‘America First’: COVID-19 Exposes Cracks in Trans-Atlantic Solidarity as US Snatches Up France-Bound Masks
Disturbing reports that US buyers have snatched up medical masks that France ordered from China raise questions about the practical value of alliances and solidarity previously preached by the West in the face of a pandemic.
As the coronavirus spread across the West, borders were slammed shut, followed by businesses and finally private homes, all in the hope of slowing the spread of the deadly pathogen. Facing the prospect of lengthy lockdowns, governments that until recently dismissed the need for medical masks have now started scouring the globe for millions of them.
Apparently, in that pursuit, Western governments are acting much like their quarantined residents who are hoarding household goods like toilet paper. One French official told RT this week that a planeload of 60 million masks they bought from China was hijacked, after a fashion, by Americans.
“A French order was bought out with cash by Americans on the tarmac, and the plane that was to fly to France took off for the US instead,” Renaud Muselier told RT France on Wednesday.
Muselier is the head of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, as well as president of the Association of Regions of France. It was the association that tried to buy the masks from China, only to have them sniped by their allies across the Atlantic.
The French daily Liberation spoke with other regional heads and painted a grim picture of “logistical chaos” on the Chinese market, where Americans are “paying double and in cash, before even seeing the goods,” according to an unnamed source. The French orders for millions of masks get sidelined for US bids for tens of billions, it added.
Wild capitalism in action, a cynic might say, and of course everything has to be taken with a grain of salt these days. Whatever the motivations of Chinese vendors, it’s plain that this kind of buyer behavior doesn’t sound very neighborly – especially for a country whose elites routinely pontificate about the importance of alliances and the “rules-based liberal world order.” Is this what President Donald Trump meant when he said “America first”?
Perhaps not. According to reporting by several liberal watchdogs, Trump hasn’t stopped corporations operating in the US from exporting urgently needed medical equipment, including masks, to customers overseas – at least as of two weeks ago, anyway. Meanwhile, according to the Intercept, the Trump administration has maintained tariffs on imports of medical equipment from China until March 10, when they were temporarily suspended.
With much of the US manufacturing capacity happily outsourced to China during the decades-long joyride of transnational capitalism, it’s no surprise that Americans are now scrambling to stock up on something they’re not used to needing, and have no problem buying from China or even Russia, regardless of how much they bad-mouth them on a daily basis. And if friends and neighbors – or allies, like the French – get trampled in the process, sometimes literally, that’s almost like holiday shopping in some US malls, right?
Except the current crisis is literally a “matter of life and death,” to quote Trump himself. As of Wednesday, official figures show the US at over 215,000 cases of Covid-19, of which more than 5,100 were fatal. France, which has one-fifth of the US population, had almost 58,000 cases and almost as many deaths: 4,043.
Alliances are by definition a two-way street, even if one of the partners is always senior. Yet the US has treated its EU and NATO partners as more like vassals since the end of the Cold War, opting to go it alone, browbeat, and dictate rather than persuade. Recall, by way of example, the way US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell pressured the entire bloc to stop doing business with Iran or face US sanctions – even though Washington unilaterally tore up the 2015 nuclear deal, while the UK, France, and Germany officially remained parties to it.
Don’t think for a minute this is all due to Trump, either. It was all just as true under Barack Obama, except back then the mainstream media and the State Department sang from the same hymnal, maintaining the illusion until Trump dispelled it with his trademark style. Now Foggy Bottom and Atlanticist lobbyists are reduced to covering for the lack of US aid with fake news about Russian and Chinese help being useless, or even harmful.
Already rattled by Brexit, the European Union has been practically shattered by the coronavirus outbreak. Member countries have closed off borders not just to the outside world but with each other, and every government has gone its own way to respond to the crisis. As there are no atheists in foxholes, there seem to be very few transnationalist globalists in a pandemic.
One wonders if the world will ever be the same afterwards.
By Nebojsa Malic