Only the loud and opportunistic critics of Trump think otherwise Illustration on America’s response to the coronavirus outbreak by Alexander Hunter
Victor Davis Hanson
A current global myth alleges that America under the Trump administration is not leading the world fight against the coronavirus in its accustomed role as the postwar global leader.
Yet the United States was the first major nation to issue a travel ban on flights from China, with Donald Trump making that announcement on Jan. 31. That was a bold act. It likely saved thousands endangered by Chinese perfidy and soon became a global model. None of the ban’s loud critics are today demanding it be rescinded.
In typically American fashion, as we have seen in crises from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, after initial shock and unpreparedness, the U.S. economic and scientific juggernaut is kicking into action.
Already the United States is transitioning from a long, disastrous reliance on Chinese medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. In ad hoc fashion, companies are gearing up massive production of masks, ventilators and key anti-viral supplies.
The number of known deaths from the virus — for now the only reliable data available — shows a fatality rate of about 7-8 per million people in the United States. That per capita toll is analogous to Germany’s and one of the lowest in the world among larger nations.
The U.S. economy in 2019 — with its near-record-low unemployment, inflation and interest rates — was the most robust in the world. It will soon be the key to rebooting global production and trade.
Confronting China over patent and copyright theft, technological appropriation, dumping and currency manipulation was not just in the U.S. interest, but for the global good.
A reckless and disingenuous China poses an existential threat to countries across the globe. The only world bulwark against Chinese propaganda and bullying remains U.S. economic and military power.
Despite accusations of growing isolationism at a time of a worldwide pandemic, the United States still stations 200,000-250,000 troops abroad. Those assets ensure that no hostile power in the present crisis will opportunistically threaten European and Asian democracies.
Record U.S. natural gas and oil production have helped lower global home heating and transportation costs. Among the biggest beneficiaries are Europe and Japan, the largest customers for Russia and the Middle East’s unreliable energy production.
The radical increase in American natural gas productions helps explain why the United States has made more progress in reducing carbon emissions than the signatories of the Paris climate accord. That voluntary agreement has had little success in curbing the planet’s largest carbon emitters. Even as the United States registered robust economic growth of nearly 2.5 percent, it nonetheless reduced its carbon emissions by 0.5 percent in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available), which was the largest reduction in the world.
The truth is that the free world would be a safer and more secure place if Europe, not the United States, acted more responsibly. Individual European Union countries have junked their utopian EU brotherhood and are reverting to nationalist self-interests.
Fracking natural gas, with less reliance of coal-fired power plants, might have allowed European nations to meet their Paris climate accord promises.
Italy and other European countries have been especially vulnerable to Chinese mercantile pressure and have mortgaged their economic futures to Beijing, with disastrous results.
If the European Union produced more of its own gas and oil, it would not empower Moscow and the Middle East through its colossal importation of their energy.
And if NATO countries just met their obligation to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, then the West would not be so vulnerable in such times of crisis. NATO nations could more effectively draw on their military and health resources to fight the virus.
Nor has the United Nations been much help. Its World Health Organization simply parroted Chinese propaganda in the key initial weeks of the virus. WHO claimed in mid-January that there was no human-to-human transmission, then suggested weeks later that a travel ban on Chinse flights would have little value in combatting the spread of the virus. Both were lies but were welcomed by the Chinese government.
Where the West is deficient is in the current lack of imagination of its most hallowed institutions. Universities in the United States and Europe are in suspension. They currently have hundreds of thousands of empty dorm rooms. Why not offer them as temporary refuges to the vulnerable homeless and poor?
Given the epidemic of misinformation, millions need accurate data. But poor readers are barricaded from major news websites by expensive firewalls. Required subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post, for example, could be temporarily waived — at least for any articles that offer key information concerning the coronavirus.
Throughout the outbreak, the media have promulgated sensationalism and helped fan the hysteria. It could better use its muckraking journalists to police itself.
Any laxity in fighting the virus is not to be found with the United States, but rather with its loudest and most opportunistic critics.
In this Monday, March 9, 2020 photo, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization speaks during a news conference on updates regarding on the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Accompanying him are Michael Ryan, left, executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies program, and Maria van Kerkhove, right, technical lead of WHO's Health Emergencies program. On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the new coronavirus a pandemic, suggesting the disease is spreading across the globe unchecked. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP) Brett D. Schaefer
For over a decade, China has conducted a broad campaign to reshape the international system into a new, post-American global order. In this effort, it is essential that China project an image of being supremely capable and powerful, thereby demonstrating that China — not Europe or the United States — is the best model for governance and economic development.
The coronavirus pandemic undermines this carefully-constructed image, because Beijing’s response to the disease enabled its spread, to the detriment of public health and economies throughout the world.
At National Review Online, Jim Geraghty has laid out in a useful timeline of WHO’s and China’s actions early in the outbreak. After detecting the virus in late November, Chinese authorities reacted by suppressing details of the disease and punishing doctors who tried to alert the public and the world. China did not inform WHO about the virus until Dec. 31.
Beijing continued to suppress information about human-to-human transmission of the disease, allowing infected individuals to travel abroad well into January. The mayor of Wuhan later admitted that perhaps 5 million Chinese people had left the city before imposition of a lockdown.
