The US — usually at the head of the table helping to coordinate in global crises — has declined to take a seat at virtual international meetings convened by the World Health Organization and the European Union to coordinate work on potentially lifesaving vaccines.
On Friday the US blocked a vote on a UN Security Council resolution that called for a global ceasefire aimed at collectively assisting a planet devastated by the outbreak. The US did not want any reference to the WHO in the text and rejected a compromise version that didn’t directly mention the organization — and instead cited the UN’s “specialized health agencies,” according to two diplomats familiar with the process.
The US has similarly blocked expressions of global unity at G7 and G20 meetings due to anger about China and the WHO.
Incredulity and sadness
And 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…