tactical decision approved by President Obama, but it is not enough. Frankly nothing will be enough until the efforts of the organizations involved in this fight are coordinated in one, singular strategic plan. To that end, I call upon the United States, as the closest to an organization taking a lead in this effort, to organize a meeting of all forces involved in the fight against Ebola to a summit to develop a codified, coordinated plan of action and operations to streamline operations in the field against the epidemic and improve the efficiency of all members of the plan so as to avoid stepping on each other’s toes and unnecessarily replicating effort.
A plan would provide a singular rallying point for the forces of human good in this world. But in order for that to happen, politics must, I repeat, absolutely must be set aside if the world is to quickly and effectively combat this threat. This is not only an international consideration, but a national one as well. I am often a fan of men who display effective coordinated leadership, for example New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. However, his latest actions severely disappoint me. Hysteria is the last thing any nation in this world needs, especially in the face of such a dangerous epidemic as Ebola. Actively countermanding the considered authorities in this matter for superfluous actions that only serve to distance the population from the danger. For those of you unaware of the Governor’s latest actions, he has mandated a three week quarantine for all persons returning from stricken West African nations, a move echoed in many states, and recently by the Department of Defense for the combat engineers deployed to aid the relief efforts there. This is stupidity and naked politics plain and simple. When an electrician tells you to not overcharge a wire, you don’t have to mount in a liquid-cooled mounting to run under the designed loading. It’s absurd. Neither of these actions will do any good, and will significantly harm the morale of all persons involved in combating this deadly epidemic. Which I needn’t remind many of you is already teetering on a knife edge, watching the people they take in and care for die in front of them every day. It is imperative that we encourage the brave souls engaged in aiding their fellow man, and provide them with all the resources they could possibly need, not leave them hanging on the end of a rope and isolate and demonize them upon their return to their homes from their terrible crusade.
Leadership is one more thing. Leadership is the ability to look forward into the future. Leadership is the ability to analyze a situation and formulate a cohesive plan to resolve issues. It’s a rather adult thing to. To look at a sick child and consider that perhaps you should provide him with soup and drink while he is ill since he cannot help himself. Ladies and gentlemen, for the most part, this section of Africa is still medieval in its agriculture. Its farming is the sort of thing written about in the Bible, where the village would gather together in planting and harvest season to sow and reap the fields. This has not happened this year. Fears of Ebola have prevented even the smallest of social gatherings from occurring and has thus decimated the crops for this season in much of the stricken countries. We are facing a famine with the potential to take more lives than Ebola itself, and leave the survivors even less well-equipped to survive the disease when it reaches them. This is an imminent threat that must be solved now.
We have the resources to resolve this problem and do so without the serious endangerment of American or other international military or aid personnel. The United States Navy is one of the most powerful in the world and extremely practiced in a particular art form, amphibious assaults. We (the US) possess large warships and supply ships whose sole purpose in life is the rapid deployment of personnel, equipment and supplies ashore in a hostile environment. Towns and cities ravaged by Ebola are just such an environment. Perhaps there won’t be defensive weapons fired at landing elements, but no forward support or basing, no preexisting infrastructure to support conventional aid distribution will still be critical issues. Military amphibious assault doctrine assumes just such cases for offensive landings. Repurpose that equipment, use the helicopters, V-22 Ospreys, and heavy landing hovercraft to deploy food aid, construction supplies, and medical consumables throughout the afflicted zones. Use the USS Iwo Jima, the USS Wasp, HMS Ocean and other such ships as the forward basing for helicopters and hovercraft to deploy throughout the region with aid. Use the USS New Orleans, USS New York and other amphibious warfare transports and mobile replenishment ships to allow the amphibious assault carriers to stay on station and continue delivering aid to the desperate men and women in need.
Frankly, the international response to the Ebola epidemic disgusts me. That the international community is too lazy, too self-obsessed and too arrogant to aid other, less fortunate members of the world we live in, while they battle a crisis that is completely out of their league. I see a lot of teenagers and no adults. Where are the adults in the room right now? Why are we not thinking, planning, acting? What happened to the world that came together for the earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia, in Japan? That rebuilt Europe after World War II? What happened to doing the right thing? Perhaps I am old-fashioned in my expectations, but perhaps I am also actually thinking. Whether we like or not, we are in a global world now. So whether or not an argument can be made to help western Africa from a moral stance, an argument can be made even from the coldest, most ruthless strategic calculations. To all you nations that claim to supersede the United States, here is your chance to shine. To the reigning powers of the world, the United States, the EU, etc., just because the job is dirty does not mean it does not need doing. Set aside politics and do what is right and what has to be done, for the greater good of humanity and the greater good of yourselves. I am disappointed. But the hour is not yet too late. We can always reverse our course. The question is, will it be too late?
As always free free to comment below. – GP