Stretching the international order to its breaking point

That brings us to the United States. COVID-19 is a disaster for Americans. The United States now has more cases than any other country. President Trump is singularly ill-equipped to handle the pandemic. For weeks, he parroted Chinese talking points that the virus was under control, and he predicted a good ending for the United States. He did not use the time he had to increase crucial medical supplies or prepare for a surge in medical personnel. In a long crisis, many people will die needlessly and the financial cost will be in the many trillions of dollars. The world has lost whatever confidence remained in the ability of Trump’s America to take charge. Leaders have watched in horror as the administration focused the bulk of its diplomatic efforts on renaming the virus. If Trump is reelected—and his polling numbers suggest he has benefited politically from the pandemic so far—substantial international cooperation is unlikely after the crisis ends and the recovery begins. Each country will go its own way.

The United States’ inaction has allowed the virus to spread inside its borders, and it has actively increased the risk to other countries. Sins of omission, however, are not generally as egregious as sins of commission, at least according to the rest of the world. Based on my conversations with officials from European and Asian allies, the United States has not figured much in other countries’ calculations. Europeans were vexed by Trump’s criticism of the EU, but didn’t care much about the travel ban. People had stopped traveling anyway, and European nations would soon close their own borders. Reports that Trump sought to purchase a German firm to monopolize a vaccine for the United States were more damaging, but the plan was thwarted by the German government. New reports, denied by the Trump administration and the company involved, that the United States is intercepting shipments of masks destined for Europe will raise similar fears. Generally, however, the United States is seen as a warning—an example, along with Brazil, of how a populist government is incapable of handling this crisis.

However, if Americans hit the reset button in the November election, a Biden administration will have the opportunity to turn the page and help lead an international recovery effort. This reset is not an option in CCP-ruled China.