Staging Smallpox: Reanimating Variola in the Iraq War
This chapter argues that the global eradication of smallpox in the 1970s helped produce a key justification for the neoconservative U.S. war against Iraq in 2003. The war was partially justified by the claim that Iraq had the wherewithal to spread epidemic smallpox against an unvaccinated U.S. population. In health planning scenarios, journalism, and fiction depicting such use of smallpox as a bioweapon, visions of American Indian viral susceptibility and Islamic terrorism buttressed a militarized logic of preemptive intervention against disease, which was spectacularly performed through the U.S. removal of Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi presidency. The ability to mobilize such fears occurred in the gap between state secrecy and publicity of animal experimentation and dual use research in popular writings on bioterrorism. By managing the secret/public divide, the security state effectively catalyzed neoconservative security logics that channel uncertainty and suspense into an imperative for state preemption.