30 March 2020   Leave a comment

Nick Bryant, a correspondent for the BBC, has written a thoughtful essay entitled “Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US – and its president“. It is a sweeping review of the US response to the COVID-19 crisis from an outsider’s perspective–although there is no such thing as an outsider’s perspective to the pandemic. But it is useful to have a non-American view. Bryant does not mince words:

“Consequently, America’s claim to global pre-eminence looks less convincing by the day. While in previous crises, the world’s most powerful superpower might have mobilised a global response, nobody expects that of the United States anymore. The neo-isolationism of three years of America Firstism has created a geopolitical form of social distancing, and this crisis has reminded us of the oceanic divide that has opened up even with Washington’s closest allies. Take the European travel ban, which Trump announced during his Oval Office address to the nation without warning the countries affected. The European Union complained, in an unusually robust public statement, the decision was ‘taken unilaterally and without consultation’.

“Nor has the United States offered a model for how to deal with this crisis. South Korea, with its massive testing programme, and Japan have been exemplars. China, too, has shown the advantages of its authoritarianism system in enforcing a strict lockdown, which is especially worrying when the western liberal order looks so wobbly. Hopefully, nobody will forget how officials in China tried to cover up the virus for weeks and silenced whistleblowers, showing the country’s ugly autocratic side even as the outbreak was spreading. But whereas Beijing managed to build a new hospital in just 10 days, the Pentagon will take weeks to move a naval hospital ship from its port in Virginia to New York harbour.”

That critique is echoed by an American academic, Daniel Drezner, who wrote in The Washington Post:

“Analysts are focusing intently on whether this accelerates a hegemonic transition or a great power conflict between China and the United States. China has tried to seize on being seen as a provider of key global public goods. The United States has blown opportunity after opportunity to play a leadership role — a fact Spoiler Alerts will discuss later this week. A key source of soft power is the demonstration of policy competence. No one beyond President Trump thinks that the United States has been competent in its policy response.”

It will be a very long time before we can accurately assess the full impact of the pandemic. But I suspect that few states will come through the crisis with the full confidence of their citizens. Some analysts believe that China has not provided accurate information about the deaths from COVID-19. Few believe the reports coming out of Russia. The greatest test of legitimacy, however, will likely be India, as the country prepares a lockdown of 1.3 billion people, many of whom have no place to go for shelter. Few governments will be regarded as trustworthy, even as it is likely that a second wave of coronavirus victims is likely in the fall.

Posted March 30, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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