New York governor Andrew Cuomo has become the articulate, compassionate political face of government competence in fighting a pandemic.
That’s quite an achievement for a man who as late as early March 2020 trumpeted: “Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers… We think we have the best healthcare system on the planet right here in New York. So, when you’re saying what happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries. We are fully coordinated; we are fully mobilized.”
New York was neither fully coordinated, nor was it fully mobilized.
In fact, it became the pandemic’s prime hotspot in the United States, accounting for the highest number of infection cases and the highest mortality rate. Its hospitals were overwhelmed, its stockpiles depleted, its frontline workers perilously exposed to risk of contagion. Many of the deaths could have been prevented had Mr. Cuomo opted to lock down the Big Apple earlier.
For now, that recent history has largely been forgotten. Mr. Cuomo thrives in his element, a rising star on America’s political ferment. His sober but empathetic, fact-based daily briefings project him as a man in command with a mission to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of his state.
If Mr. Cuomo, a veteran of dealing with the aftermaths of disasters like Hurricane Sandy, learnt anything from his delayed response to the coronavirus pandemic, it was that “an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.”
Unlike other epidemics in recent years such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS in the early 2000s, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 or the eruption of Ebola in West Africa in 2014, the coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, left no corner of the globe untouched.
It is a lesson that goes to the heart of all that is wrong with global, regional, and national healthcare governance. It is a lesson that calls into question social and economic policies that have shaped the world for decades irrespective of political system.
It is also a lesson that goes to the core of the relationship between government and the people. It positions social trust as a pillar of an effective healthcare policy in a time of crisis.
In an era of defiance and dissent as a result of a breakdown in confidence in political systems and political leadership that kicked off with Occupy Wall Street and the 2011 Arab popular revolts and led to the rise of populists, mass anti-government demonstrations and in 2019 the toppling of leaders in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq, lack of trust complicated government efforts to counter the virus.
Distrust persuaded many Iranians to initially refuse to heed public health warnings to maintain social distancing, stay at home and install an Android app designed to help people self-diagnose and avoid rushing to hospital.
Pakistanis put their faith in religious leaders who rejected government demands for a halt to congregational prayers. So did many Russians as bans on mass gatherings split the clergy and threatened to undermine the Russian Orthodox Church’s key support for President Vladimir Putin.
Post-mortems of governments’ handling of the crisis once the coronavirus has been contained could increase the trust deficit.
Moreover, in an indication of pent-up anger and frustration that could explode, the imposition of curfews and stay-at-home orders failed to prevent incidental outbursts, including protests in mid-American states, quarantined Egyptian villages and poorer Tunisian and Moroccan hamlets.
In an echo of the Tunisian vendor who sparked the 2011 Arab revolts, 32-year-old unemployed and physically disabled Hammadi Chalbi set himself alight in a town 160 kilometres southwest of Tunis after authorities’ refused to license him as a fruit seller. In Lebanon, a taxi driver set his vehicle on fire while fruit vendors dumped their goods in the streets in expressions of mounting discontent. The protests suggest a universal corollary with the pandemic: an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.
Protesters in 2019 went beyond demanding the fall of a leader. They sought the fall of political elites and radical overhaul of failed political systems. The pandemic called an abrupt halt to the protests. Protesters like the rest of the population went into temporary hibernation.
When they re-emerge, they are likely to put government leaders who prioritized political advantage above their health and economical well-being at a cost that surpasses that of the 1929 Great Depression on par with crimes committed against humanity during times of war.
Social, economic, ethnic, and sectarian fault lines are likely to be hardened in countries like Pakistan and Iraq where militants stepped in with healthcare and other social services to fill voids created by lack of government capacity.
The pandemic further painfully illustrated the economic cost of not only failing to confront a health crisis in a timely fashion but also the risk inherent in policies that do not ensure proper healthcare infrastructure in every corner of the globe, guarantee equal access to healthcare, make sure that people irrespective of income have proper housing and nutrition, turn a blind eye to the destruction of healthcare facilities in conflict situations like Syria, Yemen, Libya, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, tolerate millions of refugees existing in sub-standard living and hygiene conditions, and disregard environmental degradation and climate change.
The pandemic casts a spotlight on the deprivation of populations of proper healthcare as a result of politically motivated discriminatory social and economic policies.
The non-discriminatory nature of the coronavirus forced the Israeli government to ramp up testing in communities of Israeli Palestinians which had been described by public health experts as a ticking time bomb.
The experts warned that Israeli Palestinians, who figured prominently among frontline doctors and nurses treating Jews and Palestinians alike, were an at-risk group, many of whom suffer from chronic diseases, live in crowded conditions, and are socially and economically disadvantaged.
