Read It and Weep

Reading stuff like this in the paper makes me want to go to the country, eat a lot of peaches and try to find Jesus, on my own. It’s hard to identify all the ways in which it is appalling.

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

The Trump administration demonstrated almost every flaw they have here. They put the interests of corporate lobbyists ahead of the health of babies. They showed a complete contempt for science and the consensus of the international community. They abused their power and threatened well-meaning and innocent nations simply because they could. They negotiated in bad faith and behaved like extortionists. And then their bullying act immediately stopped when confronted by Russia because this administration always seeks to please Russia and only confronts them when all other alternatives have been exhausted.

The message is clear. If you are a political leader of a small or medium sized country, America will strong-arm you and try to prevent you from doing things based on science if that will hurt some powerful corporations. The way to stand up to America is to go running into the arms of Vladimir Putin.

In this case, Russia got to act as international Godfather and to do the right thing at the same time. That’s a horrible outcome for the United States, although it worked out well for the infants.

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