where US presidents have in the past offered a steadying voice, observers from the Asia Pacific to Europe expressed incredulity, amusement and sadness at President Donald Trump’s briefings on the virus, saying they are deeply damaging to the US image abroad.
US officials push back, touting both funding to fight Covid-19 as well as work Trump is doing through the Group of Seven and bilaterally — leading more than 50 calls with world leaders. But experts say funding without full global coordination can slow overall progress.At a time when nearly 4 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus, diplomats say many countries are yearning for the firm US leadership they’ve seen at historic moments and in prior epidemics, citing President Barack Obama’s response to Ebola and President George W. Bush’s work on HIV/AIDS.
“They want the US to lean in more,” said one European diplomat. “We know they’re doing a great deal with countries, including developing countries, bilaterally … but a lot of countries hanker after the decisive US effort that we saw when the Berlin Wall came down. A lot of countries believe this is one of those pivotal moments in history and the US has always led at those times.”
Critics say the Trump administration’s approach to the coronavirus hasn’t just hampered the fight against the pandemic, it has increased uncertainty, eroded respect for the US and deepened concern that the international system no longer functions effectively.
“The world is looking for global leadership. It’s a global problem — it affects literally everyone on the planet. This is a time when you expect the leaders of superpowers in a very constructive way to help coordinate and structure the response,” said Robert Yates, director of the Global Health Program at Chatham House, a British think tank. “One would expect the US to have a leading role in trying to coordinate global efforts. That’s been completely lacking.”
Global health officials found Trump’s move to cut funding for the WHO in the middle of a pandemic “absolutely breathtaking,” Yates added. “It’s worse than a lack of coordination, it almost seems destructive.”A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday that the President “has concerns” about the WHO, which Trump has accused of being biased in China’s favor. The official repeatedly stressed that the US “is the single largest health and humanitarian donor in the world” and said the US “and President Trump are leading the global effort to combat this pandemic,” in part through the US presidency of the G7.
But the machinery of a US-led international response isn’t kicking into gear this time, said Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the nonprofit ONE Campaign.
By and large, she noted, “we’ve not seen the kind of summitry, urgency of meetings at the UN Security Council, heads of state coming together to organize, to figure out how we manage, for example, global supply chains.”