Part of controlling the damage from disasters, terrorists attacks, and other national public incidents is controlling public reaction. So it is with the current swine flu “public health emergency.” So far, there have been twenty confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States.
In terms of managing reaction, there’s good and bad in the following quote from this morning’s Washington Post: “ ‘Clearly we all have individual responsibility for dealing with this situation,’ said deputy national security adviser John O. Brennan.”
The good: Brennan is correct on the merits. Controlling flu is mostly a matter of good hygiene.
The bad: A deputy national security adviser should not give quotes about flu outbreaks to a national newspaper. His title circumscribes his responsibilities, and he conveys wrongly by speaking about the matter that a (still largely potential) swine flu outbreak is a national security event. It is not under any reasonable definition of the phrase “national security.”
Just like the U.S. president shouldn’t be perceived as occupying himself with pirates off the Somali coast - the administration handled that situation well - a national security adviser should not weigh in on an inchoate outbreak of flu.
The result from suggesting that the flu affects national security could be more damage than the outbreak itself: canceled travel, reduced trade and commerce, pulling kids from school, staying home from work. An infantilized country is a weaker country, not a safer one.