Why does the US only invade weaker countries

Vulnerable States of America

Government system in crisis mode

Like governments around the world, the US was faced with the challenge of curbing the Covid 19 pandemic through health policy measures on the one hand, and restricting social life and economic activity no more than necessary on the other.38 The health authorities at the federal level did make recommendations on the measures required for such fine-grained political control, such as restrictions on public life and their phased relaxation. However, the implementation was thwarted by the failure of President Trump and his administration to lead.39 In addition, it made it difficult for the federally organized political system to assign the governors of the individual states decisive powers to combat the pandemic to a uniform response. After all, the congress was only able to agree temporarily on how the four rescue and aid packages adopted between the beginning of March and the end of April 2020 should be structured, who should be able to use the funds provided, for how long and in what amount, and how to finance the individual services be.

Low prioritization prevents crisis prevention

Trump claimed the outbreak and global spread of the coronavirus was an "unforeseen problem" that "came out of nowhere"40 and "was not expected by anyone".41 In fact, the US government was warned. Not only did the virus advance relatively late in the United States. In previous years, local authorities and NGOs had also pointed out the risk of a global pandemic more clearly than in other countries.42 A few days before Trump's inauguration in mid-January 2017, the Obama administration, together with representatives from the President-elect's transition team, went through the most important decisions that would have to be made in the event of a flu pandemic. A large part of the future cabinet and high-ranking Trump advisors were present.43 When the corona pandemic broke out, however, only eight of the original 30 participants were still part of the administration.44

Even after the inauguration, the warnings continued. In September 2018, almost a year late, the White House presented the National Biodefense Strategy, for which Congress had given the mandate in December 2016. The requirement was to standardize institutional competencies and to create a detailed implementation plan, which was previously missing. The developed strategy described biological hazards such as highly contagious pathogens as potentially catastrophic threats to national security. After a large-scale disease control exercise, the US Department of Health came to the conclusion in October 2019 that the government was insufficiently prepared for a pandemic.45 A month before the final report was published, President Trump set up a task force to modernize the development, production and distribution of flu vaccines.46 At the same time, the President's Council of Economic Advisers estimated the economic damage of a less infectious flu pandemic to be between $ 413 billion and $ 3.79 trillion.47

Trump played down the extent of infections so as not to jeopardize stock market prices.

The impending risk of a pandemic was not sufficiently taken into account in everyday political business even when the coronavirus began to spread worldwide at the beginning of 2020.48 Medical professionals in the Trump administration were alerted as early as January. The World Health Organization (WHO) first publicly reported earlier this month that a new type of corona virus was behind the lung disease that occurred in the People's Republic of China; Shortly afterwards, she described its basic characteristics and the course of the infection quite accurately and declared an international health emergency at the end of January. Peter Navarro, director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy at the White House, warned of catastrophic economic consequences in two memoranda dated January 29 and February 23.49 But Trump has long been reluctant to accept that drastic measures would be necessary. Instead, he played down the growing extent of the infections in order not to endanger the positive mood in the economy, especially on the stock market.

Those responsible in his administration also misjudged the seriousness of the situation. This can be seen in the fact that Health Minister Alex M. Azar II forwarded his experts' warning of a possible pandemic to the National Security Council for further observation at the beginning of January 2020, but saw no reason for further action for two weeks. Eight days after the first infection was officially detected in the country, he reported to the president at the end of January that the containment of the virus was under control.50 At the beginning of February, the US State Department had almost 18 tons of respiratory protection and surgical masks as well as protective clothing and other medical goods shipped to the People's Republic of China.51 At this point, however, it was already foreseeable that the existing stocks of medical protective equipment in domestic hospitals would not be sufficient to cover their own needs during the coming weeks until the peak of the first wave of infections.52

Like most states, the US initially did not have sufficient stocks of protective equipment. Robert Kadlec, responsible for stockpiling in the Ministry of Health, estimated the need for masks before Congress at 3.5 billion copies in February 2020. At the beginning of March, however, only around 13 million pieces were available, many of which had already passed their use-by date in 2010 or were already rotted.53 The Strategic National Stockpile, which was supposed to cover the nationwide need for essential goods in the event of a disaster, was chronically underfunded, according to the responsible authority.54 Their stocks of protective masks had decreased by 85 million after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2009 and have not been replenished since then.55 Therefore, at the end of March, President Trump complained that he had inherited "empty shelves" from his predecessor.56 It was not until March 4 that the Ministry of Health announced that it would order 500 million N95 masks. 3M received two orders for $ 4.8 million and $ 173 million respectively during the month; delivery started at the end of April.57 Of the approximately 16,600 ventilators available nationwide in March, at least 2,000 were under maintenance.58

