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General News    H3'ed 8/3/20

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, Can the Pandemic Bring Accountability Back to This Country?

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Yes, it's possible that a vaccine for Covid-19 could be available by spring. I mean, I wouldn't put my money on it, but it seems at least conceivable. Here's something I would put a few bucks on, though: when a vaccine appears, the Trump administration will have so botched things that its widespread distribution any time soon -- even in what could by then be Joe Biden's America -- will be, to put it mildly, a challenge.

Just imagine this for a moment: what's still the world's richest, most powerful country didn't have a reasonable supply of protective gear and N95 masks when the virus hit. Nor, of course, did South Korea. That country's government, however, managed to quickly intervene, ramp up production, and ensure that South Koreans got such masks on a national scale in a way that would help shut down the disease big time. The Donald and crew? They quite literally did the opposite, turning down an offer to ramp up mask production in January that could have made all the difference. In other words, the most powerful nation on the planet that, in a World War almost three-quarters of a century earlier, had geared up production lines at a remarkable speed to produce tanks and planes, couldn't manage to coordinate the production of N95 masks, not even with a "wartime president" in the White House.

Call that remarkable indeed. Nor could the man in the Oval Office and his top officials produce a reasonable testing program for the coronavirus or a national team of contact tracers to track down those in touch with people who got the disease as, for instance, both China and Iceland were perfectly capable of doing. Yet the same president has proven quite capable of flooding the streets of Democratic-run cities with his own army of federal agents, togged out in military-style gear, and ready to promote his election-themed version of "law and order."

Go figure. Or, as TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg does today, think about what else is missing in this land of ours in 2020 -- accountability -- and how we lost it. Tom

Missing in Action
Accountability Is Gone in America
By Karen J. Greenberg

Whether you consider the appalling death toll or the equally unacceptable rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, the United States has one of the worst records worldwide when it comes to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the president has continued to behave just as he promised he would in March when there had been only 40 deaths from the virus here and he said, "I don't take responsibility at all."

In April, when 50,000 Americans had died, he praised himself and his administration, insisting, "I think we've done a great job." In May, as deaths continued to mount nationwide, he insisted, "We have met the moment and we have prevailed." In June, he swore the virus was "dying out," contradicting the views and data of his just-swept-into-the-closet coronavirus task force. In July, he cast the blame for the ongoing disaster on state governors, who, he told the nation, had handled the virus "poorly," adding, "I supplied everybody." It was the governors, he assured the public, who had failed to acquire and distribute key supplies, including protective gear and testing supplies.

All told, he's been a perfect model in deflecting all responsibility, even as the death toll soared over 150,000 with more than four million cases reported nationwide and no end in sight, even as he assured the coronavirus of a splendid future in the U.S. by insisting that all schools reopen this fall (and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back him on that).

In other words, Donald Trump and his team have given lack of accountability a new meaning in America. Their refusal to accept the slightest responsibility for Covid-19's rampage through this country may seem startling (or simply like our new reality) in a land that has traditionally defined itself as dedicated to democratic governance, and the rule of law. It has long seen itself as committed to transparency and justice, through investigations, reports, and checks and balances, notably via the courts and Congress, designed to ensure that its politicians and officials be held responsible for their actions. The essence of democracy -- the election -- was also the essence of accountability, something whose results Donald Trump recently tried to throw into doubt when it comes to the contest this November.

Still, the loss of accountability isn't simply a phenomenon of the Trump years. Its erosion has been coming for a long time at what, in retrospect, should seem an alarmingly inexorable pace.

In August 2020, it should be obvious that America, a still titanic (if fading) power, has largely thrown accountability overboard. With that in mind, here's a little history of how it happened.

The War on Terror

As contemporary historians and political analysts tell it, the decision to go to war in Iraq in the spring of 2003, which cost more than 8,000 American lives and led to more than 200,000 Iraqi deaths, military and civilian, was more than avoidable. It was the result of lies and doctored information engineered to get the U.S. involved in a crucial part of what would soon enough become its "forever wars" across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

As Robert Draper recently reminded us, those in the administration of President George W. Bush who contested information about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were ignored or silenced. Worse yet, torture was used to extract a false confession from senior al-Qaeda member Ibn Sheikh al-Libi regarding the terror organization's supposed attempts to acquire such weaponry there. Al-Libi's testimony, later recanted, was used as yet another pretext to launch an invasion that top American officials had long been determined to set in motion.

And it wasn't just a deceitful decision. It was a thoroughly disastrous one as well. There is today something like a consensus among policy analysts that it was possibly the "biggest mistake in American military history" or, as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put it four years after the invasion, "the worst foreign policy mistake in U.S. history," supplanting the Vietnam War in the minds of many.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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