Good Friday Morning from the other side of the predicted coronavirus peak, if you trust the models. Watching this weeks news and the daily numbers, I was reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s great poem, “IF” —
If you can keep your head when all about youAre losing theirs and blaming it on you,If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,But make allowance for their doubting too;If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
It’s a poem/note he sent to his son. He ends it with the line: “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, / And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!” His son will achieve manhood — IF — he follows those steps. It’s sound advice, and it works for a pandemic, where information is flying around non-stop. The point isn’t to freak out or underestimate the threat — it’s to keep your head.
This week I’m responding to a piece in the Dispatch by Nicholas Grossman. He argues on the side of the downsides of defunding the WHO. I also handle several of the criticisms getting lobbed by critics of both my piece and Lyman Stone’s piece arguing for defunding the WHO. I think if you line up the tools at our disposal, it makes more sense to put the fire to both the WHO and China. Links to follow.
- Something to watching in the coming weeks is research on “asymptomatic” cases of COVID-19. We’ve gotten led to believe that those who are asymptomatic are only carriers of the virus, but suffer no ill effects of it. A recent study out of Wuhan, China challenges that (press release and the study). The study found, “All patients (mean age, 49.5 years) had a wide range of abnormal lung changes that spread rapidly from focused areas of excess fluid in one lung to diffuse buildup in both lungs.” The scans run showed lung damage in every person’s lungs, and all of them had confirmed exposure to COVID-19 and showed no symptoms. If that’s true, it means that even “asymptomatic” people are harmed by the virus, which changes the nature of how we treat asymptomatic people. The caveats here: it’s China, it’s a super small study, and we don’t have access to any of the evidence. But the mere possibility of this being true WILL lead US scientists to study asymptomatic people. We’ll only find those people through widespread testing — so it will take time to confirm or deny the study.
Where you can find me this week
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Podcast #33: Light at the end of the tunnel on the virus, but not for the economy – The Beltway Outsiders Podcast
Politicians continue to lag behind the American people – The Conservative Institute.
The coronavirus bursts our illusion of control – The Conservative Institute.
Why America Should Act Now on the W.H.O.
President Donald Trump announced he was withholding aid to the World Health Organization (WHO), and the White House would conduct a review “to assess the WHO’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” This announcement follows the first option laid out in How the U.S. Can Rein in the World Health Organization. Lyman Stone described many other demands the United States can make of the WHO, and for reasons that go well beyond the current pandemic.
Critics of withholding aid say that its wrong to withhold assistance in the middle of a public health crisis. Withholding aid is not an end unto itself. Monetary support can be leverage against institutions like the WHO, to thwart Chinese influence. While leaving international institutions is an ideal for many on the right, that’s like waiting for Godot or trying to “make fetch happen.” It’s not going to happen. The smarter path is looking at what our aid does, what it can get us, and when we can do it.
Critics also say withholding aid now is terrible timing. Whether that’s because of more problems domestically, or the WHO is needed right now, the timing is always wrong. That mindset is wrong, the time is right, and the United States has a responsibility to act immediately.
The White House Deserves More Blame than the WHO Criticism
Let’s start with domestic criticisms. The Washington Post’s lead story on April 19th goes after the White House’s claim to being misled by the WHO. The lead story was, “Americans at World Health Organization transmitted real-time information about coronavirus to Trump administration.” The story goes through sources who say that the Trump administration had US sources in WHO feeding it information.
The implication is that the Trump administration was getting information from the WHO, which undercuts his claim that the WHO should take the blame. The piece makes that point explicit: “The presence of so many U.S. officials undercuts President Trump’s charge that the WHO’s failure to communicate the extent of the threat, born of a desire to protect China, is largely responsible for the rapid spread of the virus in the United States.”
The Post relied on US sources within the WHO, who “were working full time at the Geneva headquarters of the World Health Organization as the novel coronavirus emerged late last year and transmitted real-time information about its discovery and spread in China to the Trump administration.” By itself, that tends to support their assertion that the Trump administration had more information on the virus, which suggests this was more the White House dropping the ball. We also know that US intelligence was watching this threat from afar starting in approximately November.
But that’s not the end of the story. Further into the report is this quote:
A Senate aide who has tracked the issue said “there was clearly an effort” by China “not to provide transparent data and information” in the early stages of the outbreak.
“We were looking to WHO to provide that information, and they did not. It was unclear as to whether they didn’t get that transparency from the Chinese, or that they chose not to share what they did get under pressure from the Chinese,” said the aide who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
The Post story then goes on to paint the WHO as being at the mercy of whatever China gives them. As Alec Dent noted in his fact-check, the WHO took everything China said at face value. The question isn’t whether the WHO was giving America real-time information — the question is whether or not the WHO was knowingly passing off false information from China. The answer to that question is an unfortunate but emphatic yes.
