US president Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, in the Brady briefing room at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/ MANDEL NGAN
US president Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, in the Brady briefing room at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/ MANDEL NGAN

US President Donald Trump has made good — or, rather, bad — on his campaign promise to put “America First”, which in practice has often meant “America alone”. He has undermined US influence at the UN, questioned the foundations of Nato and made this country less secure and less influential by repudiating international agreements.

This is old news. What is new is that Trump’s insular approach to foreign policy — coupled with his early attempts to minimise the threat posed by Covid-19 — is undermining US leadership in rallying the world to deal co-operatively with the pandemic. Such global co-ordination is vitally necessary to replace the current patchwork of national and regional efforts, some of them sorely inadequate.

Obviously, any US president’s first duty during this public health crisis is to protect the people of the US. No-one is suggesting that Trump embrace a sentimental one-worldism. But because of the global nature of this menace, American lives are threatened by a failure of this administration to galvanise international support for a strategy to control a pandemic that knows no borders.

American influence in the world arguably had been ebbing even before Trump was elected, but he has dramatically increased the estrangement with allies by calling Nato “obsolete” (a characterisation he later withdrew) and deciding to pull the US out of the Paris accord on climate change and the international agreement designed to forestall Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. 

Given the president’s cranky aversion to internationalism, it’s not surprising that the administration hasn’t made maximum use of the UN to address the pandemic, for example by securing the adoption of a Security Council resolution similar to the one passed in 2014 during the Ebola crisis. 

Because both the US and China exercise a veto in the Security Council, adoption of such a resolution would require co-operation between the two countries. Lately the president has moderated his harsh language about China, avoiding the term “Chinese virus” and praising Chinese President Xi Jinping. But it’s not clear that he’s willing to join hands with China on an international approach to dealing with the outbreak. That, rather than competition with China for pre-eminence, should be the goal. /Los Angeles, April 6

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