Ebola, ISIS, and the Great Moment of Doubt

ABC News and the Washington Post took the public’s temperature on Ebola (if you’ll forgive the expression) and the polling results were dismal.  If anything, ABC’s report on the poll undersells the astonishing loss of public confidence:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are concerned about a widespread epidemic of the Ebola virus in the United States, and about as many in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say the federal government is not doing enough to prevent it.

Indeed, more than four in 10 – 43 percent – are worried that they or an immediate family member might catch the disease. That’s similar to the level of concern about other viral outbreaks in some previous ABC/Post polls – but more consequential, given Ebola’s high mortality rate.

Despite these concerns, more than six in 10 are at least somewhat confident in the ability of both the federal government, and their local hospitals and health agencies, to respond effectively to an outbreak. Future views remain to be seen; most interviews in this poll were done before the news Sunday morning that a nurse who treated an Ebola patient in Dallas had herself become infected. (Results of interviews conducted Sunday were essentially the same as on previous nights.)

In terms of preventive actions, the poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds near-unanimous support (91 percent) for stricter screening of incoming passengers from Ebola-affected countries in Africa. Two-thirds support restricting entry of such individuals into the United States.

“More than six in 10” are “at least somewhat confident” in the ability of the government and local health care agencies to respond to an Ebola outbreak?  That’s not a contradiction of the poll’s other findings of public anxiety, it’s a confirmation.  “If there’s an outbreak, I figure there’s a 60 percent chance Uncle Sam can handle it” is not a heartwarming show of support from Ma and Pa America.

Also, note the overwhelming public support for measures the Administration is arrogantly insisting, for purely ideological reasons, it will not implement.  When people hear a government official say they won’t ban travel from the hot zone because it would be offensive to Africans or damage their economies, or because an action that isn’t guaranteed to be 100 percent effective against the spread of a deadly disease isn’t worth taking, it’s not persuasive or reassuring, it’s terrifying.

Likewise the absurd suggestion that a travel ban would somehow restrict the ability of aid workers to fight Ebola in Africa.  That’s effectively an admission that the mighty federal government is too damn stupid to know the difference between an aid worker taking all due precautions before returning home, and a desperate asymptomatic Liberian hopping on a plane and heading for the United States in hopes of reaching an American hospital before he becomes visibly ill.

The political class and their associates in the media are busy denouncing the public for unreasoning Ebola panic, but what I’m seeing is better described as an entirely reasonable fear of government failure.  Ebola arrived at a Great Moment of Doubt in the United States – an entirely rational conclusion, by much of the populace, that their gigantic government simply cannot be trusted to do anything except look out for its own interests and service the ideology of its Ruling Class.  Anything else is a crapshoot.

It’s not easy to get the Ruling Class to even focus on the problem at hand, as can be seen from all the peripheral issues that seem more important to officials than protecting Americans from the spread of Ebola.  This is a health problem entirely foreign to the United States.  It didn’t exist here at all until Patient One arrived, and transmitted the disease to Patient Two, one of the nurses who cared for him.  The public expects a very high degree of protection from the spread of an entirely new contagion.  If – fingers crossed! – the current outbreak is limited to these two individuals, and nurse Nina Pham makes the full recovery everyone is praying for, most people would consider containment acceptable… but it still matters that so many people were put at risk during Ebola’s very first swing through America.  It matters a great deal that, with all the time in the world to prepare – you don’t usually have months to brace yourself for the arrival of a disease – the system still dissolved into a pathetic clown show of horrifying mistakes, finger-pointing, and lies.

Sadly, it does not seem realistic to think Ebola will be confined to these two people; in numerous ways, both explicit and implied, the System is signaling that we can expect more.  This week’s blithering idiocy about “Republican budget cuts” crippling the CDC isn’t just Democrat election panic or bureaucratic butt-covering; it’s political battlespace preparation for the situation growing worse.

People worried about Ebola aren’t irrationally wringing their hands about a “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”-style extinction-level event.  They’re understandably worried that American Ebola is going to be worse than it needed to be.  If the ultimate tally of Ebola patients hit, say, ten thousand, it would be a very small fraction of the U.S. population, nothing compared to what western Africa is going through, and small potatoes by the clinical standards of epidemiology… but it would be far worse than the American people rightly believe it should have been.  We demand a highly level of performance from the same multi-trillion dollar super-State that is supposedly better qualified to run every business in America than the people who own them – the State that pointed asserted new powers to regulate medicine and health insurance over the past few years.

Instead, we’re getting political spats between the head of the CDC and the nurses’ union, as the latter accuse the former of scapegoating Pham for getting herself infected.  We’re getting hogwash about funding shortages from agencies that were spending money on frivolities the day before yesterday, as part of a department that blew $2 billion on a website, to service a “health care reform” that’s adding over $100 billion to the deficit in service of a program the American people hate.  This is all happening in the context of an Administration where hardly anyone is ever held responsible for anything.  Does anyone see a reason to expect better performance when Ebola gets worse?

