When will the economy turn around? The coronavirus recession, explained. | Vox


The first prerequisite for economic recovery will be a public health solution: widespread testing, tracing of possible infections, antibody testing for immunity, adequate supplies for the health care system, and so on.

The coronavirus outbreak will need to be firmly under control before the economy can resume anything approaching normalcy, and we just don’t know yet when the public health breakthrough will happen.

Consumers need confidence that participating in the economy won’t get them or their loved ones sick before they will revert to their typical economic activity.

Source: When will the economy turn around? The coronavirus recession, explained. – Vox

Coronavirus: The shift to online learning could worsen educational inequality | Vox


And the so-called “digital divide” is only the beginning.

Many low-income students are now in the position of trying to do their schoolwork in small spaces shared with other family members — sometimes in just a single room. While cities have set up food distribution centers to help students in need, many are still missing out on the resources and sense of stability that school can provide.

Meanwhile, students in poverty are having to deal with the trauma of living in a pandemic without many of the protections that more affluent families have, like the ability for parents to work from home or take sick leave.

Source: Coronavirus: The shift to online learning could worsen educational inequality – Vox

States Compete in ‘Global Jungle’ for Personal Protective Equipment Amid Coronavirus | US News


A shortage of desperately needed personal protective equipment generated by the coronavirus pandemic has driven an arms race among states, which are often more proactively partnering with nonprofits and the private sector to fortify their own reserves than they are with one another to equitably distribute supplies.

Government officials have warned that this competition will disproportionately benefit large, economically powerful states such as California and could potentially leave smaller states with smaller budgets wanting for life-saving equipment. But in absence of a federal price-controlling program, personal protective equipment bidding rages on.

Source: States Compete in ‘Global Jungle’ for Personal Protective Equipment Amid Coronavirus | Best States | US News

Trump’s Response to Coronavirus Is Classically Trump | US News


President Donald Trump has presided over a record high close of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and its biggest single-day drop. He enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate in recent history and may well be president during the modern highest jobless rate. He campaigned on a theme of American exceptionalism, only to see the nation nearly paralyzed by a virus.

But none of this has changed how he’s conducting his presidency.

While some presidents have taken an occasion such as a national emergency to encourage unity, Trump continues his brash, take-no-prisoners style, leading some to conclude that he’s missing an opportunity to remake his political persona into one more marketable for re-election and one more suited to a second term.

Source: Trump’s Response to Coronavirus Is Classically Trump | America 2020 | US News

Sign of the times: Mile-long line of cars outside California grocery giveaway | Reuters


Hundreds of other people, many wearing trash bags to shelter from the rain, arrived at the one-day grocery giveaway on foot, forming a blocks-long queue in Van Nuys, in the central San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles.

Organizers said they had enough groceries to hand out to more than 2,500 families, with each receiving a 36-pound (16-kg) box of rice, lentils and other staples as well as frozen chicken, oranges and other foods.

Source: Sign of the times: Mile-long line of cars outside California grocery giveaway – Reuters

French regulator says Google must pay news sites to send them traffic | Ars Technica


France’s competition authority says that Google must go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a rate that the search giant will pay to link to articles on French news sites. So far, Google has flatly refused to pay fees to link to news articles, despite a new EU copyright directive designed to force Google to do so.

France was the first country to transpose the EU’s order into national law. Google read the French law as allowing unlicensed use of the headline of a story, but not more than that. So in September, Google removed the “snippet” that often appears below headlines from its French news search results, as well as thumbnail images.

Source: French regulator says Google must pay news sites to send them traffic | Ars Technica

Why Does the WHO Exclude Taiwan? | Council on Foreign Relations


Taiwan’s experience has been a rare positive example of how governments can contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19. As of April 9, Taiwan had 380 confirmed cases and 5 deaths, a stunningly low number for a population of 23.6 million. This is particularly impressive given the high level of travel between China and Taiwan.

Taiwan’s success should be attributed to early preparedness, health expertise, government competence, and popular alertness.

Particularly important in Taiwan’s approach are transparency and open information. Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, established after SARS, releases information in daily briefings. This starkly contrasts with China’s initial cover-ups of the outbreak and its continued suppression of independent reporting. Taiwan’s experience rebuts the misleading narrative that only countries with draconian authoritarian powers can effectively combat the virus.

Why isn’t Taiwan a member of the WHO?

China, officially called the People’s Republic of China (PRC), refuses to allow that to happen. The PRC claims that Taiwan is a province of China, not an independent state. It says that only the PRC has the right to represent all of China in the United Nations and other international organizations, including the WHO, that limit membership to states.

