19 May 2020   Leave a comment

US President Trump sent a 4-page letter (reproduced below) to the World Health Organization (WHO) giving it 30 days to submit to his demands or the US will permanently leave the organization. The US accounts for 14% of the WHO budget, so it is a serious threat that cannot be dismissed. And, in truth, there are good reasons to review how WHO handled the early stages of the pandemic, but there is a highly legitimate concern that conducting such a review in the middle of a pandemic would divert WHO from more immediate concerns. There is no reason why the review cannot be conducted after the pandemic has been better controlled. The letter is extraordinary in its petulant language as well as its factual errors.

For example, his reference to a report from the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, was repudiated by the journal which termed the reference “factually incorrect”. The Lancet also disputed Mr. Trump’s claims that the Chinese were reticent to share information with outsiders, pointing out that the Chinese “worked with us to quickly make information about this new epidemic outbreak and the disease it caused fully and freely available to an international audience.”

But the letter ignores a number of statements President Trump made earlier in the year. On 22 January in an interview with Fox News: “It’s all taken care of. And China is working very hard on the problem. We spoke about it and China is working very hard on it.” On 24 January: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” On March 24: “Look, I have a very good relationship with President Xi and they went through a lot. You know some people say other things. They went through a lot. They lost thousands of people. They’ve been through hell.”

More importantly, however, is the fact that, regardless of what WHO did or did not do, President Trump had more than enough information available to him from US intelligence agencies to take action on his own. I wrote about this information on 4 April. I will repeat the section from the Washington Post article on that day which pointed out:

“Despite these and other extreme steps, the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.

“It did not have to happen this way. Though not perfectly prepared, the United States had more expertise, resources, plans and epidemiological experience than dozens of countries that ultimately fared far better in fending off the virus.

“The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.

“The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.

“And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.”

The decision to withhold funding is the epitome of short-sightedness. WHO can marshal some of the world’s pre-eminent scientists to work on possible vaccines. Yet the US has decided to put a 30-day ultimatum to the organization rather than to contribute to an effort which is clearly in its self-interest. All to distract the American people from focusing on the failures of the Administration in order to win an election.

Finally, China outplayed the US at the recent WHO meeting. It agreed that an investigation into its conduct is appropriate and will cooperate with the investigation after the pandemic is contained. Moreover, Reuters reports that China will support WHO generously, more than offsetting the loss of US funding:

“Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $2 billion over the next two years to help deal with COVID-19, especially in developing countries.

“The amount almost matches the WHO’s entire annual programme budget for last year, and more than compensates for Trump’s freeze of U.S. payments worth about $400 million a year.”

It certainly appears that Mr. Trump is a dime short on his nickel bet.

Posted May 19, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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