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Donald Trump's election-year desperation to deflect criticism about his slow response to a pandemic that has killed nearly 30,000 Americans reached a stark level of cruelty this week with his decision to withhold funding from the World Health Organization in the midst of an international health crisis.
If Trump's failure in January, February and early March to adequately prepare the nation for COVID-19 proves to have cost American lives, his reckless choice Wednesday to deny WHO an estimated 22% of its budget as the organization tries to help the poorest nations cope with the coronavirus pandemic could multiply that failure.
Let's be clear. There are legitimate questions about whether the United Nations' health group was too trusting of Chinese assurances in late December and early January that there was no human-to-human transmission of the new virus, even while Beijing secretly knew hundreds were being hospitalized as the disease rapidly spread.
Nor was WHO quick to declare an international health crisis as other nations fell victim. And the organization stubbornly clung to its historical view that travel bans are ineffective at stopping disease and create needless panic and economic damage, though Trump's limited travel restrictions on visitors from China on Feb. 2 clearly bought America time to formulate a response.
Nonetheless, it wasn't as if the World Health Organization did nothing. It pressed Beijing, without success at first, to allow a WHO team into the country to investigate. And through urgent advisories and regular news briefings, it warned of a brewing global crisis.
Yet when Trump unleashed his torrent of blame this week, it wasn't against Beijing and President Xi Jinping but against WHO.
And if wasn't bad enough that Trump's attacks this week were a transparent effort to deflect attention from his own failures, much of what he said the U.N. health group did wrong mirrors the president's own actions during that same time period.
The National Security Council had intelligence by early January of a China outbreak that could threaten the United States, and by the end of the month, Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro was warning of a pandemic that could kill up to half a million Americans.
Yet for weeks, Trump dismissed concerns about the pandemic threat and didn't urge social distancing until the middle of March.
Moreover, on Jan. 24, Trump tweeted praise for China's handling of the epidemic, including the nation's "transparency," adding, "It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!"
Trump is now seeking an investigation of WHO's actions toward China, something Republican lawmakers have already wanted, and that might be a good idea.
In the meantime, it's wrong to withhold half-a-billion dollars in financial support for an organization that's a key ally in the war against the coronavirus.
Cutting support for WHO in the middle of a pandemic is, as philanthropist billionaire Bill Gates said, "as dangerous as it sounds."