Yes, it’s a little hypocritical for Barack Obama to scold the rest of the world on putting resources into stopping the spread of Ebola in western Africa while the CDC fumbles the response here at home. Motes, beams, eyeballs, some assembly required — all true. Also true is that Obama’s correct in this instance, and that it shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of American troops to protect the rest of the world from the spread of Ebola:
Even as the wobbly U.S. response to Ebola dominated the headlines this week, President Barack Obama ramped up a frustration-powered campaign to get reluctant major allies to shoulder more of the burden of quelling the deadly outbreak at its source in West Africa.
Speaking to reporters after an emergency meeting with top aides on Wednesday, the president put his personal annoyance on full display as he portrayed the international response to the crisis as hesitant and shortsighted and warned that it endangered American national security.
“This is not simply charity,” he intoned. “Probably the single most important thing that we can do to prevent a more serious Ebola outbreak in this country is making sure that we get what is a raging epidemic right now in West Africa under control.”
Obama declared that he had convened a videoconference earlier in the day with leaders of core U.S. allies Britain, France, Germany and Italy “to make sure that we are coordinating our efforts and that we are putting in a lot more resources than, so far at least, the international community has put into this process.”
In its own way, the CDC’s fumbles over the last few weeks proves the wisdom of Obama’s warning here. Just like terrorism, it is better to fight Ebola on its own ground rather than ours, because once it gets here, it’s almost impossible to contain effectively — or at least at the moment. That is one reason that support for a travel ban from Ebola-impacted countries has become a nearly consensus position outside of the White House. People understand that the first and best defense is to keep the bug from getting to the US at all.
The decision to send resources to contain and fight the disease at their origins makes sense, even if it is dangerous. It’s not as dangerous as putting boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria, at least at the moment, although the instability that an Ebola epidemic might produce could make it conceivably worse at some point. Stopping it at its source represents the best possible defense; all other options introduce multiple risk factors, not the least of which is incompetence, as we are learning the hard way.
What happens if it’s not contained at its source? The Wall Street Journal underscores Obama’s point today by reporting on a new model of its likely spread outside of western Africa:
One set of predictions of where the disease is likely to travel is based on flight data to and from West Africa and modeling of the behavior of the virus.
A team of scientists including academics from Northeastern University and the University of Florida, analyzed air traffic numbers to and from the three worst-affected countries along with the pattern of transmission of the disease.
They plotted its likely next course — if containment measures don’t curtail the outbreak in Africa — to the United Kingdom, France and Belgium.
Their predictions say that India is less at risk of importing the infection than those countries because it has fewer direct flights into and out of West Africa, but they add that, as of Oct. 14, the country is 21st in a list of 30 nations most likely to see an Ebola case, even if air traffic is reduced by 80%.
That’s two places below Spain but more likely than countries including Uganda, Mauritania and Cameroon of importing the virus.
The entire world has a stake in containment, and some more than the US. They should be stepping up with their own resources, and perhaps the American example of domestic management should provide an even more stark warning to them than Obama’s scolding.