Turns Out I Was Wrong and the Guardian Was Right

Well, it seems US officials are now not only admitting but defending the fake vaccination program:

“People need to put this into some perspective,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “The vaccination campaign was part of the hunt for the world’s top terrorist, and nothing else.  If the United States hadn’t shown this kind of creativity, people would be scratching their heads asking why it hadn’t used all tools at its disposal to find bin Laden.”

This is still not sourced to someone with a name, but this sounds credible. It still baffles me that anyone would admit this or speak to the press about it, and it still makes no sense to me on the face of it. But this is now looking as if it’s more likely to be true than not.

It was an immensely stupid thing to do. Yes, it does put efforts to eradicate polio at risk. Yes, it means Barry Blumberg’s life work--developing a vaccine for Hepatitis B–has been undermined. James Fallows is right:

Around the world this will touch the very deepest sources of mistrust, fear, and hatred of the big, technological United States. We will (in this narrative) lie to people about basic questions of family health; we will prey on parents’ concern for their children to lure them into situations where we can take samples of their tissues and fluids; we will say one thing and do another — under white medical-technician jackets and a humanitarian guise. We will suggest that no aspect of our international presence is immune to penetration by spies.

Of all dumb ways to fight a war, taking one of the West’s greatest and most compelling arguments for itself–its proven ability to combat epidemic disease–and associating it with espionage ranks right up there. And of all dumb ways to combat epidemic disease, this ranks right up there, too. 

If you’re tempted to justify this on the grounds that anything goes when it comes to catching bin Laden, remember your first instinct when you read that story: What a crazy anti-American smear. Your first instinct about it was the right one, even if, unfortunately, the story proved true. Intellectual consistency demands that.  And in this case, we seem to have smeared ourselves. 

If you’re tempted to think, “Well, if people are so dumb that they reject life-saving vaccines because of this, it’s not our problem,” remember that epidemic diseases rise up fast, spread fast, and cross borders. If ever we need to fight a disease that poses a bigger threat than bin Laden–perfectly conceivable–do you want to be dealing with the fallout from this?