The Washington Post’s journalists also note that when China allowed the WHO to investigate the Wuhan site of the virus in mid-February, they brought in 25 experts from across the world, including two Americans. However, “the Americans were not permitted to visit the ‘core area’ in Wuhan.” Why could that be?
Both CNN and Fox News report that US intelligence is exploring the possibility that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. This option is one of many US intelligence is studying at the moment. US intelligence is hampered in this regard because, over the last decade, China has decimated American intelligence sources within China, according to Fox News. But what we do know doesn’t paint a helpful picture for the WHO. Brett Baier’s reporting was particularly damning:
China “100 percent” suppressed data and changed data, the sources tell Fox News. Samples were destroyed, contaminated areas scrubbed, some early reports erased, and academic articles stifled.
Additionally, the sources tell Fox News the World Health Organization (WHO) was complicit from the beginning in helping China cover its tracks.
So yes — the United States was getting information from the WHO. That’s true during any pandemic. The problem is that all that information was terrible — and potentially purposely false. If the WHO knowingly repeated incorrect information from China, that means it is complicit both in the cover-up and the mounting death toll.
If these points are correct, that explains, at least partially, a slowed US response. If American intelligence was working from behind and the WHO was purposely misleading the world, that would impact any country’s response. It’s worth noting, too, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian uses the WHO to support China’s denials of wrongdoing, “The head of the World Health Organization has repeatedly stated that there hasn’t been any evidence pointing to the virus being lab-created.”
Going after the WHO would aim at clearing up the information and misinformation coming out about COVID-19. Clear information is the only real way to flatten the curve, and eliminating disinformation from public institutions should be a top priority, regardless of politics. The best time to stop misinformation is right now — not waiting for more deaths.
Why now is the right time to go after the WHO
The second criticism is that the middle of a pandemic is not the time to attack the WHO. This claim has come from the WHO itself, as well as others. The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles summed it up when he said Trump was halting funding, “at a moment when [WHO’s] efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.” This criticism is akin to the old idiom that you don’t want to change horses midstream.
The problem with this analogy is that the WHO isn’t the horse, nor will it provide a cure for COVID-19. Cleaning up the WHO in the middle of a pandemic, especially when it has failed its mission, is like firing a general in a war. In this case, it’d be the equivalent of Lincoln firing George McClellan in the Civil War. Lincoln fired McClellan for, among many reasons, making the war drag on longer than it should have and risking the Union losing interest in fighting the war. The WHO has delayed global response by protecting China.
The Associated Press reported that the Chinese government purposely delayed any public alerts around the novel coronavirus. The WHO supported China during that entire delay period, from January 14-20, and never questioned anything the Chinese government did in response. Scott Gottlieb, sharing a study, said that had China been more candid, “If they acted 1, 2, or 3 weeks earlier, cases could have been cut by 66%, 86%, and 95%, respectively; together with significantly reducing [the] number of affected areas.”
There’s no evidence the WHO demanded honesty from China. Nor did they provide any country with the necessary information to act early, unlike the 2003 SARS pandemic. The WHO’s errors have and will continue to threaten public health. If a two year battle with COVID-19 is ahead, we cannot afford more of the same from the WHO. Public health demands immediate accountability. The same is true for the Trump White House. Right now, the 2020 election appears as it will turn on how the public judges Trump’s performance — the WHO deserves similar accountability.
If we act now, we’re trying to impact how the WHO attacks this virus long term. If we wait, we’re letting China use the WHO as a mouthpiece to protect itself and spew misinformation in the middle of a pandemic. The potential for second and third waves of COVID-19 demands immediate action.
Political leverage also demands immediate action on the WHO
The other reason to act now is that the United States’ political leverage is at its peak right now. Waiting longer will sap any desire, both domestically and abroad, to change the WHO long-term. Lyman Stone’s piece argued that Trump “needs to make specific demands.” And if the demands don’t get met, “the United States should undertake an escalating series of measures intended to degrade the WHO’s capacity to function.”
All of those suggestions require the immediate political leverage the US has now and can increase over time. Delaying will only degrade the advantages and tools at our disposal. China is also losing its grip overseas, providing an opening. The United States has a chance to weaken two things at once: Dr. Tedro’s hold on the WHO and China’s belt and road initiative.
