The Iraq War, Armored Humvees, and the Coronavirus Testing Debate

By: - April 9, 2020

A major criticism of President Trump has been that he has not produced enough tests. The failure to test means an inability to quickly identify and quarantine those who might have the virus. But the nonstop criticism of President Trump for this problem seems myopic and misguided. It reminds me of the debate over armor on Humvees in the Iraq War.

As the insurgency started to gain steam the insurgents became good at places roadside bombs (improvised explosive devices, or IEDS) that tore through support vehicles. The casualties mounted, a common talking point was why doesn’t America have more armor on these vehicles, and the Pentagon quickly scrambled, spending billions upon billions in the process, to quickly up armor the vehicles. But armor didn’t end the insurgency. It simply became a political football in domestic politics that drowned out serious discussion of policy.

What ended the insurgency was better use of local allies that supplied the US with critical intelligence which in turn led to the capture of key terrorist leaders and prevented the placement of bombs. The up armored Humvees became more of an albatross for the military that couldn’t redeploy them in locations with narrow roads that crumbled at the weight of much heavier support vehicles. They were eventually auctioned off at bargain prices to local police forces or sat in depots in Iraq until they were captured and used by ISIS terrorists.

I can’t help but feel the debate over testing is the current political football. It’s a convenient club for political opponents of Trump and unfortunately, the narrow focus on tests tends to drown out more important discussions. Just like armor on Humvees, it squelched a political talking point but didn’t end the insurgency.

Tests can help quickly identify those that need to quarantine. But tests don’t stop the disease. Coronavirus is best fought with simple measures like social distancing, washing your hands, and not touching your face. Long term the virus is best combatted with a vaccine. There are serious questions to be had about the efficacy of shutting down major portions of the economy and throwing America into a great depression to stop the virus. We might question the proper role government has in leading the country through this crisis and the comparatively better responses of the unleashed private sector that will quickly supply all the PPE, ventilators, and tests that we need. We can’t let partisan political objectives obscure the serious mistakes of the CDC that prevented early testing and didn’t stockpile necessary equipment after the China travel ban and before the middle of March. And we shouldn’t let our obsession with the number of tests seem like we are using the suffering of people, like the soldiers in Iraq in the early 2000s, for political gain.

In the years moving forward I predict that we will end up overpreparing for the next disaster which will leave us unprepared for whatever it will be. We will have warehouses around the country filled with masks and ventilators, but not enough firefighting aircraft or whatever we need for the next crisis. Those preparations could then literally burn because we let political bickering about ancillary issues about armor or the number of tests distract us from solutions for core issues like stopping the insurgency and virus.