Taiwan’s government, generally called the Republic of China on Taiwan, has all the elements of statehood required by international law and maintains diplomatic relations with fifteen countries.

Source: Why Does the WHO Exclude Taiwan? | Council on Foreign Relations

Trump, the Generals, and the Corrosion of Civil-Military Relations


When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, there was good cause to think that he would be popular with the armed forces. He was, for a start, a Republican, and the military leans heavily conservative. He had also run an ostentatiously pro-military campaign, promising to “rebuild the military, take care of vets and make the world respect the U.S. again!” There were, to be sure, some warning signs of trouble to come, such as when he attacked the war hero John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona (“I like people who weren’t captured”), and belittled the parents of a soldier who had died in combat after they dared to criticize him.

But initially, at least from the military’s perspective, the good seemed to far outweigh the bad. Trump pushed for higher defense spending; sent more U.S. forces and firepower to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; and liberalized the military’s rules of engagement, giving commanders on the ground more freedom of maneuver. Even more eye-catching was his appointment of generals to senior civilian positions: the retired Marine Corps general James Mattis became the secretary of defense, the retired Marine general John Kelly became the secretary of homeland security and then the White House chief of staff, the retired army lieutenant general Michael Flynn became Trump’s national security adviser—and, when he flamed out after just 24 days, was replaced by the then active-duty army lieutenant general H. R. McMaster. Trump, for his part, reveled in the generals’ aura of manliness, hailing “Mad Dog” Mattis (a nickname Mattis hated) as “a true General’s General!”

Some critics worried that the overrepresentation of generals in the administration would impinge on civilian control of the military. But many others celebrated the appointment of these generals, hoping that their presence in the administration would provide the reality TV star turned president with much-needed “adult” supervision.

Things went wrong almost immediately. How that happened—how the promise of smooth civil-military relations devolved into acrimony, backbiting, and bewilderment—is documented in four new books. Two are journalistic accounts: Trump and His Generals, a fair and comprehensive overview of Trump’s foreign policy by the journalist and think tanker Peter Bergen, and A Very Stable Genius, a work of first-rate news coverage and valuable insight by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, reporters at The Washington Post (where I am a columnist). The other two books are memoirs. Holding the Line, by Guy Snodgrass, a retired U.S. Navy officer who served as Mattis’s Pentagon speechwriter, gives the impression of being hastily cobbled together and includes more interoffice politics than most readers will want to know. But it provides a few nuggets that have not been reported elsewhere—such as the claim that Trump told Mattis to “screw Amazon” on a major contract because he was so unhappy with The Washington Post (which is owned by Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos). The other memoir—Call Sign Chaos, by Mattis and Bing West—doesn’t deal with the controversies of the Trump administration at all. “I’m old fashioned: I don’t write about sitting Presidents,” Mattis explains. But the book does provide an expertly crafted account of Mattis’s career, which helps explain why the marriage between Trump and his generals was destined for divorce.

A key turning point in the relationship was a July 2017 briefing for Trump held in what’s known as “the Tank,” a secure Pentagon conference room used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Accounts of the meeting are provided by Bergen (who begins his book with it), Snodgrass (who organized it and was present), and Rucker and Leonnig (who offer the juiciest details). Mattis had summoned the president and his senior advisers to explain why the U.S.-led system of security alliances and trade relationships still benefited the United States. It did not go well. All the accounts agree that Trump, who has a notoriously short attention span and a hair-trigger temper, openly fumed during Mattis’s presentation. According to Rucker and Leonnig, the president lashed out at U.S. allies, telling his generals, “We are owed money you haven’t been collecting!” Mattis interjected, “This is what keeps us safe,” but Trump predictably wasn’t buying it. “You’re all losers,” he spat. “You don’t know how to win anymore.” A few minutes later, the president—who had cited bone spurs to evade service in the Vietnam War—told a roomful of decorated generals, “I wouldn’t go to war with you people. You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

The generals, conditioned not to question the commander in chief’s authority, sat in stunned silence. It was left to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak up. “No, that’s just wrong,” he retorted. “Mr. President, you’re totally wrong. None of that is true.” After the meeting, standing with a few people he trusted, Tillerson called the president “a fucking moron.” When that comment was reported by NBC News a few months later, it sealed Tillerson’s fate.

