Since the novel coronavirus has swept the world, I have often thought about this person’s prescient risk calculus. Most leaders lack the discipline to do routine risk-based horizon scanning, and fewer still develop the requisite contingency plans. Even rarer is the leader who has the foresight to correctly identify the top threat far enough in advance to develop and implement those plans.
Suffice it to say, the Trump administration has cumulatively failed, both in taking seriously the specific, repeated intelligence community warnings about a coronavirus outbreak and in vigorously pursuing the nationwide response initiatives commensurate with the predicted threat. The federal government alone has the resources and authorities to lead the relevant public and private stakeholders to confront the foreseeable harms posed by the virus. Unfortunately, Trump officials made a series of judgments (minimizing the hazards of COVID-19) and decisions (refusing to act with the urgency required) that have needlessly made Americans far less safe.
In short, the Trump administration forced a catastrophic strategic surprise onto the American people. But unlike past strategic surprises—Pearl Harbor, the Iranian revolution of 1979, or especially 9/11—the current one was brought about by unprecedented indifference, even willful negligence. Whereas, for example, the 9/11 Commission Report assigned blame for the al Qaeda attacks on the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush, the unfolding coronavirus crisis is overwhelmingly the sole responsibility of the current White House.