With the help of William Barr, Trump was able to dismiss the Mueller investigation’s findings that he conspired with Russia to win election and committed obstruction of justice to avoid the consequences. And, with the help of a compliant GOP-controlled Senate, Trump was able to avoid removal from office through impeachment over his unconstitutional actions with Ukraine.
Now desperate to distract from his failed response to the coronavirus that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans and left nearly 37 million unemployed, Trump is calling on his administration and his allies to place blame on China.
Certainly, China is not blameless for the pandemic. Its government downplayed the seriousness and the extent of the outbreak in Wuhan, even punishing the doctor who called attention to the threat and who later died from COVID-19. But China eventually did cooperate with the World Health Organization (WHO) and provided information on the virus before it was found in the US.
And the Trump administration is no less at fault. It has been reported that the administration ignored the pandemic playbook left by the Obama administration. In 2018, it disbanded the Pandemic Response Team. Even before that, GOP members of Congress refused to provide funds to refill the Strategic National Stockpile. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refused to use a readily available test preferring to make its own failed version. And, during the early days of the pandemic, Trump dismissed concerns of the coronavirus as a Democratic hoax.
To be fair, there were some things beyond the administration’s control. Over a period of many years, US manufacturers of medical equipment, like many other industries, outsourced much of their production to China. And, facing economic stress, hospitals had embraced the “Just In Time” mentality of other industries to reduce inventory and cut expenses.
Obviously, with regard to the pandemic, there is plenty of blame to go around. But, instead of trying to affix blame, we should be trying to make necessary changes so that it never happens again. The last thing we need is to defund the WHO, the organization best suited to prevent pandemics. And we certainly do not need to escalate the ill-conceived trade war with China into a cold war or worse. But it seems the Trump administration is determined to do just that.
After Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama administration and began alienating governments around the globe, China has stepped in to fill the void left by the US. It has invested heavily in emerging countries. And it has worked to expand trade with Europe. That has made China more powerful, more confident, and less dependent on the US. In addition, US tariffs on Chinese goods have hurt US consumers, US farmers, and US companies. They have also strained relations between the two nations.
Now, after long ignoring China’s ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs, the brutal occupation of Tibet, and the crackdown in Hong Kong, the Trump administration seems to have decided that it is now in Trump’s interest to demand information about the location and well-being of Tibet’s Panchen Lama. And it has decided to place sanctions on Chinese companies involved with surveillance of Hong Kong protestors. Not surprisingly, China has threatened to respond in kind. Alarmingly, some congressional Democrats have gone along with Trump’s escalation of the conflict.
This cannot end well.
After the Trump administration’s treatment of Latin American refugees, the US no longer has the high moral ground on human rights. So, China is unlikely to respond to demands from the US. And we may not get much support from the international community. Further, to a great extent, the Chinese and US economies rely on each other. Escalating the conflict will be damaging to both economies, and the US economy is already more vulnerable than at any time since the Great Depression.
Finally, since WWII, the US has focused on projecting its military might around the globe. That is extremely difficult and expensive, requiring many military bases, aircraft and naval carrier groups. But China has focused on building its military to defend the eastern hemisphere – a task far less daunting. So, any military conflict with China will be difficult for the US to win. Both are nuclear powers. And, unless China attacks the US, the US will be forced to fight against superior numbers on China’s home turf.
In reality, neither side can win a military conflict. Therefore, the only solution is diplomacy – a task the Trump administration is particularly unsuited for.