The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense dislocation to life as we know it. Amid the devastation wrought by the pandemic—infections and deaths as well as massive economic decline—there is also a silver lining. It has exposed the US as an incompetent power unable or unwilling to cater to even the most basic needs of its people. Instead of evoking awe and admiration, the US evokes pity, if one can muster the courage to express such sentiment for a country that has caused immense suffering worldwide over many decades.
America leads the world in the number of infectious cases and deaths. The pandemic shone light on the already broken healthcare system. Millions of Americans without medical insurance, were left even more vulnerable by the pandemic. Doctors and frontline health workers did not have basic protective gear such as masks to perform their duties. The US had to beg other countries, notably China—yes, the much-maligned China—for face masks. When Russia sent in plane loads of equipment including ventilators, far from appreciating this gesture of help, the American media launched a tirade against Moscow for trying to advance its soft power image.
The entire infrastructure of the United States is crumbling and in desperate need of repair. Its roads—and not just those in the inner cities but also highways—have huge pot holes. More than 1,000 bridges need repair or replacement, according to structural engineers. Many inner cities look like bombed out war zones. Abandoned factories, schools and other buildings present an eerie picture.
Lest this gives the impression that the US has no money, that is not the case. With the largest GDP in the world, America can take care of the needs of its people but the oligarchs that dictate policy, have distorted its priorities. Instead of spending on basic infrastructure and healthcare, these vital services have been starved of resources. A huge portion of the US budget is spent on the military to wage wars against other people. The US maintains more than 800 military bases worldwide and in the multiple wars it has waged in the last 20 years, it has killed, directly or indirectly, some 25 million people, most of them Muslims.
America’s multi-trillion-dollar military colossus with aircraft carriers and thousands of planes and tanks has been rendered redundant by the coronavirus. The aircraft carrier, USS Roosevelt, is crippled. It has had to dock in Guam because more than 800 sailors have been infected by the virus. One has already died. When the captain of the ship called for help, he was fired! The reason given was that he had exposed a military secret that America’s enemies could exploit. The USS Kidd also has infected sailors. How many more US military personnel are infected and left incapacitated?
The pandemic has exposed the US as a giant with feet of clay and, therefore, extremely vulnerable. If it cannot take care of the basic needs of its own people—the social contract in America is not only broken, it simply does not exist—how can others rely on it for help and protection?
It is at this level that profound changes are underway. They are both geopolitical and strategic. Apart from Britain, the sick man of Europe, other European powers have realized they cannot rely on the US. Nato member Italy was abandoned in its hour of need suffering terribly as a consequence. China and tiny Cuba rushed to its aid when even its European allies refused to help.
The US may have cutting edge research in health and other scientific fields but those are not the reasons why the rest of the world seeks its help. Instead, it is America’s hard power—military muscle—that they seek for protection against real or imagined enemies. The US no longer has any soft power appeal; its democracy is a sham, and civil and human rights have been massively degraded since 911. It is difficult to distinguish the US from any tinpot dictatorship anywhere in the world. Donald Trump not only acts as dictator he thinks he is emperor! But America had become a dictatorship long before Trump brought his ponderous bulk to the White House.
It is, however, at the military level that the US is no longer able to terrorise others into submission. True, it has immense destructive power but unless its use can achieve geo-political or strategic objectives, it is useless. The US experience of the last 20 years in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and indirectly in Iran, Pakistan and Yemen show that it is incapable of achieving its objectives.
Both friends (or those that seek its protection) and foes have drawn appropriate lessons from such US failures. With the emergence of rival power centres—China, Russia and Iran—the global landscape is undergoing fundamental change. Even two-bit players in the Middle East are adjusting their policies, realizing that they cannot rely on the US for protection or help.
This is a major shift in global politics and we can ‘thank’ the coronavirus—if that is an appropriate word to use—for bringing about such profound change.