The National Security Strategy that President Donald Trump published during his first year in office describes an “America First foreign policy in action.” In an introductory message, the president declares, “We are prioritizing the interests of our citizens and protecting our sovereign rights as a nation.” He insists that “‘America First’ is not America alone.” His national security adviser and chief economic adviser at the time assured the public, “America will not lead from behind. This administration will restore confidence in American leadership as we serve the American people.”
While there have been reasons previously to question the approach, the coronavirus has posed the first real international crisis of Trump’s presidency. And judging by the administration’s actions, America First foreign policy in action isn’t restoring confidence in American leadership, and it isn’t serving the American people particularly well.
Rather than lead a cooperative international response, Trump has sought to blame the outbreak on China and then on Europe. America’s NATO allies were given no advance warning of the travel ban on their countries. A virtual meeting of the G-7 came at French President Emmanuel Macron’s instigation, not at Trump’s, even though the United States is chairing that group of the world’s leading economies. China’s leaders are gleefully running up their score in the great power competition by being generous where we are stingy.