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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Can US military win war against Ebola virus?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 16, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In West Africa Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It's spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It's spreading faster and exponentially. Our experts here at the CDC and across our government agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OH, HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm a bit surprised that the administration hasn't acted more quickly to address what is a serious threat not just to Africans but to others around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama at the CDC today saying the U.S. will send some 3,000 U.S. servicemen and women to West Africa to not provide patient care but to give training and logistical help in this fight against Ebola. Here's what the World Health Organization says about this right now -- cases in five West African countries, more than 2,461 deaths, four Americans treated, as we know, and predicting some 20,000 cases total and controlled they hope by mid-2015. We're back with the panel. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I applaud what the president is doing. This is America at its best. Our armed forces are essentially the biggest NGO on the planet for helping people, the way that we did in the tsunami, the way we do in Haiti. It is organized to go and to establish institutions and structures, and that's what it's going to do.

Now, the reason that we are doing this is, A, this could destroy West Africa. In other words, it could destroy all of the existing social structures rapidly, because it's now in urban areas, which has never happened with Ebola.

The other thing, which is unstated because you don't want to start a panic, is that it is possible, extremely unlikely, but possible that the virus mutates and becomes more easy to transmit, perhaps even by respiratory means. If it does, it becomes like the flu of 1918. So it's because of that remote possibility, which we don't even speak about because it is sort of impossible to imagine, that we want to make sure that it stays in West Africa, and deploying the military and all of our resources is a good thing to do. It's humanitarian and it's protective.

BAIER: Dangerous mission, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: Yes, it is, but as I understand it, as Charles just pointed out, it's not direct treatment of people. It's really setting up the structure and facilities for treatment and allowing others then to step in and to do that.

I think this is an interesting moment in terms of the politics, though, because you can clearly make the case that, oh, my gosh, we're sending people, boots on the ground one place. Guess what, that's to West Africa and not into the war effort. And is this an appropriate use of military force.

But again, I don't often quote Charles Krauthammer, but this is America at its best in terms of the NGO and I think in terms of our self-interest, not simply in terms of the idea that the disease could come over here easily, we've been told that's not the case, but in terms of understanding, again, the economic significance of West Africa's economy falling apart, the potential for it becoming a host then not only for chaos and anarchy but terrorists, and also then consequences for the international economy.

BAIER: George?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Charles mentioned the influenza epidemic that began in 1918, the last year of the First World War, and killed three to four times more people in one year than the war killed in four years. So the human race needs to be reminded periodically just how vulnerable we remain.

What worries me and, I understand, as Charles says, the United States military is enormously capable in logistics and medicine and command and control and communication, all that. Still, General Dempsey said the Department of Defense's number one priority is combatting Ebola. If that's the case, we have way too big a defense budget.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, what he should say is the U.S. military is the defense of last resort when nothing else will do, and that's exactly what's happening here in the region. You have to have boots on the ground. There is no case in history of a virus defeated from the air.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: The president has said that they are making extra efforts to protect the U.S. homeland and set up efforts at airports and airplanes to notice people with symptoms. You know, you say that there is this low probability, but for somebody sitting at home, why are we to believe that?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, look, I don't want to scare people overnight. But there have been mutations. They're extremely rare and they come about once a century, like with the flu epidemic. That was a mutation in 1918, and we still aren't quite sure what happened.

So as a preventative measure against that, you want to get where the source is because it's now entered the cities in West Africa. When it's in the villages, it can be controlled. But the way to do it here is with quarantine. We're going to have very strict. Anybody who appears to have a symptom has to be held apart, and we're going to have to start doing that the way we do with benign illnesses relatively speaking, like TB.

WILLIAMS: But you know, I thought it was very encouraging that Speaker Boehner in terms of the way that he positioned himself was not to say we shouldn't be there. Speaker Boehner said we should have gone even earlier. I think that's an important signal for people across the political spectrum.

WILL: Well, Charles has the nightmare scenario here, which is that this disease metastasizes in some weird -- because when that happens, we live in a world that unlike that of 1918 when the influenza had to move slowly because we had no trans-Atlantic air travel. We have now thoroughly democratized intercontinental air travel, and that's the quickest way and surest way in small compartments, people breathing the air, absolutely, to go from one continent to another.

KRAUTHAMMER: Now that we scared everyone to death, it's really OK to fly.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: On that happy note, that's it for the panel. But stay tuned to see one journalist's quick comeback on a call-in show.

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