US President Joe Biden in late May directed the US intelligence community to redouble their efforts in investigating the origins of the coronavirus and report back to him in 90 days.
There is nothing wrong about the intention to get the full picture of the global pandemic - all of us would like to see remaining blank spots in the COVID-19 genesis properly filled. However, it is not quite clear why the US leader would like to delegate to the American intelligence what seems to be a problem primarily for the international research community and institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO).
One could suspect that the real goal of Joe Biden is to seek compelling evidence that would link the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic to alleged malign activities or unforgivable negligence of the Chinese authorities. If this is the case, it is truly unfortunate.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been very active, and sometimes quite emotionally loaded discussions in the US on whether the virus came from a lab accident or emerged from human contact with an infected animal.
Nothing suggests that these discussions will result in a clear and an unambiguous outcome anytime soon.
CIA Director Bill Burns has to confess that the intelligence community "may never be able to come to a definitive judgment" on the origins of COVID-19, but stressed that it is "not going to be for lack of hard work or effort on this issue to try to uncover as much as we can about what happened."
In any case, to argue that China is responsible for the global spread of COVID-19 is no more convincing than to argue that Vladimir Putin defined the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election in the United States. To focus the US public attention on China and its alleged wrongdoings is a wrong COVID agenda.
The grim reality is that the United States that spends some $3 trillion a year on national health turned out to be completely unprepared to stand up to the pandemic challenge. COVID-19 hit America harder than any other nation in the world - the country remains the absolute global leader both in overall numbers of infected (more than 35.2 million) and in COVID 19-related deaths (more than 614,000).
The epic US failure to cope with the pandemic, especially in comparison with the undoubtedly superior performance of China with fewer than 100,000 infected and 5,000 dead, casts a shadow on the US ability to serve as the global model and as the global leader. Nobody would blame the Biden administration for its intention to resurrect the American model and to restore the American leadership. In fact, the world still need this model and this leadership. Nevertheless, if the Biden administration plans to meet these objectives by waging an information war against Beijing, it pursues a flawed course of action, which is not likely to do the US any good.
Instead of looking for scapegoats overseas, the US administration has to focus on putting its house in order. Like in many other countries across the globe, COVID-19 is not fully defeated in the United States: since early July one can observe a steady increase of new cases in America. Moreover, the pandemic exposed many fundamental problems in the US national health system, which lacks coordination between states; fails to cover properly a significant part of the American population and, on top of that, is simply outrageously expensive. Badmouthing China will not help in addressing these problems, while carefully studying the Chinese experience in coping with the pandemic and in managing its public health system probably will.
At the same time, the United States should serve as an example of a truly multilateral approach to fighting the pandemic on the global scale. The global epidemiological crisis has demonstrated a shameful deficit of solidarity and sharing among nations, including exchange of essential pathogen data and epidemiological information, but also sharing resources, technology and tools, such as COVID-19 vaccines. No major international player can argue that it performed ideally under the circumstances. All of us have to learn our lessons, and China is no exception here. Still, claims to global leadership should imply additional responsibilities from the part of the United States.
For instance, the Biden administration could take the lead in working on the global treaty on pandemic preparedness and response recently proposed by WHO. Washington could upgrade the US involvement in vaccination programs in Africa, where out of 1.3 billion population less than 2 percent are fully inoculated. It could incentivize New York City-based Pfizer and Moderna in Cambridge to demonstrate more generosity and good will in their vaccines pricing policies.
Leadership in the XXI century should not mean bullying. On the contrary, it should imply empathy and an ability to learn from both partners and adversaries. This type of leadership requires more than a successful intelligence operation or an aggressive propaganda campaign. The Biden administration has yet to demonstrate that it can handle the real COVID agenda —and not hiding behind a false one.
The author is director general of the Russian International Affairs Council. firstname.lastname@example.org