Ramping up testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 constitutes an immediate effort to stem the tide but does little to structurally prepare Israeli and Palestinian society for the next pandemic.
Pre-dominantly Palestinian “East Jerusalem is gravely neglected in every possible way in terms of the infrastructure. Most neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem don’t have sewage systems. Just about every possible public service you can think of is underbudgeted and lacking in East Jerusalem. The only thing they get a lot of is parking fines and (punitive) housing demolition orders, said” left-wing member of the Jerusalem municipal council Laura Wharton.
A Monopoly board centred on Jerusalem given to her by Moshe Lion, the city’s mayor and a former economic advisor and director general of prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s office, illustrates the political calculus that potentially puts not only Jews and Palestinians but populations elsewhere at risk in a future pandemic.
“You have here the City of David, the Mount of Olives, the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), the Montefiore windmill, the markets, (the ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of) Mea She’arim. Al Aqsa (the third holiest Muslim site) is not here, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not here. Basically what you have is a bunch of Jewish sites and various illusions to other things. It’s not a very balanced picture of Jerusalem,” Ms. Wharton noted pointing at various landmarks on the board.
African Americans, Hispanics and native Americans tell the story, They have fallen disproportionately victim in the United States to the coronavirus.
US surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams, a 45-year old African American vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of America’s eight uniformed services, pulled out his inhaler at a White House press briefing in April 2020, saying he’s carried it around for 40 years, “out of fear of having a fatal asthma attack.”
Looking fit and trim in his dark uniform, Mr. Adams said he also had a heart condition and high blood pressure. “I represent that legacy of growing up poor and black in America. And I, and many black Americans, are at higher risk for COVID.”
The surgeon general said that “its alarming but not surprising that people of colour have a greater burden of chronic health conditions. African Americans and native Americans develop high blood pressure at much younger ages… and (the virus) does greater harm to their organs. Puerto Ricans have higher rates of asthma and black boys are three times (more) likely to die of asthma than their white counterparts…. People of colour are more likely to live in densely packed areas and multi-generational housing, situations which create higher risk for the spread of a highly contagious disease like COVID-19. We tell people to wash their hands, but a study shows that 30 percent of homes of the Navajo nation don’t have running water, so how are they going to do that?”
What goes for one of the wealthiest nations on earth goes for the rest of the world too, particularly with the last two decades suggesting that pandemics occur more frequently and are likely to do so going forward.
What started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 had by April 2020 brought the world to a virtual standstill. Millions across the globe were infected, tens of thousands did not survive, economies shut down and the prospects for recovery and return to what was normal seemed a mere hope in a distant future.
Andrew Cuomo may be the exception that confirms the rule. There is little in the response of leaders from China’s Xi Jingping to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald J. Trump that suggests that the lesson that an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere has persuaded them to think in terms of structural change.
If the first six months of the coronavirus are anything to go by, the name of the game has been jockeying for political positions, ideology trumps science, and everyone for him or herself in a race to the bottom rather than apolitical banding together globally, regionally and nationally to fight a dangerous and debilitating common enemy.
The response to the pandemic reflected the crumbling of the post-World War Two international order that is in the grips of a struggle by big and medium-sized powers to shape global governance in the 21st century.
The struggle has already crippled the United Nations and politicization of the coronavirus and healthcare threatens to undermine the World Health Organization, the one, albeit flawed, structure capable of coordinating a global response.
Complicating the response, was the rise of civilizationalists like Mr. Xi, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban and Mr. Trump who think in civilizational rather than national terms.
They conceive of their nations as civilizations in which Hans, Hindus or Christians rule supreme and there is no equal place for minorities rather than nation states defined by legally recognized borders, population, and language.
Theirs is a world of neglect for international law, increased conflict, political violence, and mass migration that promises to be even less prepared for the next pandemic. It is also a world in which early warning systems are weakened by muzzling of a free press.
Former US president Barak Obama, in his opening blast against Trump in the run-up to the November presidential election, put his finger on the pulse.
“What we are fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided and seeing others an enemy, that that has become a stronger impulse in American life. And by the way, you know, we are seeing that internationally as well. And it’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anaemic and spotty… It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of what’s in it for me and to heck with everybody else – when that mindset is operationalized in our government,” Mr. Obama told a virtual gathering of his former staffers.
The pandemic demonstrates the need for coordinated policies ranging from global, regional, and national stock piling, international cooperation in medical research and development, conflict mediation, protection of minority rights, environment, absorption of refugees and robust but diversified supply chains.
