Can the Democrats Avoid Trump’s China Trap?Roundup
tags: foreign policy, China, international relations, COVID-19
Ms. Odell and Mr. Wertheim are scholars with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Before the pandemic, before the Great Recession, before proliferating hurricanes and fires, the United States began a global war on terrorism. Its leaders fixated on a shadowy enemy abroad as life at home crumbled for millions of Americans. The war on terrorism did not end terrorism; the war itself became endless. What it did shatter was the myth that a triumphant United States could bend the world to its will.
But the myth may be roaring back, albeit in a less righteous, more vicious guise. Though the new enemy is a virus, even less susceptible to verbal and physical firepower than terrorists, the Trump administration appears to be setting its target on a foreign power: China, where the outbreak appears to have started but which is hardly responsible for the United States being the most infected country in the world.
As the pandemic spread in the United States in March, President Trump began to castigate Beijing for failing to contain and report on “the Chinese virus.” Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is declaring that there is “a significant amount of evidence” that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, though he has provided no proof. The accusation, although doubted by scientists and intelligence agencies, may lead the public to blame China for the pandemic, much as the George W. Bush administration, through suggestion more than outright lies, convinced seven in 10 Americans in 2003 that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was likely involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Going abroad in search of monsters to destroy won't save Americans from pandemics, but it does risk entangling the United States in a cold war with the world’s No. 2 power. We stand on the brink of an even more destructive and less justifiable mistake than the post-Sept. 11 crusade.
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