Because the meanwhile overwhelming demand on the world market caused bottlenecks in the supply of masks and ventilators in the USA, the website of the Strategic National Stockpile was changed on the initiative of Trump's son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner. Only the federal government was listed there as authorized to receive; the previously mentioned states, municipalities and self-governing bodies of the indigenous population fell away. Shortly before the peak of the first wave of infections, Kushner tried to procure medical equipment on his own in the highly competitive world market - which doubled the work of the responsible authorities and in some cases made it more difficult.59 The result of the gaps in supply was that medical staff had to treat highly contagious patients, sometimes without adequate protection, when the crisis first peaked in April. Trump himself, on the other hand, was reluctant to use the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) to procure protective equipment and other urgently needed goods.60 The law, passed during the Korean War, gives the President the power to boost manufacturing of goods critical to national security through purchase guarantees for private companies.61

The US government initially underestimated the number of infections, as it was hardly possible to test for the corona virus in the first quarter due to a lack of capacity. Trump claimed in early March that anyone who wanted a test could get one.62 His administration had previously rejected the WHO test developed by the Berlin Charité in mid-January, as well as other external help. The development of its own test procedure was delayed because there was a lack of virus samples such as laboratory equipment and the White House did not provide sufficient coordination. A test was finally completed at the end of January, but it was far more complex than others, did not work and had to be called back first. Due to the restrictive requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authority, initially only a small group of people from a few authorized laboratories could be tested. Even two months after the first infection was registered on American soil in Seattle in mid-January, the US per capita test rate remained behind other countries.63

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, who has been in office at the Ministry of Health since March, was able to increase the number of tests to more than a million per day by the beginning of October. However, that did not result in a coherent strategy to safely flank easing. Because the respective test results could often not be communicated in time, i.e. in less than three days.64 The average test rate, which is continuously recorded every seven days and has stagnated at less than 300 tests per 100,000 inhabitants since August, is still lagging behind the infection rate.65

Ideologically motivated dismantling of the state inhibits crisis management

Apart from inadequate preparedness, the institutional capacity to deal with the crisis was also weakened. Because the Trump administration had systematically dismantled corresponding administrative units for ideological reasons. The President often left key positions in the fight against the Covid 19 pandemic vacant or only appointed temporary staff. Because he selected candidates who recommended themselves to him less through experience and expertise than through publicly displayed loyalty to him, they were sometimes not confirmed by the Senate. The advisors who were appointed arbitrarily by Trump to the White House were characterized above all by the fact that, like himself, they refused protective measures such as the wearing of masks.66 Recognized experts were transferred or left the administration after they had criticized internally that evidence-based decision-making processes such as the approval of drugs and vaccines were influenced by the White House.67 Because of the frequent changes in personnel, neither decision routines nor an institutional memory could be established.

In principle, the maxim that was widespread among conservatives applied to the administrative organization, namely that government bureaucracy is more harmful than good. John Bolton, third of four security advisors to date and the executive under Trump with the most government experience, downsized the National Security Council, which was increased in size under President Obama. In April 2018, Thomas Bossert, who had initiated the simulation game to combat pandemic shortly before Trump took office in January 2017 and repeatedly warned of the dangers of biological pathogens, had to resign. His previous role as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism has been downgraded.68 In May 2018, Bolton dissolved the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense in the National Security Council and dismissed its head, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer.69 The unit was set up under Obama in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 in order to be able to react as quickly as possible to threatening infectious diseases. For this purpose, their employees created a detailed manual in 2016;70 it was based on the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza and an associated, more than 230-page "Implementation Plan" of the George W. Bush administration from 2005.71 However, the Trump administration ignored the handbook, which assigned the National Security Council a central role in crisis response and management.72

But not only were staff cut in the White House, which were then missing in the Corona crisis; Likewise, the Trump administration had repeatedly cut relevant funds from federal agencies. The CDC department responsible for combating pandemics took austerity measures; Therefore, among other things, the number of employees who were supposed to monitor the infection process in China had to be reduced from 47 to 17.73 The cuts in disease prevention and control also fell victim to a program launched by the US Agency for Development Cooperation (USAID) in 2009, in which American scientists on site in China worked with local colleagues to track down viruses that can be transmitted from animals to humans .74 The administration was still planning funding cuts of 9 percent at the CDC in February 2020, although this time the pandemics department should get a little more.75 These reductions were part of a general reduction in scientific expertise in federal authorities, including in nature and climate protection.76

