Paul F. deLespinasse: Coronavirus and foreign policy: One war at a time
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Paul F. deLespinasse: Coronavirus and foreign policy: One war at a time

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The fight against coronavirus has reached the point that it is now a war. President Trump has so declared. Although perhaps abused when the U.S. declared "wars" on drugs or on poverty, the "war" metaphor is appropriate now. Winning it will require an all-out effort from our society. And not just our society.

The United States has recently been engaged in military and diplomatic wars. But how many wars can we fight at the same time? These ongoing hostilities, probably not wise policy in the first place, are certainly not appropriate under the new circumstances.

Two-front wars can be disastrous. Hitler, already engaged in war in Western Europe when he also attacked the Soviet Union, fortunately didn't understand this. During World War II the U.S. was at war with both Germany and Japan. But we wisely relegated the war with Japan to the back burner and devoted minimum resources to it until Germany had been defeated.

The coronavirus war requires us to focus our efforts even more than we did during World War II. But this time we don't just need to put the other conflicts on the slow track. The nature of the current war and its probable aftermath dictates that we need to halt our other conflicts completely and, hopefully, permanently. We need to stop trying to overthrow or undermine other governments.

The virus recognizes no borders and is bedeviling people everywhere, including recent U.S. targets like Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. If these countries lose their fight with this virus, it will endanger everyone else on the planet. Although we are not presently in a state of hot war, we have imposed economic sanctions on these countries trying to cut them off from the world economy. But they remain fully a part of the world biosphere.

Russians, Iranians, North Koreans, Venezuelans and Cubans are human beings, too. Whatever we may think of their current governments, their people deserve our sympathy and help to the extent we can give it.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it will take a global village to defeat the coronavirus. Our current policies are making it difficult for equipment and medications needed in the fight with coronavirus to get into these countries. Since we are all on the same side in this war, the U.S. should discontinue all efforts to prevent free trade with them.

For many practical purposes we are now one world. Modern transportation and economic interdependence make it one world for viruses. The necessities for fighting a virus also make it one world. But the world political infrastructure lags behind. We are one world de facto, but not de jure.

Unfortunately the Trump administration just last week imposed three additional rounds of sanctions on Iran. It should rethink this decision immediately! And then it should remove all of the previous sanctions, too.

The whole world is now a laboratory. We must look to experience everywhere to discover what strategies for coping with the pandemic work best. Important results are coming in from South Korea, from Italy and elsewhere. There may even be helpful lessons from Iran.

As Boston University epidemiologist Helen Jenkins has noted, "Talking of a 'wartime situation' might sound scary, but remember: This is an opportunity for everyone to unite against a common enemy."

And David Brooks raises an interesting point: "I wonder if there will be an enduring shift in consciousness after all this. All those tribal us-them stories don't seem quite as germane right now. The most relevant unit of society at the moment is the entire human family."

The entire human family, indeed! This should be a lesson that remains with us long after the coronavirus is, hopefully, only a highly unpleasant memory.

Paul F. deLespinasse of Corvallis is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. His most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. This column originally appeared in NewsMax.

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