It also highlights the importance to healthcare of eradication of poverty and proper social security nets, housing, hygiene, and access to water in a world in which an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.
The pandemic positions an approach towards healthcare that is integrated into sustainable social and economic policies as a matter of global and national security on par with regional and national defense and security policies and investments.
It also raises the question of what role major non-governmental institutions like the Clinton Initiative, George Soros and the Gates Foundation can play.
China and Venezuela Deepening Cooperation
In a significant development that underscores the changing dynamics of global politics and economics, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro recently signed several bilateral cooperation agreements in Beijing, highlighting the changing dynamics of world politics and economics. China’s determination to participate in partnerships that promote economic stability and prosperity demonstrates its unwavering commitment to global economic recovery.
The agreements signify a strengthening of their partnerships and span a variety of fields, including trade, the economy, and tourism. The cooperation has been upgraded to an “All-weather strategic partnership,” reflecting the continued dedication of both countries to the advancement and development of the other. The decision by China and Venezuela to strengthen their ties comes as the world is witnessing a transformation in international alliances and trade partnerships.
The economic collaboration between the two countries is one of the most significant aspects of this new era of partnership. The recent agreements are expected to further cement Venezuela’s ties with China, which has long been the country’s major trading partner.Investments in infrastructure development and oil and gas exploration and production are part of the cooperation in the energy industry.
During his visit to China, President Maduro expressed his optimism for the relationship’s future, stating it heralds the start of a “new era” for both nations. Venezuela, which has recently experienced economic difficulties, views China as a dependable ally that can aid in reviving its economy. China, on the other hand, sees Venezuela as a crucial friend in the region and a valuable supply of natural resources.
China and Venezuela’s energy cooperation has broad implications. As the globe grapples with concerns about energy security and climate change, this alliance might have a big impact on the global energy landscape. China’s investments in Venezuela’s oil sector can stabilize oil prices and provide a more consistent supply of crude oil to the global market.
Aside from the energy industry, both countries have pledged to deepen their collaboration in a variety of other economic areas. Venezuela can benefit from China’s expertise in agricultural technologies and infrastructural development in one area. Venezuela may enhance food production and reduce its reliance on imports by modernizing its agricultural sector with Chinese assistance, thereby increasing food security for its citizens.
Additionally, both countries have enormous potential in the tourism sector. Venezuela has incredible landscapes such as the famous Angel Falls and virgin Caribbean beaches, which may appeal to Chinese tourists looking for new travel experiences. Similarly, China’s rich history and culture have always captured the interest of visitors from all over the world, including Venezuelans. The tourist accords aim to make travel between the two countries easier, to foster cultural interaction, and to develop tourism-related enterprises.
Furthermore, the strengthened relationship extends beyond economic interests to include political and strategic considerations. Both countries have reaffirmed their commitment to mutual support in international forums and to no interference in the other’s internal affairs. This strategic partnership is consistent with China’s aim of establishing a multipolar world and strengthening cooperation across developing nations.
The collaboration between China and Venezuela should be seen in the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiative. The BRI seeks to establish a network of economic and infrastructure partnerships across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. A deeper integration of Venezuela into China’s global economic vision through its participation in the BRI could create new trade and investment opportunities.
The potential for economic development in Venezuela is one of the most notable benefits of the China-Venezuela cooperation. In recent years, the South American country has suffered severe economic issues, including high inflation, financial sanctions, and political unrest. China’s investments and assistance can help stabilize Venezuela’s economy, generate jobs, and raise inhabitants’ living standards.
The China-Venezuela connection is a key milestone in the shifting global political and economic landscape. In a changing world order, this partnership has the potential to provide Venezuela with economic prosperity, stability, as well as greater autonomy.
Confusion and uncertainty shape debate about U.S. Gulf policy
Debates about the US commitment to Gulf security are skewed by confusion, miscommunication, and contradictory policies.
The skewing has fuelled uncertainty about US policy as well as Gulf attitudes in an evolving multi-polar world and fuelled misconceptions and misunderstandings.
The confusion is all the more disconcerting given that the fundamentals of US Gulf relations are beyond doubt.
The United States retains a strategic interest in the region, even if its attention has pivoted to Asia. Moreover, neither China nor Russia is capable or willing to replace the US as the Gulf’s security guarantor.
“None of the Gulf states believe China can replace the United States as the Gulf’s security protector,” said Gulf International Forum Executive Director Dania Thafer.
The recent US military build-up in the Gulf to deter Iran with thousands of Marines backed by F-35 fighter jets and an aircraft carrier helped reassure Gulf states in the short term. So has the possibility of the US putting armed personnel on commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.
