Recent news of the first transmission of the Ebola virus in the U.S. — a nurse in Texas infected by the disease while treating the now-deceased Thomas Eric Duncan, with the CDC attributing her infection to a breakdown in protocol — is spreading fear in a way that the reality of the 4,000 dead in West Africa did not.
With no cure, the highly contagious Ebola has an 80 percent kill rate. Every victim appears to infect another two people. And according to some, the disease could become a pandemic to rival the influenza outbreak of 1919 or the Black Plague. If so, it is sobering that officials, always at the ready to urge calm and profess to have things under control, have appeared surprised at each new twist in the Ebola story.
What the spread of hemorrhagic fever is demonstrating is that while an interconnected world of free trade, electronic networks and porous borders offers tremendous promise, it also presents fearful dangers. We’ve been seeing a lot of those dangers lately, and Ebola is just one of them. Whether it’s the continued growth of the so-called Islamic State, aided by the unimpeded flow of Western recruits, or the mass migration of tens of thousands of undocumented children across a wide-open border in the American Southwest, recent events have underscored the seeming inability of the United States to stay ahead of developments here at home, let alone half a world away.
The surge of the Islamic State, which has enslaved and beheaded its way through the Middle East, seems to have surprised the West. Some of the foreign fighters who have filtered through porous borders into the war zone are bound to return to their home countries, including the United States. Should they still possess their nihilist zeal, they will pose a worrying terror threat. Is America’s security apparatus ready for that?
Earlier this summer, a lack of planning seemed to surround the influx of children escaping deadly gang violence in Central America. Although the gang violence was not a sudden phenomenon, our government was apparently caught off guard, as 10,000 children crossed the border per month and turned themselves in to authorities. Some of the blame can be placed on Congress, which has spurned immigration reform since the George W. Bush presidency. But what this summer’s crisis showed is a U.S. leadership that appears unprepared.
Whether responding to threats of public health or national security, those in power should be anticipating threats that loom on the horizon. And because perception is reality, we need leadership that not only is thinking three moves ahead, but also is believed to be doing so by the American public and the world.