The willingness of WHO to take Beijing’s statements at face value arguably paved the way for international pandemic. On Jan. 23, for example, WHO tweeted: “For the moment, WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade. We recommend exit screening at airports as part of a comprehensive set of containment measures.” In February, after the U.S. imposed travel restrictions on China, Mr. Tedros publicly chastised countries for adopting the policy.
After visiting China in late January, Mr. Tedros announced that Beijing had set “a new standard for outbreak control” and praised Chinese actions that “bought the world time, even though those steps have come at greater cost to China itself.” It was not until the following month, after weeks of negotiations with the Chinese government, that a WHO team finally was dispatched to China.
We now know that many people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic but contagious, and that Chinese travelers spread the disease to other countries. WHO might have known this earlier, but chose to ignore warnings from Taiwan “about the human-to-human transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) in December of last year.”
Of course, WHO does not let Taiwan participate in its meetings, due to Chinese objections over political matters that have nothing to do with public health.
More recently, China has claimed that it has stopped COVID-19 domestically, and WHO has warned that the U.S. could become the “epicenter.” However, much evidence suggests that China has underreported its COVID-19 deaths and is manipulating public data by excluding a large number of asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive.
Nonetheless, Mr. Tedros has stuck with his pro-China message, praising Beijing’s “transparency,” calling its response “impressive,” and applauding its claim of zero new domestic COVID-19 cases as an “amazing achievement.” Leading WHO physician Bruce Aylward joined the chorus, stating: “if I had COVID-19, I would want to be treated in China.”
WHO’s posture here might be more understandable if China had not also concealed and failed to cooperate with WHO in the 2003 SARS outbreak. Given this history, WHO’s willingness to take China’s statements at face value is shocking. The record over the past few months leaves no doubt as to why Chinese President Xi Jinping has expressed his “firm support” for Mr. Tedros.
In recent weeks, Beijing has engaged in a widespread propaganda and disinformation campaign to exculpate itself from its fatal mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak. The truth is that China had an opportunity early on to forestall the spread of COVID-19 and alert the world about the threat and chose, instead, to try to protect its reputation — with a shameful assist from Mr. Tedros.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who a little over two months ago led Democrats’ prosecution in President Trump’s impeachment trial following an extensive investigation, is working to launch a new review concerning the administration’s actions -- this time calling for a nonpartisan commission on the government's coronavirus response.
Schiff, D-Calif., after repeatedly criticizing the president’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Wednesday he would work to create a panel to review the government's actions and readiness.
Schiff swiftly faced criticism for the move, with Intelligence Committee Ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes accusing him of a "dumb stunt."
"His Russia collusion hoax failed, his Ukraine scam failed, and his efforts to cover up FISA abuse failed," Nunes, R-Calif., told Fox News on Wednesday. "So, Schiff is launching yet another dumb stunt to justify his never-ending media relations operation."
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, also said in a statement: “The same people who delayed the Coronavirus relief bill because they demanded giveaways for special interests and millions for the Kennedy Center now want to create a commission to attack the Trump Administration’s response? Give me a break. And the person who is leading this effort is Adam Schiff -- the same Adam Schiff who released the phone records of the President’s personal attorney, a journalist, and a sitting Member of Congress. We should focus on stopping the virus, not politicizing the crisis.”
The intelligence committee chairman has led multiple Trump-focused probes, including the House impeachment inquiry and investigations into whether members of the president's campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, the president's financial transactions, and more.
Schiff also shared an opinion column written by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, titled “The U.S. needs to know what went wrong.”
According to the column, Schiff and his staff have “already started” working on a commission modeled on the one created after 9/11 and will be “talking about the possibility with others in Congress.”
The column also said that Schiff “has begun reviewing the committee’s intelligence materials on the pandemic.”
“We will need to delay the work of the commission until the crisis has abated to ensure that it does not interfere with the agencies that are leading the response,” Schiff reportedly told Ignatius. “But that should not prevent us from beginning to identify where we got it wrong and how we can be prepared for the next pandemic.”
As of midday Wednesday, the U.S. reported more than 203,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and more than 4,360 deaths.
Schiff, in recent days, has slammed Trump, saying: "You cannot count on Donald Trump to do what’s right for this country."
"You can count on him to do what’s right for Donald Trump," Schiff tweeted.
Meanwhile, Trump and the White House coronavirus task force have pleaded with Americans to abide by the administration’s extended social distancing guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.
This week, the president himself told Americans to brace for “a very painful two weeks and warned of thousands more virus-related deaths.
“The surge is coming, and it’s coming pretty strong,” Trump said Tuesday night, in a change of tone from previous press briefings.
“This is going to be a rough two-week period,” Trump said. “As a nation, we’re going to have a really rough two weeks. Our strength will be tested and our endurance will be tried.”
The extension of the social distancing guidelines comes after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other public health officials ominously warned that even if the U.S. were to continue to do what it was doing -- keeping the economy closed and most Americans in their homes -- the coronavirus could still leave 100,000 to 240,000 people in the United States dead and millions infected.
Without any measures in place to mitigate the contagion's spread, those projections jump to between 1.5 and 2.2 million deaths from COVID-19.
“It is absolutely critical for the American people to follow the guidelines,” Trump said during the briefing. “It’s a matter of life and death.”
The new “30 Days to Slow the Spread” guidelines -- unveiled at the press conference -- are an extension of the strategy the White House implemented just over two weeks ago and include guidance on social distancing, working from home, washing hands frequently and avoiding any unnecessary travel.
Fox News' Andrew O'Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.