WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s well-known disdain for foreign aid is colliding with the imperatives of fighting the coronavirus pandemic, as his administration boasts about America’s generosity for countries in dire need while still generating confusion and anger on the global stage.
The U.S. has committed more than half a billion dollars in anti-virus aid for foreign countries since January — a sign that some administration officials recognize Trump’s “America First” policy can’t fully protect Americans from a highly infectious disease that knows no borders. And, they know that if the United States doesn’t help, arch-rivals like China and Russia will gladly step in to fill void, in part to advance their narrative that the era of U.S.-led Western leadership is over.
For instance, two years after slashing virtually all U.S. aid to the Palestinians, the administration announced on Thursday it would provide $5 million in assistance to Palestinian hospitals and households for “immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19.”
Yet, in just the past several weeks the administration has sent conflicting messages about its commitment to assist, suspending contributions to the very organization tasked with battling the global outbreak and reversing decisions to provide critical equipment like personal protective gear and ventilators to other countries in order to meet domestic needs. It has left aid recipients uncertain about whether grant money from the United States can be used to buy those same items, even if they weren’t intended for distribution in the U.S.
The latest in the jarring moves came Tuesday when Trump announced the suspension of U.S. funding for the World Health Organization pending a review of whether the agency bowed to Chinese demands to downplay the threat of the pandemic in its early stages for political purposes.
Just two weeks earlier, the State Department had hailed both WHO and the support U.S. provides it. “WHO is coordinating the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is on the ground in 149 countries around the world,” it said in a March 31 fact sheet touting America's generosity. “This broad-based effort would not be possible without U.S. support.”
An update to that fact sheet, released on Thursday, does not mention WHO.
The previous one, though, noted that the U.S. had provided WHO with more than $400 million in 2019, which was more than twice the next largest state contributor and dwarfed the Chinese contribution of $44 million.