Another week and another self-imposed isolation of the United States from international consensus.
At the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the forum for the World Health Organization, held via teleconference from Geneva, there was near-unanimous rejection of the demand made by the Trump administration for an inquisitorial-style investigation into the coronavirus pandemic.
The premise of the White House’s demand is that China and the WHO are culpable for the global impact of the disease. Trump has recklessly accused China and the WHO without any substantiating detail of causing “mass killing” from alleged mishandling of the pandemic.
The U.S., along with the obsequious support of Australia, wanted a so-called “independent” probe to be set up which would have seen investigators outside of Beijing’s or the WHO’s purvey going into China to assess the outbreak of the disease which emerged on a large scale in the city of Wuhan back in December. Such a proposal smacked of the kind of weapons-inspector teams that have been manipulated by Washington so often in the past in order to incriminate countries for political objectives.
This week, however, consensus prevailed among the 194 member nations of the WHO – the UN-affiliated premier body for international health policy. A resolution was passed for a comprehensive review of the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As of this week, five million people have been infected worldwide with a death toll of over 330,000. But the agreed forthcoming study will be conducted after the pandemic has been quelled and under the auspices of the WHO and not predicated on a specific focus on China. The resolution was supported by China, Russia and the European Union, among others.
It was a stunning repudiation of President Trump’s provocative and unprecedented call for a unilateral probe into China’s handling of the disease outbreak. Past global epidemics, such as SARS and Ebola, have always been reviewed by the WHO as a scientific, medical matter, without a partisan accusatory agenda. The rejection of Trump’s acrimonious agenda is to be welcomed because politicizing the pandemic in the way that his administration has endeavored to do is only leading to dangerous international tensions. Trump’s politicization of the problem is also counterproductive to finding solutions for preventing future pandemics and for effectively mitigating the present global crisis.
The Trump administration’s cynicism is as glaring as it is audacious. With an eye on winning re-election to the White House in November, Trump is whipping up voter support by seeking to demonize China and the WHO as the cause of economic and social havoc wracking the U.S. from the pandemic. With 38.5 million Americans now unemployed since March, Trump is casting around for scapegoats rather than facing accountability before the American electorate for his administration’s abysmal response, despite having had ample warnings about the disease. Those warnings were given by China and the WHO as early as January. The public record of events and timeline and Trump’s own crass, cavalier comments make it clear that it was his administration’s dereliction of duty to protect American public health which bears responsibility. With a death toll rising above 95,000 this week, the U.S. is indeed the “exceptional nation” for all the wrong reasons – accounting for almost a third of the world’s total fatalities from Covid-19.
Fortunately, the rest of the world is not buying into Trump’s toxic politics of blaming others and inciting confrontation by way of creating an escape route for his own incompetence.
The international community rallied this week in the proper way to emphasize collective action against the pandemic and to show solidarity with poorer nations. By contrast, Trump threatened in a letter littered with falsehoods and distortions to permanently cut off U.S. funding for the WHO. In the midst of a global crisis, such petulant ultimatum is contemptible.
As it turned out, China’s President Xi Jinping announced to the World Health Assembly that Beijing was committing $2 billion to fund the WHO – more than enough to sideline the Trump threat of cutting off U.S. contribution. That alone encapsulates the historic, tectonic shift that is underway in geopolitical standing.
The debacle over Trump pushing a witch-hunt against China and the WHO is but the latest manifestation of America’s descent into global disrepute. The Trump administration has tried to cut up nation after nation, including supposed European allies; it has snubbed countless multilateral agreements, most gravely those related to crucial arms controls; and it has set its face against basic international consensus and diplomacy, such as rebuffing calls for ending sanctions the U.S. has unilaterally imposed on countries struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.
Thomas Christensen, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was quoted in the New York Times this week as observing: “We’re weakening our own diplomatic profile around the world, and strengthening China’s.”
That’s an understatement.
So much for Trump’s much-vaunted policy of America First. More like America Last.