Why wouldn’t America talk about the lab leak?
On the world stage, the US primarily prioritizes safety. That bodes badly for our growing rivalry with China.
Much has been – finally – written about the remarkable groupthink fiasco in which America’s elite institutions sought to curb any investigation or even curiosity about whether the COVID-19 pandemic stemmed from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China. Now we know that such a leak actually remains a very real possibility, and many scholars, editors, and commentators are scrambling to shed their previous know-nothingism on the matter and join the investigation into what really happened and why (during they avoid, in most cases, any acknowledgment of their previous folly).
But some of the implications of the dirty story haven’t received much attention. What does it say about America’s ability to meet the diverse and growing challenges of its global leadership? Can a country that is preoccupied with avoiding any allegation of negative feelings towards other peoples and other nations – these two evils of “racism” and “xenophobia”, cope with the kind of challenges that inevitably arise from other peoples and other nations ?
Such questions gain additional strength when they are linked to another set of questions relating to the underlying cultural stream of national self-flagellation that is growing in American thought and discourse: What kind of nation devours its own heritage and you own national narrative? Or describes itself at its core as unworthy and defines itself as born in evil and incapable in itself to rise above this evil? What kind of nation tries to emphasize this point by dividing school children into class groups called “victims” and “oppressors” based on the actions of their ancestors?
Such a nation is not well equipped to fend off threats and challenges from other nations, or well positioned to urge young men and women to fight and possibly die for the national honor and interest.
Such questions and considerations come naturally from the month-long frenzy of denial that the coronavirus pandemic may have been linked to the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology or other nearby laboratories. A turning point in the saga finally came with the release of Katherine Ebans Notable Vanity fair Play “The Lab-Leak Theory: In the fight to uncover the origin of Covid-19”. We learn from Eban and others that the denial was in part driven by people who were motivated by fears that a thorough investigation into the matter could reveal their own “gain in function” research – efforts to make coronavirus more contagious and deadly.
Eban paints a picture of scientists like Peter Daszak, who ran a nonprofit that ran U.S. federal grants for functional gain research in China and tried to divert attention from any possibility of a laboratory leak. Obviously, many scientists harbored subterranean motives which now explain their actions in retrospect. Evan’s contribution uses terms such as “conflict of interest,” “totally unscientific,” and “smelled like a cover-up” to describe high-level efforts by science and government to ensure that the laboratory leak theory was exposed “morally out of bounds”.
But that doesn’t explain why the mainstream media, which renounces independence of thought or bloodhound instinct, joined in to insist that a negative was proven and the matter was now closed. It doesn’t explain how the media got into total collective overdrive as they attacked any indication that it might be otherwise. The New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, the Guardian, the Daily Beast, the “PolitiFact” of the Poynter Institute and many other news organizations jumped on the thesis that it cannot be true.
It appears to be a product of the desperate apprehension of a growing number of Americans that someone somewhere has feelings of racism or xenophobia as broadly defined by those with such fears. Hence, the laboratory leak hypothesis cannot possibly be correct as it could stimulate underlying anti-Chinese sentiments. But what happens to science, or even to normal human cognition, when the paths of research are blocked for fear of bad thoughts?
The racism trope was widespread during groupthink. Charles Cooke of National review disgruntled laboratory leak theorists for being “addicted to racism and xenophobia”. The Washington Post‘s Leana Wen feared that “unproven speculations” (which, by the way, are the starting point of every scientific investigation) “could intensify racist attacks …[and] stir up anti-Asian hatred. “
New York Times Reporter Apoorva Mandavilli published a tweet (later deleted) saying that the COVID laboratory leak theory had “racist roots”. And as some authors who finally took the laboratory leak theory seriously, earlier writings earlier Times Reporter Nicholas Wade, a socialist writer named Andre Damon, was quick to label Wade a racist.
Some resisted the weary thinking such quotes represent. Zaid Jilani suggested News week that Ms. Mandavilli’s tweet may have “symbolized a broader mindset among American journalists, many of whom saw their mission as opposing any stance of the Trump administration … blaming a foreign government for the pandemic.”
And the writer Glenn Greenwald asked mischievously: “Can someone explain to me why it is racist to wonder if a virus has escaped a Chinese laboratory, but … not racist to insist that it makes people wetter because of Chinese Markets infected? “
But this is not just a question of correct speech and benevolent thinking on a global scale. The main headline in the Seattle Times The other day, in an AP story about the recent NATO summit in Brussels, it was stated: “NATO leaders are joining the US to face the Russian and Chinese threats.” Wall Street Journal noted in its summit story that NATO’s 79-paragraph communiqué mentioned China a dozen times, “a shift from the past [NATO] Summit when Beijing was barely mentioned. ”The paper quotes from the communique:“ China’s growing influence and international politics can bring challenges that we must face…. We will involve China to defend the security interests of the alliance. “
Hard talk. But how can America lead NATO in curbing China’s growing power when it can’t even team up behind a thorough review of the origins of COVID for fear of hurting some people’s tender feelings?
The NATO communiqué represents the growing awareness of a geopolitical reality that many foreign policy experts have recognized for several years – that America and China appear to be on a collision course resulting from China’s determination to end and take over America’s East Asian dominance this role itself. It is to be hoped that this course can be peacefully obstructed and the collision averted. But if not, we can bet that the Chinese people, and certainly their leaders and elites, will not worry about the hurt feelings of Americans resulting from their characterization.
And the Chinese today do not internally wrestle over regime abuse or historical misconduct, although abuses and misconduct have been plentiful and at times terrible in China’s history and even in its present. China is too preoccupied with large-scale ambitions to outstrip America economically, technologically, and militarily to turn the American-led global system on its head and replace it with one more favorable to China.
China has its mind at play in this epic geopolitical battle. America is not doing this, as reflected in the silly groupthink about the origin of COVID.
Robert W. Merry, a veteran Washington journalist and publishing director, is the author of five books on American history and foreign policy.
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