Bush Considers Military Option Against Bird Flu

President Bush says he can envision using the military to enforce a quarantine against the Asian bird flu under some circumstances.

Bush proposes using military in bird flu pandemic (Reuters)

President George W. Bush suggested using the military to contain any epidemic of avian influenza on Tuesday, saying Congress needs to consider the possibility. He said the military, perhaps the National Guard, might be needed to enforce quarantines if the feared H5N1 bird flu virus changes enough to cause widespread human infection.

“If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country? And how do you, then, enforce a quarantine?” Bush asked at a news conference. “It’s one thing to shut down airplanes. It’s another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu. And who best to be able to effect a quarantine?” Bush added.

“One option is the use of a military that’s able to plan and move. So that’s why I put it on the table. I think it’s an important debate for Congress to have.”

Unless we’re planning to declare war against the bird flu, it’s not really Congress’ decision but the president’s.

One could envision a scenario where the military was the only viable enforcement mechanism. Still, the continued faith in the military as a first resort mechanism for dealing with domestic crises is problematic. It is a defining element in the political culture of the undeveloped world and one I would not care to see institutionalized here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ugh says:

    Settin the stage for the great Bush coup of 2008.

  2. While the article correctly quotes the president from his news conference this morning, his comments about the bird flu were not that provocative. The very next thing the president said was “I noticed the other day, evidently, some governors didn’t like it. So that’s why I put it on the table.” He also said that when he was governor, he didn’t want the president telling him how to command the Texas Guard.

    Last April President Bush signed an executive order authorizing the government to impose a quarantine to deal with any outbreak of the bird flu.

  3. Anderson says:

    Jesus, what next? Appointing a general to the Supreme Court?

  4. Sherri says:

    Hasn’t the military been used to enforce quarantines in the past, or is that all TV? If I were quarantined because of a deadly illness, I certainly wouldn’t fight it because I wouldn’t want other people to infect others. I’d hope others would feel the same.

    But if a quarantine were used as an excuse to enable GWB to remain in power under some type of FEMA law, I think the military would have a hard time containing the survivors once they recovered — unless there weren’t very many survivors — because it seems like most of our military are in the ME for the time being. Of course that could change in the next three years.

  5. McGehee says:

    But if a quarantine were used as an excuse to enable GWB to remain in power under some type of FEMA law, I think the military would have a hard time containing the survivors once they recovered…

    They’d be dealing with mutiny long before the survivors recovered. A few years back a survey found that most soldiers wouldn’t even obey a direct order to confiscate legal firearms from their private owners.

    A coup? The very idea is bat$#!t crazy.