Trump scapegoats Europe for America's COVID-19 failures
Tom Fowdy

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Following a televised Oval Office address on the growing impact of COVID-19 in the United States, President Donald Trump announced an unprecedented ban on all incoming travels from all European countries, except the UK, for 30 days.

This was not coordinated with European authorities. It came amid a day of the administration having finally come round to the grave situation the country was facing with the virus, with cases in the United States having surged to over 1300, the Dow Jones Index crashing a further 6 percent and entering bear market territory, as well as the suspension of NBA games. As Trump tweeted: "I am fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!"

While the president's action appears to be swift and bold, in reality it offers more in style and an effort to reassure than substance. The COVID-19 has already gained traction within the United States, and the country's political system has failed to address the problem adequately and responsively due to bureaucratic hurdles and an astonishing lack of leadership from the White House. In doing so, this move offers practically nothing towards the effort of combating the virus and only serves to stand as a broader message as to how the United States is an unreliable partner for European countries.

The attribution of the COVID-19 in America to both Europe and China is misleading and unhelpful. A week or so ago new cases began popping up in both Seattle and California, neither of them had any explained link to travel or any given country of origin. Yet the White House failed to appreciate the seriousness of this development. The American political system has long been obsessed with attacking China and had already rushed to affirm its superiority over Beijing amid the outbreak in Hubei from January. In doing so, too much of the country's precautionary focus was placed on travel-based prevention and also a belief that what they described as "China's mistake" could not be replicated on their soil. America was immune, and statements from Trump, Larry Kudlow and others all emphasized the U.S had contained the virus and the risk was minimal.

Empty shelves that once housed disinfectant wipes at a store in New York, U.S., March 3, 2020. /AP

Empty shelves that once housed disinfectant wipes at a store in New York, U.S., March 3, 2020. /AP

This led to a delayed response despite the growth in cases. Trump personally was unconvinced and thus the job of coordinating the response was largely left to a few symbolic statements at the top (which were dismissive) while delegating work on the ground to numerous state governments. However, bureaucratic problems made it worse. First of all, in some states, such as California, suspected patients were being made to wait a week for testing. Secondly, the system had failed to adequately supply a number of testing kits, which saw America's rate of tests for the COVID-19 plunge lower than other countries. Only an estimated 5,000 or so tests have been done so far, in a nation of more than 300 million people.

Now, the White House has finally realized it had a problem. But it does not have a solution. Trump's idea to ban travel from Europe is a rushed, ill-thought measure of which its primary purpose is to ensure confidence than to actually combat the virus. This might work as a preemptive, preventative measure. But, the United State is already past the containment stage, the virus is already spreading throughout the country.

Thus, again, Europe has fallen victim to America's unilateralist dogma which sees it not as an equal partner in solidarity, but merely an extension of its own interests which can be discarded at will. This is something that has been a running theme of U.S. foreign policy throughout the Trump administration, who has also attacked the continent with tariffs, demanded changes to its trading policies and attempted to dictate its relationship with China. The fact that Washington did not even think to coordinate this response with Europe's own authorities shows just how ill-thought and diplomatically inconsiderate it was.

In this case, Trump's travel ban is inherently flawed. Not only is it scapegoating other countries for America's own administrative and bureaucratic failures in responding to the virus, but also reveals a wider story about America-Europe relations as to how U.S. unilateralism is proving itself to be an unreliable, chaotic and dangerous partner. There is little question about it that "America First" is Europe last.

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