April 12, 2020

Pandemic and Pandemonium in Imperial Navy

B Arjun

THE American image has nosedived. President Donald Trump’s shoddy and tardy handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the hollowness of the so-called American dream and the neoliberal capitalist order. The images of America’s rotten privatised healthcare system is clearly pointing to the fact that America is both morally and materially incapable of leading the world out of the current health crisis.

Many who see American primacy slipping away are now out in the open advising President Trump to take the lead in order to prevent China from filling up the global leadership vacuum. In a recent article, published in the Wall Street Journal, Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state, has urged Trump to launch a grand project, similar to the postwar Marshall Plan, to convince the allies that the US is still capable of leading. But what Kissinger ignores is that a country that spends $700 billion annually on defense is incapable of producing enough face masks for its people. It is resorting to stealing ships carrying medical supplies meant for other countries. But the failure to effectively respond to the pandemic lies in the fact that in the spring 2018, Trump administration had begun dismantling the team in charge of pandemic response and imposing budgetary cuts.

The American foreign policy establishment is shamefully continuing with its policy of imposing sanctions on Cuba and Iran. For two years, the Trump administration has been trying to scuttle Cuba’s medical diplomacy initiative that involved sending doctors and medical workers to different parts of the world. Over the past two years, America has forced many right-wing leaders in Latin America to suspend the Cuban medical help and its workers from their respective countries, branding them as spies of the Cuban government. However, the Covid-19 crisis has put-paid to American hideous designs. Many nations including Italy and Spain have defied American sanctions to invite the dedicated Cuban medics to help them tide over the problems caused by coronavirus spread.

The insensitive Trump administration has also turned a deaf ear to the sane voices that have urged it to lift sanctions on Iran to help the country treat thousands of Covid-19 affected patients and stem the tide of a high death rate.

The Covid related confusion and chaos in Washington has reached its naval ships. The decrepit American system hit both the working classes and also its naval pride. The recent incident of the removal of Capt. Brett Crozier, the commander of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, is a case in point.

Initially, three sailors tested positive for coronavirus on Crozier’s ship with a crew-strength of 4000. The   navy evacuated the three sailors and expected the captain to continue with the mission by taking necessary precautions within his ship. The captain was not happy with this conservative approach because he knew sailors and the fear gripping their minds. The captain then decided to inform the US navy leadership alerting them to the challenges of trying to contain the Covid-19 disease aboard the ship and urgently requesting that sailors be allowed to quarantine on land. All that the captain had said was, "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset: our sailors.”

But the undemocratic US establishment cashiered Capt Crozier on the pretext that the captain’s memo had reached the press. Not only was the captain removed for flagging these concerns but he was also humiliated by acting secretary of the navy Thomas Modly who called him 'naive and stupid’. He had flown 8,000 miles to the Pacific island of Guam, where the USS Theodore Roosevelt is docked, and “berated the crew for having cheered the captain as he left the ship”.

Although Moody later apologised for his remarks against the captain, the damage was done and an unnecessary controversy was created in midst of a serious health crisis. Subsequently, Modly, was also forced to resign from his post. 

The American public has hailed Captain Crozier as a hero for being a true-blue commanding officer whose chief concern was the safety and well-being of his men. Crozier is being praised because unlike the Trump administration’s flawed approach to dealing with coronavirus, the commander of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier wanted to adopt a more judicious path to dealing with the crisis.

But American leadership that is far removed from the ground realities did not fully appreciate what the captain of the ship was asking for. All this is reflective of the deep malaise that US capitalist order is afflicted with.

More than coronavirus, the problem is the inadequacy of the system to deal with the pandemic. The American system based on primacy of profits and individualism is not geared for collective action in a crisis. Trump’s policies that have polarised society are simply not conducive to handle the deteriorated situation. Therefore its ability to be efficient and effective in any walk of public life is highly suspect.

It is in these moments of US failure that Henry Kissinger is expecting America to rise and lead the world in times of the pandemic. Kissinger is unable to read the reality. The US debt has now risen to $25 trillion dollars. The oil prices are low, severely impacting the petrodollar flows. The production of shale oil has become an expensive proposition. De-globalisation which America has been promoting is also aiding the de-dollarisation of the world. 
By the end of March, roughly 6.6 million American workers have filed for jobless claims.

The US federal government’s dogmatic belief in bailing out financial markets and corporations through a ‘stimulus package’ and neglecting the plight of the working classes and the homeless who are worst affected due to the halted economic activity only goes to show that the naked empire is crumbling.

At a time when the world is trying to save people, the Trump administration is busy ensuring that its naval ships remain at sea to see that medicines don’t reach Iran. With such a mindset prevailing in Washington one wonders as to what makes Kissinger propose that America lead again.

Ironically, the ruthless and borderless coronavirus has revealed to the world that collective action led by a caring State that places people over profits is the best situation to tackle problems confronting humanity and a unipolar world and a single-currency driven global financial system is certainly not a solution to solve global problems.