0839 GMT July 07, 2020
President Donald Trump’s incompetent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is not only exacerbating the death and destruction caused by the virus in the US. It is also crippling the global response to the crisis, and the costs could be even deadlier.
When global crises hit, American leadership is essential. Whether it was launching the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) or marshaling efforts to respond to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the US has played a central role in tackling many of the world’s deadliest health crises. American leadership is far from perfect, but it is necessary to tackle threats of a global magnitude.
This pandemic is one of the greatest challenges the world has faced since the World War II. America has lost more people to COVID-19 than it has lost in all of its military conflicts since the beginning of the Vietnam War. The outbreak has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives around the world, and the crisis has just begun. As the death toll rises and the path out of the pandemic remains uncertain, the economic catastrophe will be enormous.
A successful global effort to defeat the pandemic will require a robust American response. Instead, Trump is making it harder for the world to address the crisis.
Trump does not seem to recognize that the only effective solution to the pandemic is to counter it everywhere. Without a universally administered vaccine, the virus could continue to cycle through country after country. And as desperate as the situation is in the US, other countries could fare far worse. The UN recently tripled its assessment of the immediate need for aid to the most vulnerable and said trillions of dollars in rescue packages would be necessary for developing economies. In addition to the unimaginable number of people who could die from the virus itself, the pandemic could cause famines of “biblical proportions”, according to the World Food Programme, and an economic collapse that could cost countless more lives.
While the US would normally be leading calls for assistance to developing countries to help them deal with the pandemic, the Trump administration is barely noticing the desperate need around the world. In past crises, the US would gather allies and partners to develop common solutions; this time, the Trump administration blocked the G20 from taking action.
Trump has attacked the primary international governmental organization dedicated to responding to pandemics. Early in the outbreak, long before Trump claimed that the virus would “disappear”, the World Health Organization (WHO) was sounding the alarm and warning countries to prepare. But instead of working with the WHO, the Trump administration has turned the organization into a battleground with China and halted US funding.
Trump has stood in the way of efforts to aid those who could be devastated by the pandemic. When the UN secretary-general pushed for a global cease-fire during the pandemic – which numerous groups involved in armed conflicts indicated they would support – the US held up efforts because of squabbling with China over language referring to the WHO. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued to pressure Iran and Venezuela with sanctions despite how vulnerable their people are.
Trump has stood in the way of efforts to aid those who could be devastated by the pandemic
Trump seems to view the race for a vaccine as a zero-sum game. In March, he reportedly tried to buy a German company that had made progress in developing a vaccine, with the intent of securing credit and access for the US. On May 4, leaders from around the world convened to raise funds to find a vaccine and treatments and clear the way for mass production and distribution. But the US was missing in action – not only did Trump fail to attend, but the US didn’t even send an official or any funds.
One of the threads running through all this is a deadly US-China blame game. Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initially responded to the outbreak by trying to censor those speaking out about it, many in the US blame China for allowing the pandemic to spread. Whatever culpability China deserves, no one gains right now from a US-China feud over the pandemic at the expense of collective efforts to beat the disease. Yet that’s exactly what the Trump administration and the CCP are doing.
Trump’s deadly mishandling of the pandemic at home also threatens to make the world’s most powerful country an international pariah. With more cases and deaths than any other country, and with a president who seems uninterested in doing what it takes to safely reopen the economy, the rest of the world is unlikely to take American policies for addressing the pandemic seriously. Even worse, as other countries begin to safely reopen their economies, the US may become the target of travel bans, as China was early in the pandemic.
In moments of global crisis, America is still the indispensable nation. But in today’s moment of need, Trump is making America an obstacle to success.
Source: The Guardian
* Michael H. Fuchs is a senior fellow at American Progress, where his work focuses on US foreign policy priorities and US policy toward the Asia-Pacific region.