In a May 6 article in Forbes with the title, “Pompeo Backtracks About Wuhan Lab: The Latest In The Controversial Coronavirus Origin Theory,” Jack Brewster provides a detailed timeline of the debate relating to the hypothesis that the novel coronavirus originated in a Wuhan laboratory.
The first entry in the timeline is dated January 26 and reads: “The conservative Washington Times publishes a report with the menacing headline ‘Coronavirus may have originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program,’ which immediately gets global pickup.”
Brewster then lists key events that led to the growing politicization of the rumor, in particular by its most adamant champion, Representative Tom Cotton of the Republican Party.
Will We Ever Know the True Origin of COVID-19?
In the past week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the highest-profile spokesman for insisting on the credibility of the Wuhan lab hypothesis. Forbes offers this entry for May 3: “Pompeo says on ABC News ‘This Week’ that there is ‘enormous evidence’ to support the theory that COVID-19 came from the lab, though agreed with the inspector general that the virus did not appear ‘manmade or genetically modified,’ and would not say whether he thought it was intentionally released because the ‘Chinese Communist Party has refused to cooperate with world health experts.’”
The timeline then lists a denial by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases expert, who observed on May 4 “that all signs indicate that the virus ‘evolved in nature and then jumped species,’ and doubted that could have escaped the Wuhan laboratory.”
Brewster then reports the somewhat surprising news that, on May 6, “Pompeo seems to hedge his statements, now saying, ‘we don’t have certainty,’ the virus leaked from the lab, even though ‘there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory.’”
After consultation with Secretary Pompeo’s brain, here is today’s 3D definition:
1) Significant (when evidence to the contrary is presented by an authority)
2) Without certainty (to clarify what “significant” means)
3) Probably inexistent (what anyone paying attention will understand after peeling away the political motives behind the initial description)
Just as President Donald Trump has confessed to grabbing women by the “pussy,” Pompeo has confessed to cheating and lying. That Pompeo revises the very meaning of the words he uses and hides the true meaning should surprise no one. It’s a pity that when the media broadcast video of Pompeo speaking in public, they don’t practice the same discipline cigarette manufacturers are required to apply on their packaging. As soon as Pompeo appears on the screen, they should affix a label that says “certified liar” and perhaps add the disclaimer that even liars sometimes tell the truth.
Politicians like Cotton rarely admit — as Pompeo did on that one occasion — that they have studied and acquired the specific political skill of distorting and sometimes boldly contradicting the truth. When the message they want to pass is contradicted by preponderant evidence to the contrary, so long as they detect the slightest sliver of doubt in the prevailing theory, they seize the opportunity to affirm that their interpretation is the correct one.
When politicians push a theory about another nation’s intentions, it’s rarely because they are motivated to establish an incontrovertible truth. They usually have a specific interest they are defending or an ideological point to make. An earlier Forbes article on Cotton quoted him as saying that “all the circumstantial evidence” points to a Wuhan laboratory as the origin of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. He then reveals what he means by circumstantial evidence: “I’m skeptical of any promises made by any communist and the Chinese communists don’t have a very good record of keeping their promises.”
Fellow Republican populist Senator Josh Hawley affirmed: “The [Chinese Communist Party] unleashed this pandemic.” Both of these lawmakers are appealing to a tried and true rhetorical meme in the US, at least since the time of J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy, that it’s a communist plot. As soon as such protectors of America’s capitalist democracy detect the slightest doubt concerning a question in which communists were in any way involved, they remind us that the opposite must be true.
Earlier this week on Fair Observer, to keep the debate open, Daniel Wagner cited not so much whatever circumstantial evidence exists for the claim that the virus originated in the Wuhan lab as the lack of evidence against it. For Wagner, the failure to produce conclusive evidence for the wet market thesis “lends credence to the theory that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that led to the COVID-19 pandemic may indeed have escaped from a laboratory in China.” “May” is always a useful word to legitimize speculation.
Wagner claims that “we may never learn the truth from the Chinese government,” which is a likely enough assumption, but that supposes — without evidence — that the government actually knows the truth. Wagner asserts that in the absence of proof, “this theory makes a good deal of sense.” The hypothesis does make sense to the extent that such a scenario is credible and could be the basis of a novel of political fiction. But making sense doesn’t establish truth.
In a CNN interview with virus hunter Peter Daszak on April 26, host Fareed Zakaria appears to share Wagner’s and Cotton’s doubt about the wet market narrative. He also evokes the possibility of a Chinese coverup. Daszak is a mere scientist, not a politician. He agrees that “it may be that we’ll never really know the answer to where this virus actually originated.” But in answering the interviewer’s question about whether the virus could have escaped from the lab, he says that “to my mind, it’s not a possibility.”
Daszak explains in detail that “after we found this pandemic, it became politicized.” He points to what happened next, with the emergence of “conspiracy theories, the pointing of the finger at China.” He astutely observes this fundamental truth that “politicization … means countries clamp up and it’s really unfortunate.”
Anti-communism appears to be the single most enduring meme US culture has ever created. Even after the great Soviet menace disappeared definitively in 1991, giving way to a brutal capitalist oligarchy ruled not by ideology but by greed, and even after China morphed into the prime example of state capitalism and a pillar of Davos-style globalization, with no remaining objective trace of Marxist ideology, the idea remains in the minds of a majority of Americans that the Russians and Chinese are communists seeking to overthrow America’s virtuous free market capitalism. As the current pandemic seems to be accomplishing that task, why shouldn’t we suspect a communist plot?
The whole inglorious episode of Russiagate illustrated that same reflex. Establishment Democrats felt they could conveniently exploit it against their archenemy, Donald Trump, because of his 2016 presidential campaign’s imagined collusion with the Russians, who in those people’s minds were still communists. Americans seem to believe strongly concerning other nations that once a communist, always a communist. And, of course, communists are liars, whereas CIA directors (such as Mike Pompeo or John Brennan) are not.
In other words, identifying communist enemies and excoriating and even demonizing them is an easy way of producing political pay dirt. In a recent article, Politico explains that “targeting China is an increasingly popular position in the Republican Party, so much so that Senate Republican strategists distributed a memo advising GOP candidates to concentrate their fire on China in the battle for the Senate.”
The coronavirus pandemic has clearly unhinged the post-Soviet Western world order. The decline of US hegemony has been accelerating since 2001 and George W. Bush’s wars. It was amplified by the subprime financial crash of 2007-08 and the succeeding bailouts. The historical evidence of that decline is now literally “enormous” and is far more than circumstantial. This has created a kind of nostalgia for a period when the enemy had a clear identity. They were all communists, an ideological label that could be applied to any number of nationalities or peoples: Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Chilean and even Egyptian or Congolese.
In the meantime China, as often in human history, has risen to a position of geopolitical power. Quite logically, China will be the enemy to mobilize voters in this crucial election year in the US. And Wuhan will continue to be a focus for many politicians, Republican and Democrat.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.