ANALYSIS – Despite President Biden’s oft-stated vow to ‘rebuild relations’ with allies supposedly ‘frayed’ by former President Trump, Biden’s first actions in time of crisis was to shun helping one of the most significant allies Trump actually deepened ties with – India. As India’s COVID-19 number skyrocketed recently into a tragic crisis, Biden ignored pleas to send COVID vaccine help to our beleaguered Asian ally, severely harming relations with India.
Finally, two days ago, under extreme pressure, and in an abrupt reversal, Team Biden announced it would help.
Earlier, on 23 April Indian media reported that US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the US would not lift the ban on raw materials to produce Covid vaccines because it is “not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated, it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated.”
This sounded to the Indians like Biden was saying – ‘America First.’ The problem isn’t ‘America First’ though, it is that the U.S. has tens of millions of doses of COVID vaccines it cant use.
This created severe resentment in India, which under Trump had ramped up its integration with the anti-China pact, the QUAD (U.S., Japan, Australia, and India), and I was flooded with pleas from Indians to write about it so Biden would help.
It also provoked outrage from supporters inside the U.S.:
The Biden administration is losing any goodwill it gained in the last few months, Tanvi Madan from the Brookings Institute said one tweet.
Indian public has now seen tweets from Pakistani PM & Iranian FM; had offers of help from Russia & China — i.e. even a country it has had hostilities with. It has not heard from any senior US officials. The Biden administration is losing any goodwill it gained in the last few months w Indians.
In another tweet, she showed a former Indian Army Chief noting this as a lesson about how unreliable the U.S. is as a partner.
Want to know how this last week spills over into perceptions of the US in the India, even strategically?
India’s former army chief…
(can argue that US regs weren’t directed vs India or that reliability concerns always existed, sure, but they just got a new burst of life) pic.twitter.com/O5JiQ93lwU
— Tanvi Madan (@tanvi_madan) April 26, 2021
As Biden dithered, public health experts and doctors urged the Biden administration to do much more in assisting India. In particular, noted Business Insider, they urged the Biden administration to relax restrictions on exporting raw materials needed for vaccines and to donate doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not authorized in the US.
According to India’s Business Standard, Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urged the Biden administration to release doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to countries currently experiencing the deadly surge in COVID-19 cases.
“When people in India and elsewhere desperately need help, we can’t let vaccines sit in a warehouse, we need to get them where they’ll save lives,” he said. “We are currently sitting on close to 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the US stockpile, a stockpile which we’re not using and which we’ve already opened to combat COVID-19 in Mexico and Canada,” he said.
Business Insider quoted Dr. Craig Spencer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University’s medical center as saying:
We need to get these doses donated to countries where supply is limited. Immediately. They do absolutely no good to anyone just sitting on a shelf. Donating money isn’t enough. Committing to future initiatives isn’t either.”
On Monday, April 26, Biden finally told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the United States will provide “oxygen-related supplies, vaccine materials, and therapeutics,” according to a readout from the White House on the call, reported by the Washington Post. CNN reported a longer list of specific pledged U.S. assistance.
But the lesson here is that Biden, who unfairly bashed Trump about ‘fraying’ relations with allies, such as ‘delinquent’Germany, just frayed ties with one of the most important U.S. allies in the fight with China, over life-saving COVID help.