A year ago, the Trump administration escalated regime change efforts against Iran, while shunning the war against COVID-19. Due to misplaced priorities, more Americans have perished in the pandemic than US combatants in World War II.
In the past month, US B-52 bombers flew over the Gulf three times in a show of force the Trump administration called a deterrence measure. Presumably, to keep Iran from retaliating on January 3; the first anniversary of the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
The international concern is that President Trump could resort to military action against Iran, even in his remaining days in office.
January 3 also marked another first anniversary. A year ago, the White House was informed about a potential virus outbreak in China. For a year, a potential war against Iran has been overshadowed by COVID-19, which is now raging almost out of control in the United States and Europe.
At the end of 2020, COVID-19 had resulted in 85 million confirmed accumulated cases and over 1.8 million deaths. In the United States alone, the number of cases surpassed 20 million and deaths exceed 350,000; more than the number of all U.S. combat deaths in World War II. US Economic losses have soared to a fifth of US GDP (more than $4 trillion), as measured by COVID-19 fiscal relief.
Failed mobilization against COVID-19
On Sunday, January 3, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed about a new potential virus outbreak in China. That’s also when China’s CDC completed the virus gene sequencing, initiated emergency monitoring and multiple countries were notified about the virus.
That same day, US CDC director Dr. Robert R. Redfield called Trump’s secretary of health Alex M. Azar II to tell him that China had discovered a new coronavirus. Azar informed the National Security Council and Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien about the matter.
There was reason for hurry. When Trump arrived in the White House three years before, he eliminated NSC’s global health unit that had monitored such virus risks.
Despite proactive mobilizations in many nations, the Trump White House shunned such measures, including the WHO’s international emergency warning in late January. When the WHO announced the global pandemic alert in mid-March, a delayed, slow and ineffective national mobilization began against the virus.
Worse, President Trump and several cabinet members downplayed, even undermined urgent measures promoted by the nation’s top public-health experts.
Meanwhile, a long debate began within the Trump administration over “what to tell to the American public,” as efforts to ensure president’s re-election overwhelmed the war against the virus.
The Trump administration did declare a war on January 3, 2020 – but a wrong one.
Destructive escalation against Iran
On January 3, 2020, the plane of Qassem Soleimani, major general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of its elite Quds Force, arrived at Baghdad International Airport. After his convoy took off toward Baghdad, an assassination drone launched several missiles.
As two cars exploded in flames, some 10 people perished, including Soleimani.
Trump’s team struggled to justify the execution by Iran’s “imminent” attacks, but without hard evidence. Instead, Trump relied on his Orwellian soundbite. “We took action last night to stop a war… We did not take action to start a war.” Meanwhile, Pentagon sent 3,500 members of the 82nd Airborne Division toward the Middle East; one of the largest deployments in decades.
After the assassination, Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said Soleimani had been on a peace mission. The two had planned to meet on the morning the general was killed to discuss a diplomatic rapprochement Iraq was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Abdul-Mahdi said Trump knew about the plan and personally thanked him for the efforts. Even as the administration was preparing the hit.
The Democratic House resolution to limit Trump’s war powers against Iran was a move in the right direction but it could neither reverse Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) nor halt the new escalation, which has prevailed, even amid the last days of the transition of power in the White House.
Fatal priorities, deadly outcomes
After Soleimani’s assassination, Trump’s national security adviser O’Brien struggled to legitimize the execution. He was informed about the Chinese outbreak on January 3, 2020, the day of the assassination, but he shunned the war against COVID-19.
Unlike O’Brien, Trump. Pompeo and other administration authorities, the Obama administration saw global pandemics as a pressing national security issue, as does the incoming Biden administration.
Truth to be told, the challenge Washington faces is systemic. Unlike most nations, America doesn’t have an appropriate self-defense policy, as U.S. Army colonel and military historian Ed Bacevich has noted. In Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent Wars, Bacevich stresses that “the exercise of global leadership as prescribed by the credo obliges the United States to maintain military capabilities staggeringly in excess of those required for self-defense.”
Priorities are misguided. As the anniversary of Iran-COVID gate suggests, the costs of these policy flaws are staggering in economic and human terms.
National security starts at home. Leadership matters – as does global cooperation across all political differences.