Tillerson’s firing in the middle of March 2018 had an unintended consequence: it left the secretary of defense without backup. Until then, Tillerson and Mattis had formed a tag team to stop Trump’s more reckless impulses. They had succeeded in preventing the president from pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and from abandoning NATO’s mutual-defense provision. Mattis had also worked with Kelly to delay the implementation of Trump’s more provocative requests, Bergen writes, such as an order in early 2018 to evacuate American civilians from South Korea in preparation for a possible military strike on North Korea.

With Tillerson gone, it was only a matter of time before Mattis was out the door, too. Snodgrass writes that he found out as early as the summer of 2018 that Mattis was planning to serve only until the end of the year. The final break came in December, when Mattis objected to Trump’s initial decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria. Kelly, who was close to Mattis after years of Marine Corps service together, left shortly after Mattis. McMaster had already been fired in March of that year after clashing with Trump, as well as with Mattis. (Bergen writes that Mattis “pointedly referred” to the national security adviser as “Lieutenant General McMaster” to make clear that he outranked him.)

The only high-ranking officer who has maintained consistent influence with Trump since the start of the administration is the retired general Jack Keane, a former army vice chief of staff who was instrumental in advocating the Iraq “surge” in 2006–7. Keane has never accepted an official appointment, however, preferring to provide informal advice. Bergen writes that at various points, Keane helped talk Trump out of his desire to pull troops out of northern Syria and Afghanistan—but not even Keane could ultimately stop Trump. Trump has since abandoned the Syrian Kurds by relocating U.S. troops to Syria’s tiny oil fields, and he has agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 2020 as part of a deal with the Taliban.

Although Call Sign Chaos does not detail Mattis’s tenure at the Defense Department, it reveals why he and the other generals so often clashed with Trump. Mattis writes that from an early age, the Marine Corps instilled in him the fundamentals of leadership, which he sums up as “the three Cs”: competence (“Don’t dabble in your job; you must master it”), caring (“A marine knows when you are invested in his character, his dreams, and his development. Men like that don’t quit on you”), and conviction (“State your flat-ass rules and stick to them. . . . At the same time, leaven your professional passion with personal humility and compassion for your troops”). It is hard to imagine an ethos further removed from Trump’s relentless self-promotion, contempt for underlings, and disdain for expertise. The term “self-sacrifice” isn’t part of Trump’s vocabulary, and he views loyalty as a one-way street: he wants subordinates to be loyal to him—even at the cost of breaking the law—but he will be disloyal to them whenever it is advantageous to do so, often claiming to barely know them when they get in trouble.

The only thing more alien to Trump than Mattis’s military ethos is the former secretary of defense’s love of reading. Call Sign Chaos was largely finished before Mattis joined the administration, but it reads as if Mattis is covertly addressing the president when he writes, “If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. Any commander who claims he is ‘too busy to read’ is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.” Trump is, of course, notorious for not reading long briefing papers, much less books.

By contrast, all the generals who served at the top of the Trump administration were voracious readers, and it came as a shock to them to deal with a president so intellectually incurious and certain that he already knew everything—even though, Rucker and Leonnig report, Trump didn’t even know that India shares a 2,000-mile border with China. Trump became disenchanted by McMaster because the national security adviser was too professorial, trying to cram him with too much information. “Trump would ridicule McMaster,” Rucker and Leonnig write, “by describing the topic of the day and deploying a series of large, complex phrases to indicate how boring McMaster’s briefing was going to be.” They add that “the National Security Council staff were deeply disturbed by Trump’s treatment of their boss”—and rightfully so. Because many of those staffers were military officers, word spread through the tight-knit military community about how poorly Trump treated the decorated veteran of the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The hostility between Trump and the generals has since broken into public view. After Mattis wrote a blistering resignation letter, Trump called him “the world’s most overrated general.” Kelly waited more than a year after his departure to publicly criticize Trump, and when he did, in February of this year, Trump attacked him on Twitter: “When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. Being Chief of Staff just wasn’t for him.” That critique, of course, only raises the question of why Trump appointed Kelly—and so many other officials he now disparages—in the first place.

