Trump speaks at the daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 2020
Tom Brenner / Reuters

It should come as no surprise that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose foreign policy doctrine is called “America first,” vastly underestimated the importance to U.S. security of defeating the novel coronavirus pandemic abroad. Trump was slow to recognize that the United States could not seal itself off from the virus: on February 26, the president predicted that the number of infected Americans would soon go down “close to zero,” while the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow insisted that the United States had “contained” the threat because its borders were “pretty close to airtight.” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross even assessed that the troubles in China “will help accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” But of course American borders were not airtight at all, and the United States is now home to the highest number of reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the

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  • PHILIP H. GORDON is Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and as White House Coordinator for the Middle East during the Obama administration and is a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group.
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