The build-up followed the United Arab Emirates’ withdrawal from a US-led, 34-nation maritime coalition in May because the US had not taken decisive action against Iranian attacks on Gulf shipping, including a vessel traveling from Dubai to the Emirati port of Fujairah.
Even so, the United States has allowed confusion and uncertainty to persist. In addition, the US as well as the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, appear to pursue contradictory goals.
“The US…did not formulate a very clear approach to how the US wants to work with the GCC as a whole” instead of cooperating with individual Gulf states, said analyst Nawaf bin Mubarak Al Thani, a former Qatari brigadier general and defense attaché in Qatar’s Washington embassy.
The Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC groups the six Gulf monarchies – Saudi Arabia, the UAE. Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman.
“Unless the US becomes clear in its intentions about how it wants to proceed with its future defense relationship with the GCC as a whole, I think we will be going in circles,” Mr. Al Thani added.
The United States has unsuccessfully tried to nudge the GCC to create an integrated air and missile defense system for several years.
Former Pentagon official and Middle East scholar Bilal Y. Saab suggests that the US has moved in the case of Saudi Arabia to enhance confidence by helping the kingdom turn its military into a capable fighting force and developing a first-ever national security vision but has failed to communicate that properly.
“Our geographical command in the region, also known as the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), has been conducting a very quiet…historic transformation from being a war-time command to something of being a security integrator…to activate partnerships to attain collective security objectives,” Mr. Saab said.
“This is not just about having confidence in the US role; it’s also about the United States having confidence in the willingness and ability of those Gulf states to buy into this new mission of doing things together,” Mr. Saab said.
“My biggest problem is that we’re not communicating this stuff well… There’s a lot of confusion in the Gulf about what we’re trying to do,” he added.
Analysts, including Mr. Saab, caution that the United States’ recent willingness to consider concluding defense pacts with Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE is at odds with its revamped security approach to the region.
Saudi Arabia has demanded a security pact alongside guaranteed access to the United States’ most sophisticated weaponry as part of a deal under which the kingdom would establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
The UAE initially made similar noises about a defense pact but has since seemingly opted to watch how the US talks with Saudi Arabia evolve.
A defence pact “is incredibly inconsistent with what we are trying to do with CENTCOM… The moment you provide a defence pact to the Saudis or, frankly, any other country in the region, this is where you go back to the old days of complacency, of dependency on the United States as the guardian and as doing very little on your own to promote and advance your own military capabilities,” Mr. Saab said.
His comments may be more applicable to Saudi Arabia than the UAE, which has long invested in its military capabilities beyond acquiring sophisticated weaponry.
The roots of confusion about the US commitment to the Gulf lie in evolving understandings of the US-Gulf security relationship based on the 1980 Carter Doctrine, the United States’ response to Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and that year’s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
President Jimmy Carter laid out the doctrine in his 1989 State of the Union address. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force,” Mr. Carter said.
Robert E. Hunter, then a National Security Council official and the author of Mr. Carter’s speech, insists that the doctrine was intended to deter external powers, notably the Soviet Union, rather than defend Gulf states against Iran or secure shipping in strategic regional waterways.
“The often-misquoted Carter Doctrine…did not refer to the ‘free flow of commerce.’ I wrote almost all of the speech… it was designed to deter Soviet aggression against Iran, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began a few weeks earlier,” Mr. Hunter said.
The Reagan Doctrine, enunciated five years later by Mr. Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, reinforced his predecessor’s position.
“The US must rebuild the credibility of its commitment to resist Soviet encroachment on US interests and those of its Allies and friends, and to support effectively those Third World states that are willing to resist Soviet pressures or oppose Soviet initiatives hostile to the United States, or are special targets of Soviet policy,” Mr. Reagan said.
President George W. Bush’s development of US doctrine after the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington proved more problematic for the Gulf states.
Mr. Bush defended the United States’ right to defend itself against countries that harbor or aid militant groups.
His doctrine justified the US invasions of Afghanistan and, Iraq. Gulf states saw the Iraq war as destabilizing and problematic, particularly with some on the American right calling for a US takeover of Saudi oil fields.
Nonetheless, Gulf states had plenty of reasons to reinterpret the Carter Doctrine to include a US commitment to defend Gulf states against regional as well as external threats.
The Gulf states’ reinterpretation resulted from a US lack of clarity and actions that seemingly confirmed their revised understanding.
These included the United States leading a 42-nation military alliance that in 1991 drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, establishing bases in the Gulf in the wake of the Iraqi invasion, US interventionism following the 9/11 assaults, and the ongoing protection of Gulf shipping against Iranian attacks.