Beyond his very public break with his generals, Trump’s relationship with the military deteriorated owing to a series of decisions that did not sit well with the armed forces. My conversations with current and former officers indicated that they approved of Trump’s killing of Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general who was responsible for hundreds of U.S. deaths in Iraq, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State (or ISIS). But many I talked to were furious when Trump decided last October to abandon Syrian Kurdish forces by moving U.S. military personnel who had long served as a buffer between the Kurds and hostile Turkish forces, despite the fact that the Kurds had fought alongside the United States to defeat ISIS and had lost 11,000 soldiers in the process. That decision, many felt, ran counter to the military’s commitment to comrades on the battlefield. Many in the U.S. military were unhappy that Trump restored the rank of the Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher—who was accused of war crimes in Iraq—and fired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, an Iraq war veteran who had testified about Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine into helping his reelection campaign. Trump had Vindman and his twin brother, also a lieutenant colonel serving on the National Security Council staff, escorted from the White House grounds and then suggested that the military launch disciplinary proceedings against Vindman—something that the army refused to do. Kelly praised Vindman after his firing for doing “exactly what we teach them to do” by refusing to obey an “illegal order” and criticized Trump’s support of Gallagher as “exactly the wrong thing to do.” Officers such as Kelly know how hard it is to maintain discipline and good order when the commander in chief is signaling that war crimes are acceptable but telling the truth is not.

Many military personnel clearly still support Trump and approve of his swagger, but the president’s assaults on the military’s hallowed traditions of “duty, honor, country” have grated on many others. The Military Times’ surveys of military personnel reflect this disenchantment: when Trump was first elected, in November 2016, 46 percent of respondents had a positive view of him, and 37 percent had a negative one. By November 2019, a stark change had taken place: 42 percent positive, 50 percent negative. That same month, a number of generals unloaded on Trump, albeit from behind the cloak of anonymity, in an article in The Atlantic by Mark Bowden. Some have criticized the now departed generals for not speaking out more in public, but their reticence is understandable given that they have been taught from the start of their careers to steer clear of politics and that opposition to Trump could create a presidential backlash against colleagues still on active duty. At the same time, by not coming to Trump’s defense, the retired generals have made clear that they are no fans of the president.

The Trump presidency has been an education for both the commander in chief and the troops he leads. Trump, who knew little of government at first, learned about how much power he can wield. He doesn’t seem to have learned why previous presidents restrained themselves, by, for example, not telling the Justice Department whom to prosecute or what prison sentences to recommend. Trump has been emboldened because he feels that his controversial decisions—such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and killing Soleimani—have worked out better than naysayers predicted. He has become more obstinate and less willing to listen to advice the longer he has been in office.

The generals, for their part, learned that they could not simply proceed with business as usual. Trump dispelled that hope by surprising the Pentagon leadership with out-of-the-blue orders to stop military exercises with South Korea and to kick out transgender troops; the latter decision, Snodgrass writes, “created chaos in the Pentagon.” Mattis tried to humor Trump as much as he could but block him as much as possible. Snodgrass recalls Mattis saying that he’d “rather swallow acid” than hold Trump’s military parade in Washington and notes that Mattis alone among the cabinet refused to praise Trump on command. But even Mattis made compromises, such as sending the National Guard to the border in a pointless deployment designed to score political points for Trump. And although Mattis’s decision to avoid criticizing the serving president makes sense from his perspective as a retired general, he should realize that he was serving in a civilian capacity and that he owes the American people a full explanation before the 2020 election of whether Trump is fit to be president, based on his personal experience. Precisely because Mattis is such a well-known and well-respected figure, his judgment would carry weight, especially with Republican voters. His successor, Mark Esper, lacks Mattis’s public standing (and obvious allies at the top echelon of the government) and thus is more readily susceptible to political influence.

Trump has now surrounded himself with partisans, such as Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, and Robert O’Brien, his national security adviser, who see themselves as the president’s enablers, not his restrainers. (O’Brien reportedly distributes printouts of Trump’s tweets to his staff to guide their decision-making and priorities.) The agencies they oversee have suffered lasting damage: at the National Security Council, O’Brien has cut staffing by a third, and at the State Department, morale plummeted after Pompeo refused to defend diplomats such as William Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch against the criticism of the president and his political allies.

By contrast, the Department of Defense, because it is so much larger than any other government agency and so suffused with the military ethos, is more resistant to outside influence. But it is hardly immune. Witness, for example, Trump’s decision in February to fire John Rood, an undersecretary of defense who had clashed with the president by pushing to release aid to Ukraine and by opposing the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Trump’s attempts to bend the Defense Department to his will, employ it for political purposes, and purge it of all dissenting viewpoints will only accelerate if he wins another term. The generals who were hailed as the “axis of adults” are long gone, and their successors, military and civilian alike, have gotten the message about what happens to any official who dares to stand up to a mercurial and wrathful chief executive. The longer Trump stays in office, the harder it will be to safeguard the apolitical traditions of service to the nation, dedication to the rule of law, and loyalty to the Constitution, which are the hallmarks of the American armed forces.

