With the U.S. case load and death toll from the pandemic having exceeded 1.8 million and 105,000, president Donald Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. would be severing ties with the World Health Organization (WHO).
As you can see in this CBC report, the decision was criticized by the president of the American Medical Association, who said it served “no logical purpose”. No surprise there, as logic isn’t exactly a core value of the MAGA Republican movement led by Trump. Instead, the president is engaged in a desperate/craven effort to resurrect his political fortunes in light of his administration’s failed response to the pandemic.
While WHO might make for a convenient scapegoat (in the minds of Trump supporters, anyway) the organization, as it is currently constituted, is in pretty much a no-win situation.
To illustrate, let’s compare Trump’s perception of his role in the pandemic with the on-the-ground reality faced by WHO. At various points in his “handling” of the pandemic, Trump has tried to claim that he (i) takes “no responsibility” for failings that have occurred and (ii) that he has “absolute authority” to overrule state governors who have enacted their own measures to cope with the pandemic in their regions.
To anyone familiar with Trump’s decades long business and political career, both statements come as no surprise. Indeed, it’s pretty much his mantra: absolute authority, no responsibility. How convenient is that?
With WHO, though, the dynamic is pretty much reversed. Instead of having absolute authority to enter countries and investigate potential health problems, WHO has virtually no authority. Rather, it relies on the goodwill of member nations to share medical data and permit WHO officials to visit and assess the situation for themselves.
That’s not to say that WHO should be above criticism. And, in fact, the organization has committed to do a full review of its pandemic response — a review that is also supposed to include an assessment of actions (or non-actions) taken by member nations to address the crisis in their own countries.
But the bottom-line is that in a world where countries cling jealously to their sovereignty and refuse to provide international organizations with the resources and authority they need to fulfil their mandate, it’s the height of hypocrisy to then turn around and scapegoat them when a problem occurs.
You can find out more about the delicate tightrope WHO has to walk in this CBC Front Burner interview from mid-April.