President Joe Biden made a good decision this week when he decided to roil the political waters by publicly disclosing a division within the intelligence agencies about the possible origin of COVID-19.
Biden directed U.S. intelligence agencies to "redouble their efforts" to determine the cause of the pandemic, suggesting that while the virus could have jumped from animals to humans, it also could have escaped from a Wuhan lab.
It's not a comfortable place for Democrats: Considering a theory that some, and especially Republicans, espoused early on was quickly labeled by most Democrats as "another conspiracy theory." Aside from partisanship, the premise that 3.5 million lives worldwide may have been snuffed because of a human error and experimentation, possibly funded in part by the U.S., at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China is an absolutely horrifying thought.
But getting to the truth is important, much more important than politics.
And the president's decision, announced Wednesday, would seem to reflect his own frustration that U.S. intelligence agencies have yet to produce a consensus on COVID-19's origins. In fact, some former intelligence officials who asked not to be named have told as much to The Washington Post.
According to the Post, Biden first asked the intelligence community to examine the origins of the pandemic in March. About two weeks ago he received the results of that inquiry in his presidential daily briefing.
In announcing the redoubled effort to find the truth, Biden said that with what's been looked at so far, two "elements" of the intelligence community "lean toward" the hypothesis that the outbreak began when an animal infected a human, while another leans toward the notion of a lab escape, "each with low or moderate confidence."
Each with "low or moderate confidence" is not good enough. Especially not in this time of our country's unyielding partisan bickering, and especially not when China is signaling at a World Health Assembly meeting that it will not support the next steps in an international investigation in the virus origins.
Biden was told that intelligence officials had large amounts of still unexamined evidence that required additional computer analysis. He gave the intelligence agencies 90 days to deliver.
Of course, we never should have left the investigation to China in the first place — no matter how many times Donald Trump said China was "doing a good job" handling the virus or — later — derisively calling COVID-19 "the China virus" in racially charged tones that helped drive partisan distraction.
Nor should — either political party or the media — have been OK to with being dismissive of concerns that it might have been connected with a lab. Especially a lab that had funding ties to our own National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
But similarly, going forward, no one of us should be in the purely cynical company of Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who was quick this week to ascribe only posturing to Biden's move: "The only reason that Biden's doing this is it's becoming untenable not to look into whether or not the virus originated in a Chinese lab," the senator said in a statement.
More than 3.5 million people are dead. Nearly 170 million have been sickened. Nearly 1.8 billion vaccine doses have been administered at untold cost — amid the other associated untold economic costs of pandemic closures and shutdowns and job losses.
Yes, our first order of business should have been disease containment, and as a world and country we clearly stumbled at that — certainly early on. But we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. While much of the world's leaders and experts focused on vaccines and distribution, surely our intelligence agencies could already have been focusing on getting to more than a split conjecture about how this virus originated.
A May 5 article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists seems to be what has finally broken the year-plus logjam in Washington about getting to the bottom of the virus's beginning. That article described the toxic stew of politics about the question like this: "The political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel."
Ouch. That gets us all. Politicians, government officials, scientists, the media.
And why not? There's plenty of viral blame to go around.
We'll need more than a vaccine to fix this. We'll need resolve to stop the political pandering and find the truth.
Joe Biden, four months into his first term, has taken the first step by speaking publicly about his "redouble" the effort directly. Now we want to see him and his administration make good on that redoubled effort.