Washington: After rallying dozens of nations to join the fight against Islamic State militants, President Barack Obama is back in the coalition-building business — this time to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Obama is working the phones with world leaders, appealing to them via videoconference and publicly jawboning with one clear message: Stopping the deadly virus at its source is the single best way to prevent the outbreak from spreading. And that requires an infusion of additional money and resources to the hard-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The U.S. already has two confirmed cases of Ebola in nurses who cared for a Liberian man who died of the disease. Additional cases are likely, officials say.
Obama is sending up to 4,000 troops to West Africa to supply medical, logistical and training support to the region's overwhelmed health care systems. The U.S. military also is building more than a dozen treatment centers in Liberia with hundreds of beds.
The president hoped the commitment of U.S. forces would spur other countries to follow its example. But while some countries have and continue to contribute to the effort, Obama says too many others have not, and he has been venting his frustrations with those that he says are holding back even though they have the resources to help.
“More and more of them are stepping up,” he said late last week after putting out calls to leaders in Canada and Sweden. “Although it's, I think, taken a little longer than it should, and that's something that all of us should recognize.”
A few days earlier, he closed a meeting with visiting defense chiefs on the Islamic State by addressing the need for unity in tackling Ebola.
“There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up,” he said. “Those that have stepped up, all of us are going to have to do more, because unless we contain this at the source, this is going to continue to pose a threat to individual countries at a time when there's no place that's more than a couple of air flights away. And the transmission of this disease obviously directly threats all our populations.”
Obama isn't the only one spreading the word. The European Union on Monday stepped up efforts to raise more than $1 billion to fight Ebola in West Africa.
The president, as he works to calm the fears of nervous Americans at home, says he's been reaching out “directly to heads of state and government, who, I believe, have the capacities to do more” to fight Ebola abroad.
Japan seems to be one of the countries on Obama's list. In a conversation last week, the president thanked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for past contributions to the Ebola response effort and “encouraged him to consider additional commitments,” the White House said.
An administration official declined to name other countries on the list, but said specific “asks” for each of them exist, based on their available resources, whether it be requests to build additional treatment centers, provide health care workers or send supplies and-or money. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to discuss diplomatic issues by name.
The administration has come calling globally before: It has been asking nations to help provide aid for Syrian refugees and to take part in a coalition to defeat the Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria.
Janine Davidson, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said one of the strengths of American leadership is getting countries to contribute at whatever level they can and that Obama's approach is important because stopping Ebola from spreading must be a global and not a regional effort.
“There is a time-honored tradition to let America do it unilaterally, but I think that our allies especially understand, they should understand anyway, that this is a threat that can come back to them and they should be part of the solution,” Davidson said.
Obama has discussed the issue by videoconference with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, and they agreed to work together on Ebola to “enlist greater support from more countries” and coordinate their ground efforts, the White House said. Obama also reviewed the matter with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said late last week that a trust fund he launched to fight Ebola has just $100,000. The president also had a one-on-one conversation with French President Francois Hollande.