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“An outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere”

A wide view of Grand Central Terminal with an unusually sparse crowd during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in New York City. UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Dr. James M. Dorsey

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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.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Americas

Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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U.S. Elections: Trump’s Strategy of “Peace” might help

Sojla Sahar

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Presidential elections in the United States are around the corner and campaigns by the presidential candidates are in full swing in whole of the United States. The Republicans have nominated Donald Trump as their presidential candidate whereas the Democrats have chosen the seasoned politician Joe Biden who has also served as the vice president under the Obama administrations. Over here, a fact shouldn’t be forgotten that the so-called Democrats have also imposed an unnecessary war and burden of foreign intervention on the people of America. Let it US intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria this has imposed huge financial burden on the American people that is being pay by their taxes. United States has around 200,000 troops scattered in the world. There are around 38,000 in Japan, 34,000 in Germany, 24,000 in Korea, 5,000 Bahrain, 5,000 in Iraq, 3,000 in Spain and 12,000 in Afghanistan. Under the Trump administration, much needed decision was taken by the administration for pulling out of troops from all the unwanted and unwelcomed foreign interventions. This has cost huge monetary burden and heavy taxes on the people of US. These interventions were a gift by Democrats to its people that led American to nothing.

Under Trump administration, US decided to withdrawal its troops from Northern Syria. US have around 1,000 troops positioned in the Northern Syria for deterring Iranian influence and countering ISIS expansion in the country. They have decided only to leave special operations force in Syria and will pull out the rest from the conflict zone. It is not the task that will come to an end in days it will take years and huge budget to relocate the troops. This decision might be a breath of fresh air for the Americans but it might weaken the US military positions in front of the Russian military on the globe. United States also has American military troop’s presence in Germany as well. Trump administration is willing to reduce the troops in Germany by around 25%. There is around 11,900 troop’s present in Germany for securing Europe’s security. The Trump administration is focused on relocation and strategic repositioning of the US troops in the world. For this, the Trump administration has decided to pull out its 6,400 troops from Germany as they whole burden is on the US shoulders for costs maintaining alliance and Germany is not paying its share in the defense budget of NATO putting all the burden on the US citizens. Trump administration also slammed the European countries of not paying their due share in NATO defense budget. Italy spends about 1.22% from its budget and Belgium spends around 0.93% from its GDP on the NATO defense budget.

In addition, the Trump administration has shown that they do not want war and conflict. They have also retreated themselves from the foreign intervention drama that has led to damage to the peace of the world. Trump has given an impression that he aims to bring peace in the world not by arms but through negotiations with the conflict actors. Its example is US negotiations with Taliban’s for ending the endless war fruitless war that brought destruction for Afghanistan and brutally damaged the standing of US in the world.

There are around 12,000 American troops in Afghanistan that are now reduced to 8,600 troops. The rest are sent home and some are being settled in Italy and Belgium. The Trump administration has declared to reduce the number of troop in Afghanistan by 5,000 by November and will reach 4,000 by June 2021. They are aiming to completely withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months if a concrete peace deal is signed between Taliban’s and United States.

There were more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan that went there to fight war on terror but are coming back empty handed. But still in even in these circumstances it will benefit the American people and their issues will be addressed in a better way. Not just this, Trump administration has also decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq that has been there for more than 19 years now putting a burden on American shoulders.

 All of this decision by the Trump administration shows that under Trump USA will go for the isolationist impulses that will help them to rebuild domestically and resolve the problem of its people who are indulged in unemployment, poverty, crumbling health system particularly after the outbreak of COVID-19. The health system of United States has proven to be fragile. Despite of being the wealthiest country, its health system crumbled within days leaving thousands of people to die in waiting for their appointment. Many of the people had severe financial crisis that refrained them to go to the hospital and get them treated.

According to some sources many hospitals in New York were running out of financial and had to send people on leave because they were unable to pay them. This led to massive unemployment during such desperate times of the year. Developing countries like Pakistan coped with the virus in a better way despite of having poor health facilities.

Under Trump, USA is moving towards “American First” strategy that will lead towards massive shrinkage in the defense budget of US military. The strategy of retrenchment and aversion of foreign intervention might help Trump in winning the next elections because right now United States has more domestic issues than international problems. The flag of truce in the hand of Trump and aim of brining peace in the world might bring him back in the oval office. It seems like Trump will make USA resign from its self-proclaimed post of “world policemen” that will benefit the world and the people of USA.

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Mistrust between Russia and the United States Has Reached an All-Time High

Igor Ivanov

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In August 2020, Politico magazine published three letters outlining their authors’ views of the ways the United States, and the West in general, should build relations with Russia. The first, published on August 5 and signed by over 100 prominent American politicians, diplomats and military leaders, states that Washington’s present policy towards Moscow “isn’t working” and that it is time that the United States “rethink” it. The gist of the proposals is that the United States “must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be, fully utilizing our strengths but open to diplomacy.”

