First Stage Investor

Time to Shock and Awe the Coronavirus

Time to Shock and Awe the Coronavirus
By Andy Gordon
Date March 26, 2020

The news is getting scarier by the day. We won’t have enough hospital beds, ICU units, respirators, ventilators, masks and other protective gear for our medical personnel and the population at large.

Our fight against the coronavirus has taken an odd turn. It seems halfhearted and defeatist. It looks as if the country is helpless in combating this pandemic… that we don’t have the tools, capacity or capability to fight back.

If this were a traditional war, I’d say we’re in retreat… losing ground we can’t afford to lose. But this is a different kind of war. The currency is not territory but time. And we’re losing time we can’t make up.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As a country, we are not helpless. We have the biggest and most advanced economy in the world. We have a ton of tools we can deploy.

If we so choose…

We are at war. We’re fighting for our lives. And we need to act like it. The death toll is climbing and building up steam. For every day we hold back, the ultimate number of lives this virus claims will climb higher.

That means the president has to marshal the tremendous resources of our country as if we were in a war. The time to hold back… play it safe… incrementally increase our response… has come and gone.

A group of Congress people sent a letter to the White House a couple of weeks ago urging the administration to step up its response to this health crisis in a manner equal to the efforts made during World War II…

During World War II, our country adapted to the demands of the time to produce mass quantities of bombers, tanks, and many smaller items… We know what the demands of this time are, and we must act now to meet these demands.

I wholeheartedly agree. But I think they’re invoking the wrong war. The U.S. should repurpose the “shock and awe” strategy that President George W. Bush used against Saddam Hussein in the second Gulf War and apply it to our fight against the novel coronavirus.

It worked in 2003, and it could work again.

Shock and awe was introduced in a 1996 Pentagon study. It describes an attack so massive that the enemy would be stunned, confused, overwhelmed and paralyzed.

What would a “shock and awe” attack on the coronavirus look like?

President Trump has already invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950. He’s used it to help acquire 65,000 tests and in contract language for new mask purchases. But he hasn’t fully deployed it yet because he doesn’t want to nationalize industries and tell them what to make. “We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Trump said in a press conference this weekend.

I say this isn’t the time to worry about the effects of nationalization. We need to act now.

The president needs to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of critical equipment and materials, such as ventilators, respirators, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. The Trump administration would have the authority to override existing contracts and direct supplies to hot spots like Seattle. It could use loans and subsidies to fund retooling factories. It could help finance production of an eventual vaccine.

If this were an act of war instead of an act of nature, the White House would not be so circumspect. If Iran or China unleashed the virus on the American people, you can bet that every sector of our economy would be re-tasked to fight the virus 24/7.

This isn’t the time to cling to the principle that this is a private sector issue and the government should minimize its role. General Motors and Ford are exploring how to use their manufacturing capacity and know-how to produce ventilators. But they are nowhere near production yet.

What is the White House waiting for? This is no time to hold back. This is no time to spoon out cautiously measured “proportional responses” to a virus that could kill up to 2 million Americans, by some estimates.

We can still unleash our vast store of capabilities to defeat this fast-advancing enemy. But we better hurry. Time is running out.

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