America must lead in fight against ISIS, Ebola

Our country is currently confronted with two widely disparate perils — ISIS and the Ebola virus.

But they have some strikingly common characteristics. Neither directly affects America significantly at this time. The epicenter of the problem in each case is remote from our shores. Both have the potential of critically affecting our well-being.

Although the threat from these perils is a matter of concern for all nations, the implementation of a program to counter them has apparently devolved on the United States of America. While the United Nations would be a logical focal point for the necessary effort, its impotence is obvious to all.

Under our federal Constitution, the duty of protection of the safety of our citizens is vested in the president. It is instructive to examine the action taken to date and to examine what will be required to end these perils.

In the case of ISIS, the president has declared that America will constitute a coalition of nations in order to bring about the “ultimate destruction” of ISIS. At this time, the coalition seems rather ephemeral as the engagement of any nation other than Iraq and the United States has been nominal. Although the president has initiated the use of American air power to conduct a limited number of strikes against ISIS positions, he has failed to seek a declaration of war from our Congress. It seems anomalous that our president sought approval from Congress as to the “red line” he had drawn as to Syria, but has not regarding the military action he has undertaken against ISIS.

As noted, President Obama has promised the “ultimate destruction” of ISIS, but there does not seem to be any timetable and the action to date has been remarkably tentative and restrained. Commentators have observed that the president prefers to consider himself the president to end wars and has great difficulty in bringing himself to the role of a president to initiate war. It is abundantly clear to all military personnel that air power will be insufficient to achieve any meaningful “destruction” of ISIS, but the president has vowed that American ground troops will not be deployed. So Americans are left contemplating a vague presidential declaration of intent and a military strategy that is insufficient and unable to achieve the result identified.

Similarly in the case of the Ebola virus, the threat is clearly potentially grave and the efforts to date to deal with it appear tentative and inadequate.

It is expected that if unchecked, the Ebola virus could infect up to 1 million people in the three west African nations where it now resides. With a death rate of up to 70 percent of those infected,  the position is devastating and pernicious. While other nations of the world pontificate about how horrible the situation is, none have acted meaningfully to mitigate it. Once again, the United Nations has been largely useless. President Obama has announced a plan to send 4,000 American military personnel into the area to provide their services, and has appointed an Ebola czar, but no considered overall program has been developed.

In both cases, the strategy developed has been critically insufficient, inadequately considered and without the means to accomplish a successful result. Both projects are well worth the investment of time, effort and finances that may be required.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well and it is difficult to see that in either case, a comprehensive and timely program has been created.

If America is to lead to destroy ISIS and to contain the Ebola threat, the focus of attention will devolve upon our president. Leadership has been an elusive quality in his administration. It is a process that entails achieving a consensus as to the objectives, formulation of the necessary plan and then working with the appropriate parties for its execution. In my view, visualization of a successful conclusion will be easier in the case of Ebola where there is without doubt a strong presidential conviction as to the need which will be more likely to overcome leadership problems than it will be as to ISIS where the president will have to transform some major philosophical attitudes.

Our national well-being will depend on our president being able to rise to the challenges and create the necessary programs and strategy to address and resolve these perils.

Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.

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