Despite his tough talk of going it alone, Trump is secretly begging other countries for help

Donald Trump’s initial response to the pandemic was to deny its potential for causing serious harm and instead, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, claim that the initial 15 cases would quickly dwindle to zero or magically go away in the spring. He and his supporters claimed that the fear was all a big campaign by his enemies to harm his presidency and re-election. Then when things started to look undeniably serious, he asserted that the US would be able to tackle it alone, even to the extent of rejecting the tests that the WHO had produced in favor of developing ones here. That led to a delay because the US tests did not initially work. Experts estimate that the US lost about four to six weeks of time due to this inaction, an eternity in pandemic time. South Korea and the US both reported their first cases on the same day but reacted quite differently, with the South Koreans moving very aggressively on testing and containment.

Now it appears that Trump is quietly asking other countries for assistance, even as he still brags about our ability to go it alone.

The US has been appealing to its allies for help in obtaining medical supplies to overcome critical shortages in its fight against coronavirus.

In his public rhetoric Donald Trump has been talking up the domestic private sector response to the crisis.

“We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Tuesday evening. “America will never be a supplicant nation.”

However behind the scenes, the administration has approached European and Asian partners to secure supplies of testing kits and other medical equipment that are in desperately short supply in the US.

Foreign Policy reported that the third-ranking diplomat in the state department, David Hale, had asked for a list of countries that might be able to sell “critical medical supplies and equipment” to the US.

On March 18, the Defense One military news site reported that the US air force had quietly flown half a million nasal swabs from Italy to Memphis, where they were distributed around the country.

The US is turning its allies at a time when it has strained relations with many of them. Trump has been demanding South Korea pay much more, reportedly up to $5 bn a year, to cover the costs of US troops based on its soil and the US military has threatened to lay off thousands of Korean employees if Seoul does not agree to a deal.

“It’s almost like we shouldn’t have used alliances as protection rackets, shaking down a close and highly-capable partner for $5 billion, imagining there would be no consequences for transactional unilateralism,” Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, commented on Twitter.

The US is by far the largest buyer of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies from China, and is seeking to import Chinese face masks and protective gear, but negotiations have been complicated by growing acrimony between the country, over what Trump has insisted until very recently on calling the “China virus”.

I think (hope?) that the leaders of other countries are, unlike Trump, mature enough not to let his past boorish behavior towards other nations stop them from providing assistance, because they realize that combating this pandemic requires global cooperation.


  1. springa73 says

    Doesn’t surprise me -- the US has been so slow to respond to the pandemic, particularly in terms of testing, that it makes sense for Trump to ask other countries for help, even while continuing as a xenophobic jerk in other respects.

    The US has the resources to handle this and help others as well, it just lacks good leadership at the top.

  2. Who Cares says

    At this point in time the strained relations are not really a factor, it is other governments needing those materials just as badly as the US.
    Take for example ventilators. Worst case scenario for the US is that 950 000 ventilators are needed at the same time. There are and estimated 170 000 available (160 000 in hospitals, 10 000 stockpiled by the US government). Hospitals won’t be buying all the missing 780 000 since the majority are only needed for this particular epidemic, leaving procurement to state and federal government(s).
    And even if the different parts of the government would buy that staggering pile of ventilators the companies that produce them in the US won’t be able to scale up production in time to meet an order of that size. So they need to be bought from producers in other countries. Other countries that put up export restrictions (at least 50% of ventilator production is in the EU and won’t be leaving Europe for example) because they expect to need them soon.

    About those nasal swabs. It isn’t half a million that have been flown in. Currently it is a million of them per week that are being shipped to the US. This is less spectacular then it sounds. The producer is sending 1 1/2 days worth of production to the US each week (Copan is the largest producer of nasal swabs in the world making 700k/day). And if 2 1/2 days of their production (2nd largest manufacturer of the swabs is in the US at 800k/week-1 million/week) is enough for 330 million people then 5 1/2 days of production should be enough for the 520 million people in the EU.

  3. jrkrideau says

    @ 2 Tabby Lavalamp

    Pompeo is out there insisting everybody calls it the “Wuhan Virus”

    The US regime has screwed up incredibly and Pompeo and Trump need to do anything they can to shift blame or raise the level of xenophobia.

    It seems unlikely but if Bob Altemeyer’s work on authoritarianism holds, there is a chance that Trump’s hold on his worshipers could snap in theface of something like this. Very unlikely but I suspect Pompeo is just smart enough to realize it. Not sure about Trump, I think his racism/xenophobia is just automatic.

    @ 1 Intransitive

    In Ireland Private hospitals will be made public for the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak

  4. Jenora Feuer says

    @Tabby Lavalamp:
    Considering that the last numbers I saw showed the U.S. has about 20 times more cases than Canada for closer to 10 times the population, the (admittedly personal) impression I’m getting is that the lockdown/shelter-in-place idea is being taken a lot more seriously here, and the general issue of health care in the U.S. with many people just not wanting to go to doctors for fear of being bankrupted… I would hope those troops are there to prevent people from leaving the U.S., but I suspect he’s channelling something like the ‘9/11 hijackers got into the U.S. from Canada’ conspiracy theory with about as much accuracy.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 7 Jenora Feuer
    I’m getting is that the lockdown/shelter-in-place idea is being taken a lot more seriously here

    Well, Québec is prohibiting groups > 2 people, and if I have this correct anyone entering PEI or NWT is being screened and quarantined.

    I have not checked the nutter Evangelicals but the Catholic Archdiocese and the Islamic Centre here have shut down all public/group events.

    With some egregious (by Canadian exceptions) exceptions I think it is being taken fairly seriously.

  6. Jenora Feuer says

    Yeah, even the conservative governments up here (Ontario, Alberta) are taking it reasonably seriously, though my understanding is that Alberta seriously cut its health care budget just before this hit. Probably one of the big differences is that in the U.S., the more extreme conservative states know they’ll be backed up at the Federal level.

    And there generally isn’t the same level of ‘You can’t tell me what to do attitude here.

    My point was mostly that the U.S. already seems to have an infection rate per capita roughly double that of Canada, and parts of it aren’t taking the precautions as seriously in general. I suspect the ‘peak’ in the U.S. is going to be later and a lot worse than the one in Canada. And given how many people in the U.S. are without health care, especially given the number of people effectively fired by what quarantines are happening…

    (For ‘not taking precautions seriously’, see for example Hobby Lobby, which has decided to stay open because the owner’s wife had a vision from God, and which is not only also refusing to provide paid sick leave, but has stated any government-enforced shutdowns will come off employee’s paid time off days first. That’s a recipe for the stores becoming a major vector of the disease as well as for screwing over the employees in general. )

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