Trump and Pompeo are hostile to international cooperation in the best of times — and all the more so now, when they feel the need to scapegoat others (China, the World Health Organization) for the administration’s own failures. Thus, Trump put a 60-day hold on U.S. donations to the WHO when its work is more vital than ever. This is like shuttering the fire department because you’re mad it was late responding to a call.
Trump’s animus against the WHO has further alienated the United States from its allies and sabotaged efforts to coordinate a unified virus response from the United Nations and Group of 20. Last week, the United States was even AWOL at the WHO’s launch of a global effort to speed up the production of vaccines and drugs to fight the coronavirus.
Like most of the administration’s assaults on international institutions — such as the Paris climate agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear deal — its campaign against the WHO is already backfiring. Trump is providing an opening for China to expand its influence within the organization and forcing the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to duplicate the WHO’s work by finding other groups to support on the front lines of the pandemic.
Instead of showing international leadership on the coronavirus, the administration is pursuing the same old foreign policies despite scant evidence that they are paying off.
Trump’s most recent foreign policy achievement was the signing of a deal with the Taliban on Feb. 29. The United States is drawing down its forces even faster than stipulated, and a small number of prisoners have been released by both sides. But the Taliban and the Afghan government have yet to launch the political negotiations that were supposed to start on March 10, and the Taliban has continued its attacks unabated. Yet rather than pressuring the Taliban to live up to its commitments, Trump is “itching to get out,” a former administration official told NBC News.
Trump has staked his entire North Korea policy on three summits with Kim Jong Un that produced no results. North Korea is still expanding its nuclear program and testing missiles at a record-breaking pace. Now Kim has disappeared from public view, leading to speculation that he may be sick or even dead. Trump is left to pine for the dictator he fell in love with, insisting, like a jilted spouse, “We’ve had a good relationship.”
Although Trump has been conciliatory with North Korea, he has been confrontational with Iran, even though its nuclear program is far less advanced. In January, Trump ordered the killing of a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, in a bid to reestablish deterrence. It hasn’t worked. Iran has expanded its uranium-enrichment program and launched its first military satellite. Iranian-backed militants continue to attack U.S. forces in Iraq (two American and one British soldier were killed by rockets on March 11), while Iranian boats continue to harass U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.
Last week Trump tweeted, bizarrely, that he had instructed the Navy “to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.” (Are these flying boats?) This week, Pompeo signaled, even more bizarrely, that the United States might briefly reenter the Iranian nuclear deal so that it could impose “snapback” sanctions on Iran. But collapsing oil prices and the coronavirus are hitting Iran far harder than any sanctions — and there is still no sign that the regime is ready to give in to the administration’s sweeping demands.
Trump is also intensifying sanctions on Venezuela as that nation is being ravaged by the coronavirus. The Justice Department even indicted Nicolás Maduro on drug-trafficking charges in March. It’s a noble effort but so far an unsuccessful one. Odds are that Maduro will outlast Trump.
The failures of Venezuela and Iran to cope with the coronavirus are primarily the fault of their own despotic regimes. But why not briefly relax sanctions to allow humanitarian supplies in, as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did after Iranian earthquakes in 2003 and 2012? That would allow the United States to earn some goodwill by showing it is on the side of the Iranian and Venezuelan peoples. But tough-guy Trump won’t hear of it.
Don’t let Trump’s failures at home (nearly 60,000 Americans dead and more than 26 million unemployed) distract you from his failures abroad. His foreign policy is on autopilot — even as it hurtles straight toward the ground.