- - Thursday, October 30, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The leaders of our uniformed military — the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have committed an act of common sense that exposes President Obama’s Ebola policy for its comprehensive lack of that commodity. According to a recent report on Fox News, they have called for all troops returning from the Ebola “hot zone” to be quarantined for 21 days.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that returning troops would be quarantined for the length of Ebola’s incubation period and asked the Joint Chiefs to propose a way to do it.

That not only conflicts with Mr. Obama’s refusal to impose any limitation on coming to this country for people who have possibly been exposed to Ebola, but it also conflicts directly with the pressure the president has put on the governors of New York and New Jersey for doing for Ebola-exposed health workers exactly what the Joint Chiefs proposed and Mr. Hagel has now ordered.

By sending troops to the Ebola zone in West Africa, Mr. Obama wrongly decided to put them in harm’s way against an enemy they can’t fight with bullets, rockets and bombs. Ebola is a disease that our best medical experts only begin to understand.

That many of the troops will be exposed to Ebola is certain, and some — despite the training they receive and the protective gear they may wear — are likely to be infected. On their return, the Pentagon faces a clear duty: to protect the rest of our forces from the disease, as well as the families and friends of the troops. The only way to do that is by quarantining those who are exposed and to provide the best treatment medical science can provide if any suffer the disease.

However, that contrasts in obvious and severe ways with the president’s actions. So far, Mr. Obama’s response to the Ebola crisis has been purely political, not substantive. He has refused to stop the flow of people coming in from the Ebola “hot zone” nations, saying that such a travel ban will somehow lessen the flow of aid to those countries. It would do no such thing, but it would be inconvenient for Mr. Obama, owing to his open-borders policy and plans to create some sort of immigration amnesty by executive fiat after the Nov. 4 election.

Events moved quickly, and served mainly to prove how wrong Mr. Obama’s political decisions have been. Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan traveled freely to the United States and apparently lied to the nurses at the Dallas hospital where he went for treatment, telling them he hadn’t been exposed to the disease. Then came the nurses’ infections. One was rushed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland and successfully treated. Another who was suffering a fever called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for advice on whether she could travel and was told she could. She later came down with the disease as well, leaving the government to try to trace her steps to see who else was exposed. (A medical doctor source at NIH told me last week that the people answering those phone calls were not doctors or nurses, just lay people entirely unqualified to give such advice.)

When the CDC protocols for Ebola were first not followed and then shown to be inadequate, public confidence was lost in Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC chief. Mr. Obama then appointed Ron Klain as his “Ebola czar,” though Mr. Klain’s only qualification for the position is his longtime experience as a Democratic political operative.

The Joint Chiefs’ plan was only common sense. It forced Mr. Hagel into a corner. He could either go against the president’s political policy or follow the advice of the Joint Chiefs. He made the right decision but now, the Pentagon policy stands in stark opposition to that of the president, who is their boss. The contrast between the two policies forces Mr. Obama into a narrower corner. He can either ignore the Pentagon’s action or he can change his policy and impose limits on travel from the Ebola “hot zone” countries, which he cannot do without admitting his open-borders policy endangers the public.

Mr. Obama could have gone with the quasi-quarantine policies announced by Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie. Their plans didn’t go nearly far enough to be effective, but they were a start. Mr. Obama could have compromised and endorsed a version of those plans — and tried to explain away the contrast with his open-borders policy — but instead he chose to oppose them and pressure the governors to cancel their plans.

The Pentagon’s plan is another matter. The duty the Joint Chiefs and Mr. Hagel have to protect the troops, as well as their families and communities, is entirely clear. The Joint Chiefs, having won the defense secretary over to their side by standing fast, must surrender that duty without resigning from their posts. This president is too weak politically to withstand such a move, but he may try.

Mr. Obama’s duty to protect the American public from the dangers of Ebola is just as clear and compelling as the Joint Chiefs’ duty to protect the troops. His refusal to perform that duty is yet another major failure that should be in voters’ minds next Tuesday.

Jed Babbin is a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and co-author of “The Sunni Vanguard” (London Center for Public Policy, 2014).

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