The United States – usually at the head of the table helping to coordinate in global crises – refused to take place at the virtual international meetings called by the World Health Organization and the European Union to coordinate work on potentially life-saving vaccines.
Former world leaders warn that the Trump administration risks alienating allies by politicizing the deadly pandemic with its drive to punish China and get other nations to choose sides.
The United States blocked a vote on Friday on a UN Security Council resolution to collectively help a planet devastated by the pandemic that called for a global ceasefire. The United States did not want any references to WHO in the text and rejected a compromise version that did not directly mention the organization – and instead cited United Nations “specialized health agencies”, according to two diplomats who knew the process.
Similarly, the United States blocked expressions of global unity at G7 and G20 meetings because of anger towards China and WHO.
Disbelief and sadness
And where in the past the presidents of the United States have offered a firm voice, observers from Asia Pacific to Europe have expressed disbelief, amusement and sadness at the briefings on President Donald Trump’s virus, stating that they are deeply harmful to the image of the United States overseas.
U.S. officials reject, urging both funding to fight Covid-19 and the work Trump is doing across the Group of Seven and bilaterally – conducting more than 50 calls with world leaders. But experts say that funding without comprehensive global coordination can slow global progress.
At a time when nearly 4 million people around the world have been infected with the virus, diplomats say that many countries crave the firm leadership of the United States which they have seen at historic times and in previous epidemics, citing the President’s response. Barack Obama at Ebola and President George W. Bush’s work on HIV / AIDS.
“They want the United States to lean more,” said one European diplomat. “We know they are doing a lot with countries, including developing countries, bilaterally … but many countries are yearning for the decisive US effort we saw when the Berlin Wall fell. Many countries believe that this is one of those crucial moments in history and the United States has always driven in those times “.
Critics say the Trump administration’s approach to coronavirus has not only hindered the fight against the pandemic, has increased uncertainty, eroded respect for the United States and increased concern that the international system is no longer functioning effectively.
Global health officials have found Trump’s move to cut funding for the WHO in the midst of an “absolutely breathtaking” pandemic, Yates added. “It’s worse than a lack of coordination, it seems almost destructive.”
A senior State Department official told reporters that the president “has concerns” for the WHO, which Trump has accused of being biased in favor of China. The official repeatedly stressed that the United States “is the single largest health and humanitarian donor in the world” and stated that the United States “and President Trump are leading global efforts to combat this pandemic”, in part through the American presidency of the G7.
But the mechanism of an international response led by the United States is not moving forward this time, said Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the nonprofit campaign ONE.
“Everyone in the world is looking for the same goods. How can we make sure that the global economy stays where it needs to be?” asked Smith, a former administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. And while he notes that the G7 and G20 have held virtual meetings, “I would love to see the United States make the kind of extra effort to mobilize the world on multiple levels.”
U.S. officials say Trump has convened regular virtual meetings with G7 ministers to coordinate assistance to other countries, but the White House has skipped international meetings to coordinate vaccine hunts, leaving experts baffled. A meeting was organized by WHO, while another meeting in over 40 countries and several organizations raised commitments of $ 8 billion and promised that anyone who produces an effective vaccine will share it with the rest of the world.
The absence of the United States has been “really, really unfortunate”, said Smith, not only “because the United States has historically been a leader”, but because the United States has a national interest in being part of the group “that is seeking to accelerate the development of vaccines and therapeutics, because obviously we will need a vaccine here … I think it would be wise, and in our interest, to be involved on the ground floor. “
Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: “It’s a very crazy and disturbing thing that [the US] he would go his own way and stay out of it. It is the country with the largest funding capacity, the largest grassroots interest, the largest research and development capacity. “
He noted that the Trump administration began its “warp speed” effort towards developing a vaccine, indicating the complex web of interests that is needed to develop one, including production and testing problems. “I don’t know that it is conceivable to make an effort on your own,” he said.
Repeatedly questioned Tuesday about the United States’ absence from vaccine meetings, the State Department official stressed how much funding the United States is giving to the Covid fight. The next day, the State Department released a statement highlighting U.S. funding and its work with organizations such as the Global Alliance on Vaccines and stated that the U.S. sees vaccine conferences as “complementary to our ongoing efforts. “.
He added that “as we progress in this global fight against Covid-19, we are counting on our allies and partners joining the United States to ask the difficult questions that are needed by China and the WHO.”
“I’m afraid everything is political,” said a German diplomat discussing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence that intelligence indicates that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, although it did not provide evidence. “It’s pretty obvious it’s part of the campaign.”
‘Stranger than fiction’
A French diplomat said bluntly that “we cannot turn our backs on China. He is a great partner. Nobody can. We must maintain a partnership”.
The European diplomat said that a number of countries believe that “at the moment, the priority must be to overcome the global pandemic that requires a lot of cooperation … China must be part of it and WHO has to be involved … Anything that could currently diminish the effort makes people a little nervous. “
The behavior of the President of the United States has also made many international observers a little nervous.
Thomas Gomart, director of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations, said that Europe is looking with amazement at Trump’s response to the pandemic, calling his behavior “stranger than fiction”.
“It provides us with a very mixed balance of fun and sadness, which isn’t quite what is expected of a president of the United States,” said Gomart, an assessment shared by Spaniard Javier del Pino, a prominent journalist.
“The way we look at Trump was a lot of fun at first,” said Del Pino. “It’s not fun anymore.”