When he was elected Director of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus relied heavily on two coalitions: China and the African Union. If the United States can weaken this coalition, it could provide an avenue to both remove Dr. Tedros and undermine China’s international ambitions. Two recent events are straining relations between China and the African Union: racism and debt relief.
China, Africa, Racism, and Debt
In the aftermath of the coronavirus, native Africans living in China are experiencing harsh racism. Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, in particular, have experienced eviction from homes and abuse. According to one African community leader, who spoke to the BBC, “ninety-eight percent of Africans are in quarantine.” And authorities are continuing to mistreat the people who have gotten rounded up.
Racism by the Chinese government caused a diplomatic row among leaders across the African continent. Politico reports that “while nobody expects China to lose its place as Africa’s biggest bilateral lender and trade partner, analysts and African diplomats say there is a distinct possibility of lasting damage.” That lasting damage is getting exacerbated by another element: government debt.
China has lent African nationals billions of dollars. China was reluctant to “endorse a G-20 decision to suspend Africa’s debt payments until the end of the year.” The Wall Street Journal reported that one nation told them, “Beijing is demanding collateral in exchange for debt deferral or forgiveness.” Others said that “loans from Chinese entities contained provisions that would force them to surrender state assets if they couldn’t repay.” While both sides are working to resolve their differences, there’s strain right now.
China and the African Union’s relationship is strained. COVID-19 has shown the weakness of China’s government across the board, and the international lapse here could benefit the United States — if it acts. America could condemn this racism and offer a lifeline to Africa. The US could also provide more: trade negotiations. The US economy could offer a much better trading partner, for both America and Africa, than China. The US diversifies itself away from China and builds relationships with the quickly growing the African continent.
Americans could argue that China only started growing once it hooked up to the American economy in the 1990s. And that the US economy can create the same opportunities for African countries. In turn, the US can get help in removing Tedros and push Chinese ambitions out of Africa. If we are moving into a more hawkish Cold War/containment stance against China, hampering their international aspirations should be high on the list. The coronavirus is providing these opportunities now.
Even if all the United States got in Africa was a neutral party in world events, that is much better than an ally of China. Current events have provided an opportunity, and we should explore them.
One of the fair criticisms of Trump’s decision to halt funding is that it seemingly proposes that America withdraw from the international stage, thus ceding everything to China. Noah Rothman at Commentary put it best, saying that Trump had “muddied the case against the [WHO] and thrown China’s reflexive defenders a lifeline.” And that because of that, Trump started a “largely superficial debate over consequences that are unlikely to fully materialize.”
If we fail to do anything in this event, and this turns into another moment of empty bluster, then Rothman is right. It’s a meaningless political debate where a problem gets identified, but nothing accomplished. That would be a shame because the United States has the power to change things right now. But that means taking active ownership of our leadership in the world.
Acting on the WHO right now is preferable to waiting. America’s strengths and leverage are strong, and if used correctly, can grow. It’s not enough to talk about future actions or a wait-and-see approach. The evidence is clear that the WHO is compromised, and so is public health. The US has an interest in pushing back against China. There are opportunities to get victories, even during a pandemic.
Links of the week
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – the data – Our World In Data
[Must read] The Geopolitical Lessons of 2020 – Gray Connelly, Strategy Counsel
IT’S TIME TO BUILD – Marc Andreessen, a16z
Some Georgia Businesses Can Reopen. But Will They? As Atlanta’s mayor speaks out against the governor’s plan, some business owners will stay closed out of caution and other concerns. – Declan Garvey, The Dispatch
Reopening Has to Proceed Carefully – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Final Numbers Show Michael Bloomberg Actually Spent More Than $1 BILLION On His Failed Presidential Bid – Ashe Schow, The Daily Wire
The Real Story Behind That Viral Photo of President Johnson During the Vietnam War – Matt Novak, Gizmodo
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
[click for the picture, stay for the story] “Trump Threatens More Plagues Unless State Governors Let His People Go” – The Babylon Bee
WASHINGTON, D.C—As more state governors lock down and enslave their people, one hero has been called to save Americans from their masters.
President Donald Trump says he was commanded by a burning rose bush in the Rose Garden to confront Democratic state governors over their tyranny. He first said he wasn’t sure he could do it as he was too awesome and good at this kind of thing and it would go to his head, but the rose bush agreed to send Mike Pence along with him to balance his amazingness out.
“Let my people go!” Trump cried as he threw down a MAGA hat and miraculously transformed it into a Big Mac, which he then ate. “Greatest miracle, maybe ever.” But the governors had their own Satanic magicians who performed similar tricks, turning their pink women’s rights hats into vegan milkshakes.
Thanks for reading!