As a result, a lack of clarity and confusion in Washington and the Gulf’s capitals continue to dominate the debate about the US-Gulf security relationship.
Said Mr. Saab: “I would like to understand from the Gulf states whether what we are selling, they are actually buying. What we are selling is…a very real partnership. No longer guardianship, but actual partnership. I don’t know where individual countries stand on these proposals… Until we get common ground on this, there is nothing in the Middle East that we do that is really going to work.”
US Diplomacy in Asia: Navigating a New Era of Cooperation
In an era marked by shifting global dynamics and a resurgent emphasis on diplomacy, the United States must adapt its approach to international relations, particularly in its dealings with Asian countries. China’s recent call for the United States to recognize the shared aspirations of Asian countries has significant implications.
The changing global political landscape underscores the need for a commitment to cooperation, stability, and mutual development. The United States should heed this call and adopt a more cooperative approach in its interactions with Asian countries, which can benefit not only the region but also the entire world. This call from China comes at a time when the U.S. is making diplomatic strides in its relationship with Vietnam.
Vietnam, a significant player in the region, continually emphasizes that enhancing its comprehensive strategic cooperative engagement with China is its top foreign policy objective. This commitment underscores the importance of Asian nations forging partnerships based on mutual understanding and shared goals, rather than divisive politics.
China’s approach to bilateral relations with Asian countries is rooted in principles that promote regional peace, stability, development, and prosperity. It emphasizes that such connections should not target third parties or jeopardize regional well-being.
China’s call for the U.S. to adhere to basic norms governing international relations is an invitation to enter an era of diplomacy that moves beyond the outdated zero-sum pursuit of power politics. Understanding the changing dynamics in Asia is critical to understanding the significance of China’s call. The region is experiencing unparalleled economic expansion, technological advancement, and social development. Through trade, investment, and cultural contacts, Asian countries are becoming increasingly interconnected. Their mutual goals concentrate on maximizing their ability for the greater good.
Indeed, the world has changed since the days when superpowers ruled global affairs. Diplomacy is a more complex endeavor in today’s connected and multipolar world. By adopting a more cooperative approach to Asian issues, the United States has a rare chance to demonstrate its commitment to becoming a constructive global partner.
China’s call for the United States to respect common goals is grounded in a vision of Asian cooperation that transcends historical resentments and ideological disagreements. It recognizes that each country in the area has unique strengths and challenges and that collaboration can help solve those challenges more efficiently.
This call includes not just diplomacy but also economic links, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people relationships. Asian countries are keen to tap into the tremendous potential for trade and investment, and accepting this chance could help not only the US economy but also the stability and prosperity of the entire Asian region.
The US must consider the concerns and interests of all Asian countries, including China. A cooperative strategy that respects each country’s sovereignty and objectives is more likely to yield beneficial results and contribute to regional stability. The days of hegemony and Cold War mentalities are behind, and the future of global politics lies in cooperation, mutual progress, and common goals. The world is watching, and the choices made today will shape the future of international relations in Asia and beyond.
Furthermore, it is important to recognize China’s significant contributions to the prosperity and security of the Asian region and beyond. China’s economic growth and development have been major drivers in maintaining global economic stability. It’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has aided infrastructure development in a number of countries, allowing for economic growth and connectivity.
China’s emphasis on a multipolar world and respect for sovereignty aligns with the values of equality and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. This position contrasts with previous instances of US interventionism and emphasizes the need to respect individual nations’ autonomy and choices.
While recognizing the significance of cooperation, it is critical to emphasize the dangers of pursuing aggressive policies in Asia. A confrontational strategy, whether through military posturing, containment efforts, or coalition formation to fight China, can lead to increasing tensions and instability in the region. Such acts may unwittingly put governments on the defensive, hindering diplomatic progress.
Whether or not Biden admitted it, his visit to Vietnam was mainly perceived as a major US move to court the Southeast Asian country and leverage its economy in support of the US offensive against China’s trade and technologies.
It’s highly important to remember that Asia is a diversified continent with intricate historical, cultural, and political aspects. The resolution of regional challenges and conflicts is more likely to be successful when strategies that emphasize collaboration and communication are used. History has taught us that engagement and diplomacy are much more successful means of settling conflicts than direct confrontation.
The call from China to the United States to embrace a new era of cooperation in Asian ties is a push for a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous world. Recognizing China’s contributions to global economic stability and its commitment to addressing significant global issues is extremely important. Adopting a cooperative approach in Asia based on equality and respect for sovereignty will pave the way for a brighter future for all nations in the area and beyond.
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