If Trump loses in November, the process of repairing the damage can begin, but the past three years have shown how easily a power-hungry president can ride roughshod over norms in ways that harm the country’s institutions. Trump is surely not the last populist demagogue to win office. Going forward, Congress must impose greater limits on the president’s authority to prevent abuses such as political interference at the Department of Justice and troop deployments for political purposes. Congress is already taking action to limit the president’s war-making authority—for example, by repealing authorizations for the use of military force—although such legislation will not be enacted as long as Trump is in the White House and Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, is in control of the Senate. But limits on the president’s authority will always be hardest to enforce in the realm of national security, where there is good reason to give the commander in chief considerable discretion to defend the nation. Ultimately, the greatest safeguard against the misuse of the military is to inculcate a strong devotion to the rule of law among the officer corps so that future military leaders will fight back against illegal or unethical commands—as Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster have recently done in many (but not all) instances.

Source: Trump, the Generals, and the Corrosion of Civil-Military Relations

Donald Trump’s “America First” Is a Dangerous Fantasy in the Coronavirus Pandemic


It should come as no surprise that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose foreign policy doctrine is called “America first,” vastly underestimated the importance to U.S. security of defeating the novel coronavirus pandemic abroad. Trump was slow to recognize that the United States could not seal itself off from the virus: on February 26, the president predicted that the number of infected Americans would soon go down “close to zero,” while the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow insisted that the United States had “contained” the threat because its borders were “pretty close to airtight.” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross even assessed that the troubles in China “will help accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”

But of course American borders were not airtight at all, and the United States is now home to the highest number of reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in the world, with more than 7,000 deaths, a number almost certain to increase exponentially in the coming weeks.

With the domestic toll rising, the administration and many governors have belatedly implemented aggressive containment measures, and Congress has stepped in with a $2.2 trillion stimulus package to provide temporary economic relief to American workers and businesses. But Washington is still not doing nearly enough to prevent and mitigate the spread of the disease beyond U.S. borders—in some cases, the administration has even cut foreign assistance and rejected diplomacy where more of both were needed. The health and safety of the American people are the rightful priorities of the U.S. government, but concentrating narrowly on fighting the virus at home while allowing it to spread abroad would be as shortsighted as focusing on fighting a fire only in one’s own home when one’s whole 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 have to focus on this country” while “they’re working on their countries.” His approach overlooks the fact that failing to defeat the pandemic abroad undermines our ability to get it under control—and restore our way of life—at home.

Well before the current crisis, the Trump administration repeatedly proposed drastic reductions to foreign aid and funding for global health. In February of this year, even as the novel coronavirus was spreading in China and beyond, the administration proposed to cut U.S. foreign aid programs for fiscal year 2021 by 21 percent. The cuts included 35 percent of funding for global health programs, amounting to around $3 billion and encompassing a reduction of 50 percent in U.S. support for the World Health Organization (WHO). In pursuit of other immigration and foreign policy goals, the administration slashed assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Syria, and the Palestinian territories, all of whose budgets and health-care systems were already under great strain. At the United Nations in 2018, Trump announced that “moving forward, we are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends.”

Trump hasn’t completely ignored the rest of the world. Since the start of the pandemic, the administration has announced an additional $274 million in international aid. But that 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 everywhere are stretched thin, and the global economy is heading into a severe recession. Nor does the $2.2 trillion stimulus package, which Congress passed and Trump signed on March 27, adequately address the global dimension of the crisis. That entire bill allocates only $1.5 billion—less than one-tenth of one percent of its total—to support the international activities of the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin has pointed out that the bill provides almost as much to Amtrak as it does to fighting the virus abroad.

Some of the Trump administration’s most recent proposed cuts in foreign assistance could prove particularly counterproductive. On March 23, for example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced plans to reduce assistance to Afghanistan by $1 billion in 2020 and threatened to cut another $1 billion in 2021. But the Afghan government is already strapped for cash and gets some 75 percent of its revenues from international donors. Its public health infrastructure is poor. If Kabul has to adopt austerity measures as COVID-19 spreads, the already fragile government could collapse. Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Health said on March 24 that without social-distancing measures, up to 16 million Afghans could ultimately be infected. The problem would not be limited to Afghanistan: according to the EU border agency Frontex, some 17,000 Afghans crossed the Aegean Sea into Europe in 2019, and as many as double that number are expected to do so in 2020.