This letter prompted a response, first from another group of former American ambassadors and political scientists (Politico, August 11) and then from several eminent politicians from Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (August 13). Both groups agree that now is not the time to reconsider policies toward Russia.

I am well acquainted with many of the signatories to these three statements. I worked closely with some of them during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and met some of them during negotiations. I still keep in touch with several of them, as we participate in various informal international projects. Since most parties to the emerging discussion are both highly experienced professionals and public figures, their stances on Russia are well known. The list of signatories under each statement hardly came as a surprise to anyone.

I do not think it makes sense to dwell in too much detail on the arguments presented by the parties. At the same time, proceeding from my own experience of U.S.–Russia relations, I would think that I have the right to put forward some considerations of my own.

First of all, on whether a “new reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow is either possible or desirable. One gets the impression that the authors of the letters see the “old reset” spearheaded by the Obama administration as a kind of bonus or advance offered by the United States to Russia in the hope that the latter would “behave” properly. The debate focuses on whether or not Russia has justified this “advance,” and whether or not it deserves a new bonus. Personally, I cannot recall a single instance where the United States (during Barack Obama’s presidency or under any other administration) gave Russia a “bonus” or “advance” of any kind, made a unilateral concession or indeed did anything that was not in the interests of the United States.

As I see it, the “reset” fully met the long-term interests of both states, particularly in security. Only a very biased observer would claim that the New START Treaty constituted a unilateral concession to Moscow on the part of Washington. Similarly, NATO’s call at the 2010 Lisbon Summit for a true strategic partnership with Russia can hardly be viewed as a unilateral concession. In both instances, the interests of both parties were taken into account, as were the interests of international security in general.

Russia and the United States remain the world’s leading nuclear powers, boasting the largest strategic weapons capabilities. Moscow and Washington have been engaged in mutual deterrence for decades now. However, an objective analysis of the challenges and threats to Russian and U.S. security shows that the very real dangers that do exist emanate not from the two countries themselves, but rather from processes and trends that lie outside the bilateral relations. Accordingly, any predictions about the possible and desirable prospects for interaction between the two states will be incomplete at the very least if they are taken out of the overall context of the development of the international system.

We have to admit that mistrust between Russia and the United States has reached an all-time high. It will take years, maybe even decades, to rectify this situation. However, I am confident that, sooner or later, we will have to start moving in that direction, not because one party will “wear” the other down, forcing it to make unilateral concessions or even throw itself at the mercy of the winner. First, each side has a large safety margin and is willing to continue the confrontation for many years to come. Second, history shows us that peace achieved through unilateral concession rarely lasts.

Life itself, by which I mean each side understanding the long-term need of its own security, will force the United States and Russia to resume progress towards cooperation. Such an understanding, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the elections in the two countries, or with the opportunistic calculations of individual political forces. Regardless of these calculations, the world is rapidly moving towards the line beyond which a global disaster looms with increasing clarity. Once we take a peek beyond this line, the entire world, primarily its leading states, which bear special responsibility for the fate of the world, will have to make decisions that go beyond their own immediate interests.

As for the debates on when and with whom the United States should enter into a dialogue with Russia, I believe such discussions have zero practical value. It would be extremely unreasonable and even irresponsible to defer talks in the hope that more convenient or more accommodating interlocutors will appear in the partner country or, alternatively, that a more favourable general political situation for negotiations will appear.

I would like to refer to my own experience. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I constantly kept in touch with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and then with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. That was in the late 1990s–early 2000s. The bombings of Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq, the Middle Eastern crisis, the expansion of NATO and many, many other events objectively made the U.S.–Russia dialogue more difficult. Obviously, our views on many issues differed greatly. But we never broke off our dialogue, not for a day, no matter how difficult it was. Strictly speaking, this is the art of diplomacy: conducting a dialogue with a difficult partner, achieving agreements where the stances of the parties veer widely and the chances of reaching a comprise appear minimal.

Critics will hasten to say that the U.S.–Russia dialogue in the early 21st century failed to prevent many conflicts and wars, and that is true. But it also helped prevent far graver consequences and, where possible, even led to the signing of important mutually acceptable agreements (New START, etc.). The experience of global diplomacy tells us that the only way to find solutions is through dialogue. The sooner our leading politicians realize it, the faster we will step away from mutual public accusations and destructive information wars waged with cutting-edge technologies and move towards earnest talks on the crucial issues of the 21st-century agenda.

Giving general advice is easy. It is even easier to take the high horse, insisting on staying faithful to one’s values and principles. It is much more difficult for those who have been accorded the requisite powers to make specific decisions. As the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” All we can do is hope that politicians in Russia and the United States will prefer the unpalatable to the disastrous.

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