December 04, 2007

Cholera: A Microscopic Insurgent?

War and sickness are inextricably intertwined. Large groups of men living at close quarters on scant sleep are perfect carriers. Indeed, microbes have had a larger effect on the outcome of wars than many care to admit, from smallpox outbreaks in the French and Indian War to the pandemic influenza in World War I. As Clausewitz (who died from cholera in 1831) might have said, war is the continuation of disease by other means.

Check out this fantastic op-ed in the New York Times, readers. Not only is Cholera a threat, but it might also be an opportunity to do some of that hearts-and-minds-winning we like to talk about. Abu Muqawama isn't sure disease-prevention should be elevated over providing local security in our list of priorities, mind, but the author makes a persuasive case we should take disease more seriously in our planning and contingencies.

Cholera is a grave threat for the American project in Iraq, but also an opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of the population. The average Iraqi will feel truly secure only when the vicious disease-poverty-insurgent feedback loop is snapped. As we plan the post-surge phase of American operations, our leaders must bear in mind that healthy people make healthy decisions that serve as the bedrock for healthy societies.