Camp dispute delays crisis response

After the WHO informed the world public about the pandemic in January 2020, the US government's health experts were already alarmed. In the second half of February they agreed that contact blocks would be necessary. On the 25th of the month, the director and coronavirus coordinator of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases of the CDC, Nancy Messonnier, announced that one had to be prepared for drastic restrictions in public and private life. Before that, she had not explicitly consulted the White House. The announcement led to price falls on the US stock exchange, Messonnier resigned and thus anticipated her dismissal by the angry president.77

There were also disputes about individual therapies. Trump repeatedly publicly recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine and claimed to have taken the drug himself. Rick Bright, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority through April 2020, expressed doubts about its effectiveness. At the end of March, under pressure from the White House, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially issued a special approval for the substance as a medicinal product, but withdrew it again in mid-June.78

Blaming China in order to divert attention from its own failures became a central tactic of the administration.

Health professionals eventually got caught between the front lines of the proper way to deal with China debate and struggled to make their voices heard.79 On the one hand, there were those who advised Trump not to hold Beijing responsible for the pandemic and at least temporarily settle the trade dispute with the People's Republic through an agreement. On the other hand, anti-China forces such as Peter Navarro, Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger or Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley saw an opportunity to drive economic unbundling and thus reduce dependence on Chinese goods, especially for medicines and medical protective equipment.80 Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who is also part of the China Falcon camp, called on the administration in two letters to prepare for various scenarios, including a general entry restriction for non-US citizens who had previously been in China.81

As one of the first measures, President Trump imposed, as requested by Cotton, among others, entry and immigration bans for people from particularly affected countries. This first affected China and Iran at the end of January, then - one day after the WHO declared the pandemic on March 11th - also the Schengen area, and another two days later also Great Britain.82 The procedure fit in with the immigration policy that Trump had already tightened, but came too late to effectively contain the virus, which had spread unnoticed in California and New York since at least February.83

Blaming China's leadership for the pandemic in order to distract attention from its own failures became a key tactic of the Trump administration. The discussion about whether Beijing had issued adequate warnings of the danger or was hiding information attracted a lot of attention.84 The partly justified criticism was repeatedly mixed with questionable accusations. For example, President Trump and Secretary of State Michael R.Pompeo said the virus was developed in and escaped from a Chinese laboratory - a theory that has also been publicly questioned by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases85 like from US intelligence.86 Due to the initial dispute in the camp, the reaction to the crisis got off to a slow start. Valuable time was lost in which the emergency competencies could already have taken hold, which were then only activated between the end of January and mid-March.87

In order to coordinate the widely ramified health bureaucracy and the responsible federal authorities, Trump set up a coronavirus task force in the National Security Council at the end of January. But here too the responsibilities were unclear.88 Initially, it was headed by Minister of Health Azar, who was quickly marginalized and hardly took part in the technical discussions before the task force meetings.89 At the end of February, Trump hired Vice President Mike Pence to lead the group.90 He was assisted in the White House by Deborah L. Birx as Coronavirus Response Coordinator.91 At the beginning of March, Trump announced that he would dissolve the task force, which was withdrawn shortly afterwards. Pence appointed new members of the unit in mid-May and said the focus was now on easing containment measures.92 As a result, the task force only met every two weeks behind closed doors.

Authoritarian leadership promotes inconsistent crisis management

The main reason the United States was hit so hard by the pandemic was the failure of leadership at the top of the Trump administration. The president claimed "total authority," but at the same time rejected any responsibility.93 His personal weaknesses, which were already well known, had devastating effects in the Corona crisis. He knowingly deceived citizens about the danger of the virus and generally had little interest in secure information.94 By repeatedly contradicting his staff and himself in public, he prevented the government from sending a consistent message to the people.

Frequent staff changes were a reflection of chaotic decision-making structures.