The damage does not end there. Trump has ended all U.S. support to the Palestinian Authority, including humanitarian, development, and public health assistance, ostensibly in order to pressure the Palestinians to embrace the administration’s Middle East peace plan. But this move, too, is likely to damage global efforts to fight the virus. Washington has further cut funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which is the primary provider of health-care and basic services to millions of Palestinian refugees.  One consequence of these measures is that COVID-19 could soon overwhelm Gaza’s anemic health system. According to the WHO, Gaza has only 15 available ventilators for its entire population of nearly two million, in one of the most densely populated areas of the world.

Megan Doherty, the senior director of policy at Mercy Corps and a former foreign assistance adviser at the State Department, notes that refugees and displaced populations “are particularly vulnerable to the virus, because in overcrowded camps, distancing is impossible, and residents lack access to information, soap, and clean water.” Refugees elsewhere in the region, including in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Jordan, and Egypt, are also highly vulnerable to the virus, which will continue to threaten global populations at least until a vaccine can be deployed.

Faced with this global crisis, Trump may try to leave other countries to handle their own problems while he puts up walls around the United States. But this vision is a dangerous fantasy. Even if the United States were to permanently deny entry to nationals from large parts of Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, desperate people from those regions will inevitably make their way to the United States through Mexico, Canada, and Europe. And even if it were somehow possible to prevent people from coming in from those countries, the costs to the United States of sealing itself off from its most important trading partners would be greater than those of working to contain the virus in the source countries to begin with.

The more realistic option is for the United States to lead a determined international effort to end the pandemic. There is extensive precedent for such leadership not just 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 U.S. security. It established the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which marshaled medical, diplomatic, and foreign aid resources to save millions of lives worldwide. Similarly, in response to the devastating Ebola outbreak in 2014, President Barack Obama 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 U.S. experts to assist other countries.

In the current crisis, however, the United States has exercised no such leadership. On March 26, the G-7 partners failed to agree to a joint statement on the pandemic because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on branding the pathogen the “Wuhan virus.” Trump enjoys a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is the current chair of the G-20, but little evidence suggests that the administration is using that organization to guide a coordinated international response. Indeed, Trump’s failure to lead a coordinated global response, together with his practice of berating, belittling, and bullying the United States’ closest and wealthiest allies, has, remarkably, allowed many to view China as a more responsible global leader than the United States. On March 31, the leaders of Ecuador, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, and Singapore proposed the sort of global alliance to fight the pandemic that once would have been led by the United States.

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

At the same time, Washington should rethink the assistance cuts that will condemn many to death and doom domestic containment efforts. Instead the United States should provide financial lifelines, independently and through the International Monetary Fund, to countries whose fragile economies have left them without the resources to cope with the crisis. It should put aside costly trade wars—essentially taxes on American businesses and workers who are already suffering—and set an example of what leadership looks like for our European and Asian allies, who should join the United States in a closely coordinated global campaign.

The coronavirus pandemic is a threat to U.S. national security. Further legislation and supplemental funding should reflect that reality by including more resources for international scientific collaboration, more U.S. support for vulnerable populations, and flexible emergency funding for a global response. That response would include shoring up critical health-care infrastructure and public education, facilitating the global development and distribution of therapies and vaccines, aiding refugees and displaced people in overcrowded camps, and providing support to American humanitarian organizations on the frontlines.

We know from past pandemics that progress is possible. But first we must recognize that Americans will really be safe only when the rest of the world is safe as well. In September 2019, Trump proudly proclaimed to the United Nations that “the future does not belong to globalists. . . . The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors, and honor the differences that make each country special and unique.” Six months later, with Americans dying in horrifying numbers, such a worldview is only the latest victim of a deadly pathogen that respects no borders and can be defeated only with a truly global response.

Source: Donald Trump’s “America First” Is a Dangerous Fantasy in the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Accelerate History Rather Than Reshape It


We are going through what by every measure is a great crisis, so it is natural to assume that it will prove to be a turning point in modern history. In the months since the appearance of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, analysts have differed over the type of world the pandemic will leave in its wake. But most argue that the world we are entering will be fundamentally different from what existed before. Some predict the pandemic will bring about a new world order led by China; others believe it will trigger the demise of China’s leadership. Some say it will end globalization; others hope it will usher in a new age of global cooperation. And still others project that it will supercharge nationalism, undermine free trade, and lead to regime change in various countries—or all of the above.

But the world following the pandemic is unlikely to be radically different from the one that preceded it. COVID-19 will not so much change the basic direction of world history as accelerate it. The pandemic and the response to it have revealed and reinforced the fundamental characteristics of geopolitics today. As a result, this crisis promises to be less of a turning point than a way station along the road that the world has been traveling for the past few decades.

