Event Summary: Whither US Leadership in the Age of Coronavirus?
On Thursday, April 30, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel discussion on the ‘Whither US Leadership in the Age of Coronavirus?’ The discussion featured Shadi Hamid, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Phil Gordon, Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations. The panel was moderated by Kilic Kanat, Research Director at SETA DC.
To begin the discussion, Hamid explained that he is troubled by the mainstream responses to the COVID-19 crisis. He noted that the arguments from the left draw attention to the rapid responses of authoritarian regimes like China and raise the question of whether authoritarian or democratic states are better at handling crises. With China, it is critical to remember that the CCP is to blame for the fact that the virus spread all over the world. He said that China is “both the arsonist and the firefighter” as it suppressed information which led to the spread of the virus in the first place and is now trying to improve its image. Chinese propaganda is used to undermine US public opinion around the world. In terms of global leadership, there is a gaping hole that the US would traditionally fill. While he has been an outspoken critic of Obama’s foreign policy, Hamid wishes someone like Obama, with perceived steadiness and competence, was in charge. The current administration forces people to go out of their way to make arguments that are self-evident, and this is part of the reason why the US finds itself in the situation it does now. In the lead up to the election, Trump will try to use the crisis to present himself in an appealing way. A Biden administration will be radically different on the level of how it presents the US to the world; perception of leadership matters.
Gordon highlighted the US failure to lead abroad and the fact that it missed an opportunity to demonstrate its traditional leadership qualities. The Trump administration is not showing competence and excellence at home, so states are not looking to the US for guidance. He explains that this global pandemic serves as the perfect situation for Trump to showcase the merits of his “America first” policy, but the American people are currently unsafe. American leadership has failed and as a result, COVID-19 has further called into question the US’s place in the world. In regards to whether the problem of the US response was an issue of capability or willingness, Gordon does not accept the argument that the US does not have the capability to lead. It did just that during the Ebola and AIDS crises, and has the resources to pass $3 trillion in funding to save the economy. The last 70 years have shown that the US is more safe and prosperous when the rest of the world is more safe and prosperous; every president prior to Trump has believed this. Moving forward into the elections in November, a potential Biden administration would bring back a competent and caring presidency.