William Galston, writing in the Wall Street Journal, suggests "a coronavirus 9/11 commission" to "examine what went wrong" and make recommendations on future preparedness.
That sounds fine for eventually, as Galston suggests, after "the dust settles and passions cool." But the more urgent, immediate need is not a 9/11 commission but a Team B.
Richard Pipes, the Harvard history professor who chaired the 1976 Team B on Soviet strategic objectives, tells the story well in an October 1986 Commentary article, "Team B: The Reality Behind the Myth."
As Pipes put it, "The growing influence of scientific modes of thinking on all aspects of life is probably the most outstanding feature of modern Western culture. ... So persuaded are many scientists of the incontrovertible and universal validity of their method that in their public capacity they readily succumb to a fanaticism that is quite impervious to both argument and experience. ... it takes a great deal of civic courage to stand up to a consensus of one's peers, especially if it is reinforced with political influence and access to funding."
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a rendering of the novel coronavirus.
Pipes went on, "Having been brought into the process of decision-making and given political influence never before enjoyed by members of their profession, American scientists quickly formulated a body of opinion that brooked no opposition. Alternative views were silenced, their advocates ostracized."
To counter that tendency, as Pipes tells the story, in 1975 the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board "proposed a 'competitive analysis,' to be carried out under the direction of the White House through its National Security Council, that would pit a team of outside experts against the CIA, to determine whether the two groups, using the same data, would or would not reach the same assessment of the Soviet strategic threat."
The particulars then involved Cold War nuclear strategy. The present need for a Team B involves the coronavirus, every bit as much of a life-and-death matter as the Cold War was. With the virus reponse, it's clear who Team A is—Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and informal outside White House advisers such as former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, and Christopher Murray of the University of Washington. They are informing the White House's current response. It's also clear who the candidates for Team B would be—coronavirus dissenters such as David Katz, John Ioannidis, Michael Levitt, Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya. Ask Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight.com to serve, too—his site has admirable humility about the difficulty of modeling the virus.
In the Pipes era, there wasn't just a single Team B, but several. In the present situation, we might have a Team B not only for virus modeling and response, but also one for procurement and supply chain. Make the team members not only medical doctors but also economists and ethicists; I was struck by a recent piece by Paul Romer and Alan Garber observing, "If we keep up our current strategy of suppression based on indiscriminate social distance for 12 to 18 months, most of us will still be alive. It is our economy that will be dead."
The final decisions here are political ones, so the key thing is that President Trump and Vice President Pence are exposed to a robust policy debate rather than confined to a narrow, self-reinforcing consensus. It may be that Team A's view of it is right.
The Cold War Team B report was Top Secret and only partially declassified in 2010; the current one will be most helpful if it is public and if it includes data on things like, of the people who have severe cases of Covid-19, are they smokers or vapers, how old are they, what pre-existing health issues they have, what medications they take. What determines why many cases are "mild" or even asymptomatic while others are severe or deadly? Why does it seem like some regions are being harder hit than others?
The virus response differs from the Cold War in that governors have more authority to formulate their own policies, and also that in the end, in many cases, individuals and institutions will have to make their own risk assessments. It won't make any difference if the president orders America re-opened if people don't feel safe leaving home. A Team B report may inform not only the president but also the public.