It is too soon to predict when the crisis itself will end. Whether in six, 12, or 18 months, the timing will depend on the degree to which people follow social-distancing guidelines and recommended hygiene; the availability of quick, accurate, and affordable testing, antiviral drugs, and a vaccine; and the extent of economic relief provided to individuals and businesses.

Yet the world that will emerge from the crisis will be recognizable. Waning American leadership, faltering global cooperation, great-power discord: all of these characterized the international environment before the appearance of COVID-19, and the pandemic has brought them into sharper-than-ever relief. They are likely to be even more prominent features of the world that follows.

One characteristic of the current crisis has been a marked lack of U.S. leadership. The United States has not rallied the world in a collective effort to confront either the virus or its economic effects. Nor has the United States rallied the world to follow its lead in addressing the problem at home. Other countries are looking after themselves as best they can or turning to those past the peak of infection, such as China, for assistance.

But if the world that follows this crisis will be one in which the United States dominates less and less—it is almost impossible to imagine anyone today writing about a “unipolar moment”—this trend is hardly new. It has been apparent for at least a decade.

To some degree, this is a result of what Fareed Zakaria described as “the rise of the rest” (and of China in particular), which brought a decline in the United States’ relative advantage even though its absolute economic and military strength continued to grow. But even more than that, it is a result of faltering American will rather than declining American capacity. President Barack Obama oversaw a pullback from Afghanistan and the Middle East. President Donald Trump has employed mostly economic power to confront foes. But he has essentially ended the U.S. presence in Syria, and seeks to do the same in Afghanistan, and, perhaps more significant, has shown little interest either in alliances or in maintaining the United States’ traditional leading role in addressing major transnational issues.

The prospect of this change was a big part of the appeal of Trump’s “America first” message, which promised that the United States would be stronger and more prosperous if it did less abroad and focused its energies on domestic issues. Implicit in this view was the assumption that much of what the United States did in the world was wasteful, unnecessary, and unconnected to domestic well-being. For many Americans, the pandemic will likely reinforce this view despite the fact that it should instead highlight how domestic well-being is affected by the rest of the world; the United States, they will say, will have to focus on righting itself and devote resources to needs at home rather than abroad, to butter rather than guns. That is a false choice, as the country needs and can afford both, but it is likely to be argued all the same.

Just as consequential as U.S. policy choices is the power of America’s example. Long before COVID-19 ravaged the earth, there had already been a precipitous decline in the appeal of the American model. Thanks to persistent political gridlock, gun violence, the mismanagement that led to the 2008 global financial crisis, the opioid epidemic, and more, what America represented grew increasingly unattractive to many. The federal government’s slow, incoherent, and all too often ineffective response to the pandemic will reinforce the already widespread view that the United States has lost its way.

A pandemic that begins in one country and spreads with great velocity around the world is the definition of a global challenge. It is also further evidence that globalization is a reality, not a choice. The pandemic has ravaged open and closed countries, rich and poor, East and West. What is missing is any sign of a meaningful global response. (Newton’s law—that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction—has apparently been suspended.) The near irrelevance of the World Health Organization, which should be central to meeting the threat at hand, speaks volumes to the poor state of global governance.

But while the pandemic has made this reality especially obvious, the underlying trends long preceded it: the emergence of global challenges that no country, no matter how powerful, can successfully contend with on its own—and the failure of global organizations to keep up with these challenges. Indeed, the gap between global problems and the capacity to meet them goes a long way toward explaining the scale of the pandemic. The sad but inescapable truth is that although the phrase “international community” is used as if it already existed, it is mostly aspirational, applying to few aspects of geopolitics today. This will not change anytime soon.

The principal responses to the pandemic have been national or even subnational, not international. And once the crisis passes, the emphasis will shift to national recovery. In this context, it is hard to see much enthusiasm for, say, tackling climate change, particularly if it remains viewed—incorrectly—as a distant problem that can be shelved in favor of addressing more immediate ones.

One reason for this pessimism is that cooperation between the world’s two most powerful countries is necessary to tackle most global challenges, yet U.S.-Chinese relations have been deteriorating for years. The pandemic is exacerbating friction between the two countries. In Washington, many hold the Chinese government responsible, thanks to its weeks of cover-up and inaction, including failing to promptly lock down Wuhan, the city where the outbreak started, and allowing thousands of infected people to leave and spread the virus farther. China’s attempt now to portray itself as offering a successful model for coping with the pandemic and to use this moment as an opportunity to expand its influence around the world will only add to American hostility. Meanwhile, nothing about the current crisis will change China’s view that the U.S. presence in Asia is a historical anomaly or reduce its resentment of U.S. policy on a range of issues, including trade, human rights, and Taiwan.