The other rapidly-spreading contagion this Administration can’t handle is ISIS.  There are many similarities to the fumbling response to Ebola.  The threat was seen coming from far away, but President Obama ignored it and allowed the outbreak to occur.  When he was finally compelled to pay attention to the problem by media coverage and his cratering poll numbers, his response was vague and ill-informed – it’s astonishing how badly Obama has gotten everything wrong, from the nature of the “moderate” Syrian rebels, to the behavior of Turkey as ISIS gears up for a Kurdish massacre on their border.  As for the lack of Administration accountability and transparency, you can’t do better than the spectacle of Susan Rice, the Liar of Benghazi, swanning before the cameras to declare that the war is going well… at the exact same moment ISIS encircles Baghdad and begins the final push to topple Kobani.  The only thing missing was Rice blaming the advances of the Islamic State on a YouTube video.

When it comes to battling the ISIS contagion, the Great Moment of Doubt is even more painful, because it applies to foreign allies and enemies, most importantly including the people Obama expects to serve as his ground forces against the caliphate.  War always boils down to a contest of will.  That applies to every aspect of the endeavor, from rallying forces to securing the surrender of a broken enemy.  At the moment, every faction in the Nameless Non-War is comparing a determined, savage ISIS to an Obama Administration so foolish and distracted that it still openly declared global warming to be its primary enemy, even as it’s losing actual battle on every front in Iraq and Syria.  I’m not kidding – the Pentagon just released a report portraying “climate change” as the greatest threat it needs to deal with.  That’s the kind of nitwittery that makes ISIS fighters grin from ear to ear, while America’s prospective allies rub their throats and think about the ear-to-ear grin ISIS will give them, while the Americans are yelling at each other about which expensive biofuel they should be pouring into their war machines.

Fox News has a report today about how ISIS spreads its influence through fear, a force multiplier that allows it to control far more territory than its relatively modest army should be able to handle:

An army estimated at 25,000 – roughly the size of one U.S. division – is at war with Syria, has a large city near the Turkish border under siege and is believed to have set its sights on Baghdad. It also controls cities, roads and territory nearly the size of Great Britain, some 81,000 square miles, according to The National Counterterrorism Center.

Experts say the key to Islamic State’s ability to project such power with relatively small numbers is the sheer brutality it uses to strike fear in the hearts of enemies. The beheadings of U.S. and British journalists and aid workers have shocked the west, but in northern Iraq and Syria, entire villages have come to fear the same fate, meted out without warnings or slickly produced videos.

“Their ferocity is the thing,” Shaul Gabbay, a professor at the University of Denver and analyst on Muslim world conditions, said to “The more fierce they are, the more successful they become because it strikes fear among not only the region, but the world.”

[…] It’s not just Islamic State’s embrace of savagery that makes it so effective. The fact that the terrorist army publicizes its brutality ensures that no one misses it. In June, an entire division of the U.S.-trained Iraqi army dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and fled from the bloodthirsty marauders. They had heard of the beheadings that have become a trademark of Islamic State.

“Not only do they commit these horrific acts, they document it,” said Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis for geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm Stratfor.

Stewart said Islamic State posts its horrors to social media, tweeting pictures of fighters hoisting severed heads and releasing video showing kneeling prisoners gunned down without mercy to strike fear in enemies and to recruit jihadists from among Iraq’s alienated Sunni Muslim population.

Nothing new about that – as mentioned above, war is always a contest of will, a question of morale.  In this case, while ISIS demonstrates it has the will and savagery to do whatever it takes to win, and make its enemies pay a horrible price for opposing it, Obama has weakened America so much that even a NATO ally, Turkey, twiddles its thumbs during the rape of a city, and says “not so fast!” to yesterday’s reports that it would allow the use of its bases for operations against ISIS.  Good news: Turkish warplanes went into action and dropped some bombs along the Iraqi border yesterday.  Bad news: they were bombing the Kurds.

Both Ebola and ISIS will prey upon America’s Great Moment of Doubt, pouring into the vacuum of leadership in different ways.  For Ebola, its spread will be made easier by the public’s loss of confidence in the authorities – you quite literally cannot tell whether to believe anything the Administration says on the subject.  Officials have numerous reasons to be less than truthful, ranging from the near-hysteria over preventing public hysteria at any cost, to bureaucratic butt-covering.  Even when they want to tell the truth, it’s clear their knowledge of the disease is much less comprehensive than what they confidently asserted a month ago… or, to put things in bureaucrat-speak, their “protocols need to be revised.”

As for ISIS, it’s a virus that feeds eagerly upon doubt, and the only thing currently getting “degraded and ultimately destroyed” in Iraq or Syria is confidence in American leadership.  The official protocols to handle that outbreak were scribbled on the back of a golf scorecard with a pencil stub, right around the time 50,000 Yazidis were in danger of extermination, and they haven’t worked at all.