Since the beginning of his presidency, there have been no standardized decision-making processes in the White House, and Trump's lack of interest in structured work processes shaped the corona crisis management. In general, US presidents have a great deal of freedom in organizing the administration, but some basic principles were common to most of Trump's predecessors. For example, the White House chief of staff usually controlled personal access and information flow to the president, which gave him a crucial role in setting political priorities. Important decisions that affect the administration as a whole were coordinated between the individual ministries and then taken in inter-ministerial rounds such as the National Economic Council or the National Security Council, after all concerned had had the opportunity to submit their statements. Under Trump, no one adhered to such procedures from the start. How chaotic it has been since he took office was also shown by frequent staff changes. Trump now has the third chief of staff, fourth government spokeswoman and sixth security advisor (including two acting incumbents).

Trump saw an early economic recovery as a crucial prerequisite for his re-election. Like many members of Congress, he used militant rhetoric when dealing with the pandemic. He repeatedly referred to the virus as an "invisible enemy" from abroad against which "war" had to be waged - a war that he would lead as "Wartime President".95 Contrary to all military analogies, however, there was no strategy. In mid-March, the White House published specific recommendations for the states regarding distance and hygiene rules.96 However, implementation was made more difficult by the fact that Trump was more interested in stabilizing stock market prices and stimulating the economy.97 He often waved between a continuation of the contact restrictions and the demand to relax the measures in favor of economic activity.98 He systematically played down the consequences of the pandemic, which among other things meant that parts of his supporters rejected the protective measures imposed in the individual states as an encroachment on personal freedom and attached less importance to health protection than to economic recovery.99 In fact, the easing of public life welcomed by Trump was followed by a comparatively high infection rate.

One of the contradicting signals was that he did not follow the recommendations of the federal authorities for a long time.100 With a few exceptions, he refused to wear a mask himself. He fueled protests by armed right-wing groups against containment measures ordered by Democratic governors in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia,101 and he welcomed court rulings that lifted certain closings and bans.102 Contrary to the measures recommended by the White House, Trump also held election campaign events from June 20. The first location was a hall in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in front of which the visitors had to sign a cease and desist declaration in order to exclude any claims for compensation should they become infected with the corona virus. Campaign workers were filmed removing signs from seats that the venue operator had put up to implement distance rules. After the event, it became public that members of Trump's delegation had tested positive.103 The total of 21 election campaign events that he held between mid-June and September 22, 2020, led to an estimated 30,000 infections and probably more than 700 deaths, according to a study by Stanford University (which had not yet been scientifically assessed when this study was published).104

His weak leadership became particularly evident during the press conferences, at which he spoke from mid-March to the end of April every day after the meeting of the coronavirus task force. He had the idea for this himself after a televised speech in which he declared a national emergency,105 with a subsequent question-and-answer session in the garden of the White House had received a lot of media coverage.106 His erratic appearances, which irritated even loyal followers, not only distracted from the statements of the medical experts, but sometimes also conveyed dangerous messages. At the end of April, for example, he asked whether the virus could also be fought in the human body with disinfectants.107 After a wave of ridicule and dismay, he canceled the daily press conference. He also withdrew the stage from the health experts in his government to inform the population during the easing in the individual states and to warn of the virus.108

Trump repeatedly doubted the statements of the immunologist Fauci, who conveyed a much more pessimistic picture of the pandemic than he did and enjoyed far greater popularity among the population. In order to discredit him, a list of points on which Fauci's assessments had proven to be inaccurate was leaked to the press from Trump's advisory circle in July. In addition, Trump's trade advisor Navarro published an opinion piece in the newspaper "USA Today" in which he attacked Fauci directly. After a wave of outrage, the administration rowed back and Fauci stayed in office.109

Federal government vs. states

Many of the measures that are necessary to deal with the pandemic are the responsibility of the individual states under US federalism. This applies to both infection control and economic aid. For example, it is the task of the governors to order individual quarantine measures, collective exit restrictions or the closure of shops. A large part of the social aid measures is also a matter for the individual states. In times of economic downturn, however, they are dependent on financial aid from the federal government. Because most states are legally prohibited from going into debt. Comprehensive financial compensation between the individual states is not planned. Especially when, as in the current situation, the slump in tax revenues coincides with a wave of new expenditure, individual states cannot cope with the challenge on their own. Accordingly, there are firmly established mechanisms to stimulate the local economy with federal funds.

Similar to the Federal Republic of Germany, there is a debate in the United States about whether the federal system is advantageous in combating the pandemic. On the one hand, there are those who demand a uniform approach and warn that the virus will inevitably return if there are weaknesses in containment. On the other hand, there is the position that the situation differs greatly between the individual states and that best practice will prevail in a field of experimentation with different approaches.