The idea of “decoupling” the two economies had gained considerable traction before the pandemic, driven by fears in the United States that it was becoming too dependent on a potential adversary for many essential goods and overly susceptible to Chinese espionage and intellectual property theft. The impetus to decouple will grow as a result of the pandemic, and only in part because of concerns about China. There will be renewed focus on the potential for interruption of supply chains along with a desire to stimulate domestic manufacturing. Global trade will partly recover, but more of it will be managed by governments rather than markets.

The resistance across much of the developed world to accepting large numbers of immigrants and refugees, a trend that had been visible for at least the past half decade, will also be intensified by the pandemic. This will be in part out of concern over the risk of importing infectious disease, in part because high unemployment will make societies wary of accepting outsiders. This opposition will grow even as the number of displaced persons and refugees—already at historic levels—will continue to increase significantly as economies can no longer support their populations.

The result will be both widespread human suffering and greater burdens on states that can ill afford them. State weakness has been a significant global problem for decades, but the economic toll of the pandemic will create even more weak or failing states. This will almost certainly be exacerbated by a mounting debt problem: public and private debt in much of the world was already at unprecedented levels, and the need for government spending to cover health-care costs and support the unemployed will cause debt to skyrocket. The developing world in particular will face enormous requirements it cannot meet, and it remains to be seen whether developed countries will be willing to provide help given demands at home. There is a real potential for aftershocks—in India, in Brazil and Mexico, and throughout Africa—that could interfere with global recovery.

The spread of COVID-19 to and through Europe has also highlighted the loss of momentum of the European project. Countries have mostly responded individually to the pandemic and its economic effects. But the process of European integration had run out of steam long before this crisis—as Brexit demonstrated especially clearly. The principal question in the post-pandemic world is how much the pendulum will continue to swing from Brussels to national capitals, as countries question whether control over their own borders could have slowed the virus’s spread.

The pandemic is likely to reinforce the democratic recession that has been evident for the past 15 years. There will be calls for a larger government role in society, be it to constrain movement of populations or provide economic help. Civil liberties will be treated by many as a casualty of war, a luxury that cannot be afforded in a crisis. Meanwhile, threats posed by illiberal countries such as Russia, North Korea, and Iran will still exist once the pandemic does not; indeed, they may well have increased while attention was trained elsewhere.

More than three years ago, I published a book titled A World in Disarray. It described a global landscape of increased great-power rivalry, nuclear proliferation, weak states, surging refugee flows, and growing nationalism, along with a reduced U.S. role in the world. What will change as a result of the pandemic is not the fact of disarray but the extent.

Ideally, the crisis would bring renewed commitment to building a more robust international order, much as the cataclysm of World War II led to arrangements that promoted peace, prosperity, and democracy for nearly three-quarters of a century. Such an order would include greater cooperation to monitor outbreaks of infectious diseases and deal with their consequences, as well as greater willingness to address climate change, set rules for cyberspace, assist forced migrants, and tackle proliferation and terrorism.

But there is little reason to believe the past will repeat itself after this latest global calamity. The world today is simply not conducive to being shaped. Power is distributed in more hands, both state and nonstate, than ever before. Consensus is mostly absent. New technologies and challenges have outpaced the collective ability to contend with them. No single country enjoys the standing the United States did in 1945.

What is more, this United States is not currently disposed to take on a leading international role, the result of fatigue brought on by two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and rising needs at home. Even if a foreign policy “traditionalist” such as former Vice President Joseph Biden wins the November presidential election, resistance from Congress and the public will prevent the full-scale return of an expansive U.S. role in the world. And no other country, not China or anyone else, has both the desire and the ability to fill the void the United States has created.

After World War II, the need to meet the looming communist threat galvanized the American public to support their country in assuming a leading role around the world. Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson famously said that the government had to make arguments “clearer than truth” to get the American people and Congress to buy into the effort to contain the Soviet Union. Some analysts suggest that invoking the threat of China could similarly galvanize public support today, but a foreign policy based on opposing China is hardly suited to addressing the global challenges that shape today’s world. Meanwhile, appealing to the American people to put tackling those global problems at the heart of U.S. foreign policy will continue to be a tough sell. Accordingly, the more relevant precedent to consider may be not the period following World War II but the period following World War I—an era of declining American involvement and mounting international upheaval. The rest, as they say, is history.

Source: The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Accelerate History Rather Than Reshape It