On June 3, President Joe Biden finally announced his plan to send part of America’s vaccine stockpile overseas. The first step, he declared, is to share some 25 million doses with other countries. At least three-quarters of those shots will go to COVAX, the international effort intended to route vaccines from rich countries to poor ones. The United States will dispatch the remainder to “countries experiencing surges, those in crisis, and other partners and neighbors, including Canada, Mexico, India, and the Republic of Korea,” as Biden put it.
The basic principle seems to be this: Having verified that it possesses enough vaccines to meet domestic demand, the United States will now share its vaccines. The White House says it will distribute them mostly to save lives rather than directly serve America’s political objectives, but some doses will be used to prioritize US neighbors in North America and help US allies and partners around the world.
The announcement was generally welcomed in America, especially within the president’s Democratic Party. But it produced a strikingly harsh criticism from one Democratic representative, Ted Lieu of California. Though delivered on the most foul of forums, Twitter, Lieu’s objection is worth taking seriously. It illustrates a foundational problem with US foreign policy, yet one that perhaps eluded many of the critics who piled on.
Lieu wrote, “I strongly disagree with the Biden Administration on their global vaccine rollout. We should help our allies first instead of letting a third party decide where vaccines should go.” He illustrated the point by juxtaposing a rising US partner in the effort to counterbalance China with a long-standing and ritually punished enemy: “Since there are not enough vaccines, should we help India or Iran? We should help India first.”
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