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.