Donald Trump’s “America First” is a dangerous fantasy in the coronavirus pandemic


It is not surprising that the administration of US President Donald Trump, whose foreign policy doctrine is called “America First,” greatly underestimated the importance for the security of the United States of defeating the new overseas coronavirus pandemic. Trump has been slow to recognize that the United States cannot protect himself from the virus: on February 26, the president predicted that the number of infected Americans would soon drop “close to zero”, while the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow insisted that the United States had “contained” the threat because its borders were “almost tight”. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross even said the unrest in China “will help accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” But of course, the US borders weren’t tight at all, and the United States now has the highest number of reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in the world, with more than 7,000 deaths, a number almost certain to increase exponentially over the next few weeks.

With the increase in the national toll, the administration and many governors belatedly implemented aggressive containment measures, and Congress intervened with a $ 2.2 trillion stimulus package to provide temporary economic relief to American workers and businesses. But Washington is still not doing enough to prevent and mitigate the spread of the disease across American borders – in some cases, the administration has even cut foreign aid and rejected diplomacy where more of the two was needed. . The health and safety of the American people are the legitimate priorities of the United States government, but focusing narrowly on fighting the virus at home while allowing it to spread abroad would be as short-sighted as focusing on the fighting a fire only in his own house the neighborhood was engulfed in flames.

Trump insists that he is “the President of the United States. . . not the president of other countries “and that” we must focus on this country “while” they are working on their country “. His approach ignores the fact that failing to defeat the pandemic abroad undermines our ability to control it – and restore our way of life – at home.


Long before the current crisis, the Trump administration has repeatedly proposed drastic cuts in foreign aid and global health funding. In February of this year, as the new coronavirus spread to China and beyond, the administration proposed to cut US foreign aid programs by 21% for fiscal year 2021. The cuts included 35 % of funding for global health programs, amounting to approximately $ 3 billion and including a 50% reduction in US support for the World Health Organization (WHO). In pursuit of other immigration and foreign policy objectives, the administration has reduced assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Syria, and the Palestinian territories, including all budgets and health systems were already under severe strain. At the United Nations in 2018, Trump announced that “to move forward, we will only give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends.”

Trump has not completely ignored the rest of the world. Since the start of the pandemic, the administration has announced additional international assistance of $ 274 million. But it is a drop in the bucket at a time when more than a million people around the world are already infected with the deadly virus, national budgets are stretched everywhere and the world economy is headed for a severe recession. The $ 2.2 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed and Trump signed on March 27 also fails to take sufficient account of the global dimension of the crisis. This bill allocates only $ 1.5 billion – less than a tenth of a percent of its total – to support the international activities of the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin said the bill provides almost as much to Amtrak as it does to the fight against the virus abroad.

Some of the foreign aid cuts proposed by the Trump administration may prove particularly counterproductive. On March 23, for example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced plans to cut aid to Afghanistan by $ 1 billion in 2020 and threatened to cut another $ 1 billion in 2021. But the Afghan government is already short of money and obtains around 75 percent of its income from international donors. Its public health infrastructure is poor. If Kabul were to adopt austerity measures as COVID-19 spreads, the already fragile government could collapse. On March 24, the Afghan Minister of Public Health said that without social distancing, up to 16 million Afghans could eventually become infected. The problem is not limited to Afghanistan: According to the EU border agency Frontex, some 17,000 Afghans crossed the Aegean Sea in Europe in 2019, and almost double that number should do so in 2020.

The administration’s proposed cuts in foreign aid could prove particularly counterproductive.

Yemen is also facing cuts to Washington’s aid. Seeking to pressure the Houthi leadership to ease restrictions on the delivery of aid to areas under its control, the Trump administration has suspended about $ 70 in aid to those areas. The cuts – which provide exceptions for certain “crucial and vital activities” but not for basic health care – could prove catastrophic, and not just for Yemenis. Lise Grande, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said The Washington Post last week that his organization “ran out of money” and would have to close its rescue operations within the next month if additional funds were not available. So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Yemen, but an epidemic seems to be only a matter of time. Yemen shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman and maintains extensive interaction with Iran, which has one of the highest infection rates in the world, a problem exacerbated by the “maximum pressure” campaign. administration.

The damage doesn’t stop there. Trump has put an end to all American support for the Palestinian Authority, including humanitarian aid, development and public health, ostensibly in order to put pressure on the Palestinians to adopt the peace plan of the administration in the Middle East. But this decision also risks undermining global efforts to fight the virus. Washington has further cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the main provider of health care and basic services to millions of Palestinian refugees. One consequence of these measures is that COVID-19 may soon overwhelm the anemic health system in Gaza. According to the WHO, Gaza has only 15 fans available for its total population of nearly two million, in one of the most densely populated regions of the world.

Megan Doherty, Senior Director of Policy at Mercy Corps and former State Department Foreign Assistance Advisor, notes that refugees and displaced populations “are particularly vulnerable to the virus because in crowded camps distance is impossible and residents do not have access to information, soap and clean water. Refugees elsewhere in the region, including Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Jordan and Egypt, are also very vulnerable to the virus, which will continue to threaten the world’s populations at least until a vaccine can be deployed.


Faced with this global crisis, Trump could try to leave other countries to deal with their own problems while he erects walls around the United States. But this vision is a dangerous fantasy. Even if the United States definitively refused entry to nationals of large regions of Asia, Africa or the Middle East, desperate people from these regions will inevitably travel to the United States via Mexico, Canada and Europe. And even if it were somehow possible to prevent people from coming from these countries, the costs to the United States of evading their most important trading partners would be higher than those of working to contain the virus in the countries of origin to start with.

The most realistic option is for the United States to make a determined international effort to end the pandemic. There is a vast precedent for such leadership not only in wartime but in the field of global health. In 2003, the administration of President George W. Bush recognized the spread of HIV / AIDS as a threat not only to global health but also to global and American security. He established the President’s emergency plan to fight AIDS, which has mobilized medical, diplomatic and foreign aid resources to save millions of lives around the world. Similarly, in response to the devastating Ebola epidemic in 2014, President Barack Obama has worked closely with the United Nations, the World Health Organization and foreign governments to contain and treat the deadly disease, including by sending teams of American experts to help other countries.

In the current crisis, however, the United States has exercised no such leadership. On March 26, G-7 partners did not accept a joint statement on the pandemic because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that the pathogen be labeled “Wuhan virus”. Trump has close ties to Saudi Arabia, who is currently the chairman of the G-20, but there is little evidence to suggest that the administration is using this organization to guide a coordinated international response. Indeed, Trump’s failure to lead a coordinated global response, as well as his practice of berating, belittling and intimidating the closest and wealthiest allies of the United States, has remarkably enabled many see China as a more responsible world leader than the United States. . On March 31, leaders of Ecuador, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan and Singapore proposed the type of global alliance to fight the pandemic that was once led by the United States .

The coronavirus pandemic is a threat to the national security of the United States.

Much time has been lost and many opportunities missed, but the administration and Congress can still act. Administration should drop illusion that infectious disease can be stopped at US borders, and Secretary of State Pompeo should start building coalition to fight pandemic through existing organizations such as WHO , G-7 and G-20, or new ones if necessary.


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