The coronavirus crisis, with a death toll now topping 1,000 in the United States, was the result of an intelligence failure worse than the failures that led up the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, according to a report by a leading foreign policy expert. That failure, however, is not the fault of the intelligence community but instead is “all the fault of Donald Trump’s leadership,” wrote author Micah Zenko in an analysis published Wednesday by the prestigious journal Foreign Policy.
As The Washington Post reported last week, the Trump administration simply ignored repeated, “ominous” intelligence assessments of the coming pandemic, presented in January and February. The paper also reported that though Trump’s advisers attempted to alert Trump to the coronavirus threat revealed by the intelligence reports, “they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”
Instead, as Zenko noted, Trump first mentioned the coronavirus outbreak on January 22, only to dismiss the threat as “totally under control.”
Trump said at the time that as far as the U.S. was concerned, the outbreak was nothing more than “one person coming in from China,” adding, “it’s going to be just fine.”
Comparing the coronavirus pandemic to past “strategic surprises” such as 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the 1979 Iranian revolution, Zenko said that the difference between those disasters and the current crisis was that the pandemic intelligence failure “was brought about by unprecedented indifference, even willful negligence,” and must, therefore, be seen as “the sole responsibility of the current White House.”
Trump consistently shrugged off the budding coronavirus crisis through the first two months of 2020, claiming as late as February 26 when there were 60 cases in the U.S., that “within a couple of days” the number would be “close to zero.”
But just 28 days after Trump made that statement, the number has not only failed to drop “close to zero,” it has skyrocketed to more than 68,200, according to the population data site Worldometers, with 1,025 Americans killed by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
The “detachment and nonchalance” of Trump and his White House inner circle in the early weeks of the crisis will be recorded by history as one of the “most costly decisions of any modern presidency,” according to Zenko’s Foreign Policy analysis, adding that “Americans will now pay the price for decades,” for Trump’s failure to heed intelligence warnings and to order efforts to prepare for the coming crisis, Zenko wrote.
As a Washington Post analysis noted on Wednesday, Trump not only had intelligence reports warning him of the coronavirus threat in January and February, but numerous “open source” reports in the public news media also warned of the imminent pandemic.