Is Trump right to ditch the WHO?

Is Trump right to ditch the WHO?

The world's worst health crisis in a hundred years might not seem like the best time for the World Health Organization's biggest financial supporter to threaten to pull the plug on its operations, but that's where we are. On Friday afternoon, President Trump announced that the US is withdrawing entirely from the Organization.

The move comes ten days after the White House sent a withering four-page letter to the organization's Director General which accused the organization of ignoring early warnings about the virus' spread and bowing to Chinese efforts to downplay its severity. The letter closed with a threat to withdraw within 30 days unless the WHO shaped up to better serve "American interests." In the end, the Administration had patience only for 10 days after all.


Some argue that Trump is simply trying to divert attention from his own handling of the outbreak in the United States. Others counter that, love Trump or hate him, he's right about this. Here's a useful fact check of some of the letter's specific claims.

So, is Trump's criticism of the WHO fair?

Yes, the WHO is broken and must be forced to change. Faced with the outbreak of a potentially severe new illness, the WHO failed to expose the facts of the case. The organization either did not see or did not acknowledge evidence that China hid the true scale of the virus' threat and punished Chinese doctors who publicly warned that risks were growing. In January, the WHO's inspector publicly praised "China's commitment to transparency."

The refusal to directly provide information to Taiwan – which is excluded from membership in the organization out of international deference to China's wishes – put millions of Taiwanese people at unnecessary risk. Where's the transparency in that? Whether the WHO's failure was a result of ignorance or cowardice in the face of Beijing's newly assertive leadership, these problems cost the world valuable time that could have been used to slow momentum toward a global pandemic.

In sum, if the "WHO" can't safeguard "WH" at a moment like this, then we clearly need to remake the "O" itself.

No, Trump fails to understand what the WHO is and isn't. First, the Organization doesn't have a mandate to enter any of its member states "uninvited." Any restrictions on entry are China's to answer for, not the WHO's. And while China is prickly, it's hard to imagine the United States government – or many others for that matter – giving an international health organization free access to any information it wants.

Second, how do you blame the WHO for sounding the alarm late when the White House ignored the earliest WHO warnings. The organization called the virus a "global health emergency" in January. The Trump administration waited until March 16 to issue national social distancing guidelines. Had this been done even two weeks earlier, some virologists say, as many as 90 percent of American deaths could have been prevented.

Third, even if the WHO should be reformed, threatening to walk away from it in the middle of a pandemic is dangerous and short-sighted. COVID-19 is currently wreaking havoc in low-income countries that rely on WHO personnel and infrastructure to manage large parts of the pandemic response. Pulling the plug now risks an even greater human catastrophe.

Finally, Trump's threat is strategically foolish. If you're worried about Chinese influence at the WHO, walking out risks opening the way for...China! Just hours before Trump sent that letter 10 days ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged up to $2 billion to help the WHO's global pandemic response efforts. Is that really what the White House wants?

What do you think? Is the current WHO a big problem in need of urgent reform, or is it an imperfect organization that's a lot better than any current alternatives?

EDITORS NOTE: This story has been updated to lead with President Trump's May 29 announcement that the US is cutting ties to the World Health Organization.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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