American President Donald Trump this week made the incendiary claim that the Covid-19 crisis unfolding in the U.S. is a greater danger to his country’s national security than Pearl Harbor or indeed the 9/11 terror incidents. Both events led the U.S. into wars.
What makes Trump’s reasoning particularly offensive is that he is laying the blame for the pandemic and the resultant damage to the U.S. on China. This week, the U.S. leader doubled down on accusations that Beijing “covered up” about the disease outbreak with the implication that America was blindsided in making adequate defense preparations. The implied treachery is aimed at whipping up anti-Chinese sentiment by equating China with a sneaky foreign enemy.
Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed the incendiary envelope even further by again making the unsubstantiated claim that the coronavirus causing Covid-19 was released from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year. That speculation has been repudiated as baseless by international scientific consensus which ascertains that the virus evolved in nature and passed from animals to humans in an accidental and unfortunate sequence of infection.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump said: “We went through the worst attack we’ve ever had on our country… This is worse than Pearl Harbor, this is worse than the World Trade Center [attacks on September 11, 2001]. There’s never been an attack like this.”
Then Trump made the following sinister logical connection (or perhaps that should be logical “infection”). He added: “And it should have never happened. Could’ve been stopped at the source. Could’ve been stopped in China. It should’ve been stopped right at the source. And it wasn’t.”
In characterizing the pandemic as an “attack”, then ascribing responsibility to China, Trump is formulating a rationale for retribution. At this stage, it seems that Washington is setting its sights on economic retribution. Trump has demanded “substantial” financial reparations from China. But this is a dangerous slippery-slope he is embarking on.
Understandably, China has lambasted the U.S. charges as preposterous and tantamount to blackmail. Chinese commentators have accused Trump of electioneering by trying to scapegoat China for the pandemic crisis that has befallen the U.S. under his watch.
With some 30 million Americans unemployed due to economic impact from the disease and the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, it seems obvious that Trump will try to shift blame for the catastrophe. Especially since he was building his re-election hopes in November on supposedly having created the “greatest economy the world has ever seen”.
Moreover, polls show many Americans are blaming the Trump administration’s initially lax attitude towards the pandemic for unleashing the mayhem now hitting the nation. The U.S. death toll soared this week to over 73,000 – by far the world’s worst casualty. It is projected that the figure will soon reach 100,000 with an average of 3,ooo deaths per day. In terms of mortality, the daily death rate in the U.S. is worse than all American deaths incurred at either Pearl Harbor or on 9/11.
But Trump’s reference points to those historic events is much more sinister and reckless. He is cynically attributing causality to China over the pandemic which he is characterizing as an “attack” rather than a global accident.
Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are seen as tipping points that led America into wars. There is substantial evidence that both events were to some degree contrived by U.S. planners in order to serve as pretexts for war and pursuit of imperial objectives. The Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, came after years of provocative trade embargo on Japan; and when the Japanese bombed the U.S. naval base in Hawaii it wasn’t really a “surprise”. The event led America into World War Two whose postwar order served Washington’s geopolitical interests for subsequent decades, arguably until only recently since when the global auspices of “Pax Americana” have become challenged by the ascent of China as an economic power.
Before 9/11, Neoconservative ideologues in the U.S. opined about how they needed a “new Pearl Harbor” as a rationale for launching wars in the Middle East to pursue “full spectrum dominance” in international relations and to prolong the so-called Pax America world order.
The Trump administration is weaponizing the Covid-19 pandemic to leverage pressure on China over long-standing geopolitical issues related to trade, territorial competition and presumed American hegemony. Into the mix is the chronic waning of America’s capitalist economic power and Washington’s global political standing. Day by day, it seems, the so-called “leader of the free world” appears increasingly to be a pathetic caricature.
By accusing China, Trump is not only seeking to distract from his administration’s own abysmal failures over the pandemic, he is also trying to subordinate China to Washington’s global ambitions for dominance – and, what’s more, force Beijing to pay a massive tribute for the “privilege”.
But the toxic logic here is, ineluctably, one of confrontation and ultimately war. It is significant that an internal Chinese national security document has reportedly warned of a new Cold War and possible all-out military war with the U.S.
Trump’s ranting about Pearl Harbor and 9/11 is that of a president skating on waver-thin ice. It is diabolical and damnable, but indicative of American desperation.