Virus has potential positive effect on foreign policy

Virus has potential positive effect on foreign policy

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President Donald Trump during a coronavirus briefing at the White House. (AP Photo)

It is essential that any assumptions about America’s decline, which have to bear the weight of the US’ status as a superpower in the post-coronavirus disease (COVID-19) world, be analyzed carefully and critically. America’s power is so imposing that many questions have been raised as to why it has been in a big quandary and looks weakened during the COVID-19 epidemic. There is a sketch of a vulnerable America that has coincided with the global virus onslaught. Yet the US foreign policy of realism will be the diplomatic avenue for its conduct in the world. Realism in foreign policy stipulates the use of power in articulating a national interest while recognizing the importance of alliances and the role of history and geography in any country’s foreign relations.

The coronavirus crisis has provoked every country in the world not to be entirely independent, because every country needs help. Many adapted quickly, sealing borders, declaring a state of national shutdown, and trying to heal those infected to lower the death rate. America did this, but it never abandoned its fundamental principles of being a democratic, capitalist society and a powerful and resourceful nation. This has been manifested in many questions, such as what will happen to the 2020 presidential election? How much damage has been done to the American economy? And can the US medical and pharmaceutical sectors come up with a cure for COVID-19? In addition, US foreign policy has been a factor in the crisis, as it offered an expression of how America was able to give a reason for what happened (President Donald Trump’s labeling of coronavirus as “the Chinese virus”) and why such tough measures had been taken (to help nations avoid even more catastrophic consequences).

Economic suffering and how it conflicts with public health obligations have complicated life in the majority of nations in the world. The leaders of many nations, from Brazil to Europe and the Middle East, found themselves in a similar position to Trump, in that they had to take these measures to mollify the damaging impact of an intractable global health crisis. While Trump uses a tone of self-defense for having to order a national shutdown, many other leaders also used self-justification in their apologies for having to assume these unpopular policies. Their safest language was to repeat what Trump said: That it is a virus that originated in China and that these hated policies derive from the necessity to save lives.  

The coronavirus will not affect America’s foreign policy in terms of charting a new path in the world, but rather by giving rise to a new attitude. The virus will not abolish the crises of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia-Egypt, Russia-Ukraine, and other hotspots. Its legacy and influence on world diplomacy will be that it revved up the idea of cooperation among nations to solve such problems. Positively, the Trump administration sounds more responsive to diplomatic openings to solve these problems, but it will not submit initiatives toward their resolution.

Trump learned some hard lessons. When he presented his plan to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and when he ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, he found out that the former proposal was quickly rejected and that some in the Pentagon were not wholeheartedly supportive of the latter. Therefore, he will let others formulate diplomatic ideas as the starting points of future peace plans. He is still tempted by the allure of a deal to denuclearize North Korea — ideally a few days before the November presidential election — and he would also welcome, for example, a Gulf Cooperation Council announcement of a plan for Iraq to counter Iran, or President Vladimir Putin trying to coordinate the work of Russia’s troops in Syria with the UN and US. Personally, he would approve of such diplomatic gambits.

Perhaps the global ordeal can be a self-fulfilling prophecy for Trump’s desire to find a working relationship with Putin; allowing them to change many of the geopolitical realities associated with these conflicts. For instance, if both Trump and Putin wanted to curb the ambitions of Iran and Turkey, they could work together to implement policies in Syria and Iraq that could help achieve this.

Trump’s ultimate strategic goal is to contain China. He now moves on the world stage more by instinct than by his convictions, and the clearest indication of this is his sense that, since the coronavirus outbreak started in China, Beijing’s appeal is now less compelling to many than it was previously. Many in America and around the world view China as a nation that cannot evade important questions about its domestic situation.

Its legacy and influence on world diplomacy will be that it revved up the idea of cooperation among nations.

Maria Maalouf

This crisis could produce valuable results for future US foreign policy. Foremost is how to establish a minimum degree of consensus on some basics of international relations. This will surely include more investment and coordination over creating a global public health care infrastructure. Trump is not a fan or the World Health Organization, accusing it of bias toward some countries — a clear insinuation of China — and he threatened to cut US funding for it. But, if there was an idea to create global and regional funds to support health care in poor countries, this could lead to more US, European and Canadian attention to augmenting weak health care systems around the world, especially with the need for an early warning system for epidemics.

Hopefully the coronavirus pandemic will also allow the world to utilize a growing motivation in Washington and other capitals to stop regional crises such as the one in Syria from being prolonged into endemic wider strategic dilemmas.

  • Maria Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, broadcaster, publisher, and writer. She holds an MA in Political Sociology from the University of Lyon. Twitter: @bilarakib
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