Bolton and the Pandemic

The corporate media is obsessing over John Bolton’s views with regard to Donald Trump, but it is worth examining what they’re not asking.

Prior to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March of 2020, there existed a commission known as the U.S. Pandemic Response Team. The PRT was formed under President George W. Bush and continued through the eight years of the Obama administration. Its job was to share information among key personnel in the many government agencies, coordinate and respond to international disease outbreaks, and plan for a coordinated U.S. response to any major health crisis. Most scientists and even government officials knew that sooner or later a viral pandemic would hit our shores. It was inevitable, they thought, and the country needed to be ready for it.

Among its activities, the Response Team stockpiled equipment that would be needed by medical personnel in case of emergency. It produced diagrams for a global early warning system, model legislation to fund new rapid vaccine technology, and a robust national stockpile of critical supplies, such as face masks, disposable gloves and ventilators, according to Fran Townsend, President George W. Bush’s adviser on Homeland Security.

“If we wait for a pandemic to appear it will be too late to prepare,” President George W. Bush said in a November 2005 speech to the National Institutes of Health. “And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.”

Fifteen years later, the current U.S. President, Donald J. Trump, bristled when asked about the decision to disband the Pandemic Response Team. “I just think it’s a nasty question,” Trump hissed at the reporter who’d asked about it. “I didn’t do it. … I don’t know anything about it.”

If Trump didn’t disband the pandemic task force, as we’ve all been led to believe, then who did?

John Bolton.

Incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton first arrived in the Trump White House in April 2018. He fired homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, who had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks. A few weeks later Bolton forced out the director of pandemic preparedness and response, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, and disbanded the Pandemic Response Team.

Bolton’s role here is forgotten amidst the chaos his actions have wreaked. Bolton left the U.S. government on Sept. 10, 2019, shortly before the pandemic began in China, and has thus far escaped the grilling on this issue that he rightfully deserves. Why haven’t the media ask him about his role, here? And will they ask Trump if he ordered Bolton’s dismantling of the pandemic response team, approved it, or even knew about it?

As much as Trump might want to distance himself from Bolton’s dismissal of the team, to do so would mean an admission that critical decisions were being made in the White House over which he had lost control. The appearance of “losing control” for this president overrides all else, even if it means that history will forget John Bolton’s responsibility for the horrible series of decisions that led to the U.S. being unprepared for dealing with this illness.

There’s no shortage of examples of Trump’s criminal stupidity when it comes to decisions made with regard to the virus. On February 19, 2020, he announced that there were only 15 cases of Corona Virus in the U.S. and “within a couple of days [it is] going to be down to close to zero.” Along with Trump’s proclamation came his decision not to replenish the government’s shortage of test kits for the virus, protective masks for health personnel, and ventilators so that hospitals could better serve those who would soon become sick. The President idiotically stated as recently as the week of June 22, 2020 that the testing be slowed. As Politiconoted, it has been “nearly a week after he claimed at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., that he’d ordered a slowdown in coronavirus testing. Trump on Tuesday insisted he was serious in slowing down testing, even after senior White House officials said the president made the comment in jest.

“I don’t kid,” Trump said when pressed by reporters on Tuesday. “Let me make it clear.”

Bolton’s dismembering of the pandemic team left the U.S. largely unable to coordinate its response to the SARS-related Corona virus, which has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Bolton’s book was originally slated to be published on March 17, 2020, a week after the Covid-19 Pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization. The media should be asking Bolton and Trump about who made and approved the decision to dismantle the pandemic team, leading to the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of U.S. residents.

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Mitchel Cohen is Coordinator of the No Spray Coalition in New York City.

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