Americans are now living — and many, many are dying — with the consequences of a truly historic governmental failure. The administration of President Donald Trump, which bears all the responsibility it is trying to escape, has collapsed in the face of a global pandemic that scientists have long warned would someday arrive. Now it is here, threatening to kill hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions.
Sooner, rather than later, we must learn why this catastrophe occurred, why the United States government neglected to anticipate and prepare for it, and how the nation can prevent or at least mitigate its recurrence. That's why we will need a coronavirus commission to provide answers, along with the same kind of deep and thorough investigation performed by the 9/11 Commission after that disaster.
Knowing that President Trump and his minions lie as routinely as other people breathe, we have to expect that they will oppose any inquiry that might reveal how they botched their fundamental responsibility to protect the country. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ought to launch that process now, by authorizing the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to conduct research and hearings on what is surely the worst intelligence failure since 9/11 and likely the worst in U.S. history.
A serious investigation of the pandemic, its origins and its almost unimpeded swath of destruction would begin by identifying the actual source of the disease and examining how the virus jumped into the human population. Such an investigation would necessarily examine the Chinese government's responsibility in having concealed the outbreak at the very beginning, when it might have been eradicated at relatively little cost.
And then the investigation would probe Washington's ruinous neglect of the pandemic threat as it loomed over this country.
Already it is clear that for months, the Trump White House pretended the "Wuhan virus," as the White House insists on calling it, posed no significant danger to the United States. The president infamously congratulated himself for ordering a ship filled with sick passengers to not come ashore because he wanted "the numbers" to remain low. He told us that the virus would disappear "miraculously," that the disease would vanish in warmer weather, that the first dozen infected would dwindle to zero.
It is equally clear that the Trump administration's approach to the issue of pandemic disease was fatally myopic from the beginning. The 2018 decision to disband the National Security Council's directorate for biodefense and global health crippled the capacity to confront coronavirus as it developed. In the year following that decision, top experts on pandemic disease left the White House. With the Republican right's typical militaristic mindset, John Bolton, then the national security adviser, folded that vital office into the same division that oversees nuclear proliferation and bioterrorism.
In November 2019, the Center for Strategic and International Studies urged the reversal of Bolton's stupid directive. The intelligent and impeccably conservative analysts at CSIS understood why defending against a virus that springs from nature is a very different kind of threat — as former President Barack Obama's experience with H1N1 flu and Ebola should have taught us.
Of course, Trump now claims that he knew nothing about that grave bureaucratic mistake — or the multiple mistakes that led us into the awful trap of delay, dithering and doom.
In the months before the 9/11 Commission was established, then-President George W. Bush's administration tried to forestall an independent investigation of how the al-Qaida plot succeeded. White House officials protested that those who wanted a probe were motivated by partisan politics, which would inevitably taint the findings. They hindered the creation of the commission and resisted providing the documents and testimony necessary to complete its work. But in the end, they were forced to cooperate — and the revelations of 9/11 Commission Report not only exposed Bush's errors but also led to substantial reform of the nation's counterterrorism structures.
Predictably, congressional Republicans as well as the Trump gang will whine that Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who oversaw the Intelligence Committee's impeachment hearings, cannot run a fair investigation of the pandemic disaster. They will conveniently forget the multiple congressional investigations of the 2012 Benghazi attack, a tragedy that resulted in four American deaths (and one for which they exploited Hilary Clinton, as their own caucus leader ineptly confessed).
After thousands die, however, it will be difficult for Trump to argue against an effort to learn why we lost so many of our fellow Americans and how we can ensure it doesn't happen again. If he doesn't want a congressional probe by his adversaries, then he can simply agree to a blue-ribbon, bipartisan panel like the 9/11 Commission — and live in dread of its findings.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.