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States have mechanisms to procure items that 'may not have been available at the beginning because of poor planning': Samantha Power

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Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move panel to discuss how world leaders are responding to the coronavirus pandemic and how this pandemic differs from other crises.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: One of the things a lot of people are talking about is whether the United States, and the world for that matter, were prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak. One of the people we want to invite into the program now to discuss this is Samantha Power, former US Ambassador to the UN, and author of the book "The Education of an Idealist". Ambassador, it's good to have you here. The Obama Administration was there on the front lines with Ebola kind of creating a global response. That did not happen this time. Why is American security threatened by the failure to do that?

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, first, just to spend a moment talking about the current state of leadership or lack thereof in the world, what we did during the Ebola crisis is convene the UN Security Council, declare the Ebola epidemic outbreak in West Africa a threat to international peace and security because it was beginning to spread beyond borders. Countries that had survived conflict were at risk of falling back into conflict, and to be honest, having such a declaration doesn't change the world. It doesn't make Ebola any less deadly, but it's a show of international solidarity.

And then when President Obama decided to send 3,000 US troops and health workers to West Africa to help these beleaguered countries deal with the virus with African workers on the front lines and with US support, then the key is, how do you leverage what you're doing elsewhere to get other countries to do their fair share? This is a theme that President Trump, of course, picks up on a lot is not wanting us to be the world's policeman, but you do need a leader. And so right now, unfortunately, the US has pulled back from leading in organizations like the UN, indeed is threatening to cut off funding to the World Health Organization amid the biggest global pandemic in a century, and it is not yet the case that China fills that vacuum.

China does a lot bilaterally. It does send medical equipment. Some of it works. Some of it doesn't. It clearly wants to improve its reputation after the earlier sort of gross mishandling of the crisis within China, and the fact that the spread was in some senses enabled by that cover up in the early stages and some really poor decisions by the Chinese government, but it doesn't lead the world, and it doesn't look out for vulnerable communities, vulnerable countries, and again, leverage what it's doing to get other countries to do more, nor does it address the governance issues that can help fuel the crisis.

You know, if you shut down the internet in a refugee camp as happens in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, people's ability to know what to do to even try to practice the kinds of prophylactic measures that are encouraged by the WHO and by developed governments. They don't even have access to that information, and China's not going to be the one to complain to a foreign government about rules related to the internet. So we really miss and hunger for, I think, US leadership recalling that those of us who are focused on our own communities and our own families, as long as this virus is raging, you know, even in parts of the world that feel really far away, the odds of us being able to return to business as usual or to normalize again are very, very slim because our supply chains stretch into places like Bangladesh and into India and of course into China as we've already seen.

JULIE HYMAN: Ambassador, it feels right now like there's not much coordination within the United States, let alone on an international level, right? You have seen a lot of sort of infighting, or at least conflict, over requisitioning of supplies, for example, by the various states. So I mean, do you have any degree of optimism that that coordination will improve on an international level, and that we will start to see more communication and coordination about how to fight this thing, and when is best to open back up, for example?

SAMANTHA POWER: Yeah. I mean, I think you make such a good point. And I think the analogy is really very valid, with the difference that states within the United States by large, have mechanisms to themselves procure items that may not have been available at the beginning because of poor planning at a federal level because perhaps, also poor planning at the state level. So there's a capacity-- not to make up for lost time because you never get that time back-- but you see those states now, for example, in the Northeast, the governors coming together and saying, let's learn from one another. Let's coordinate as we think about when to begin to resume work, and so forth.

You see, again, other states handling things very, very differently, and so you see a certain amount of experimentation, and we can actually learn from other states and how they're doing it, and what's working and what isn't. I think a lot of states have learned from California. Some sadly, like Florida, did not. So all of that kind of learning is available to us also at the global level, and all of that pooling of information and ultimately supplies is available to us. But again, what I learned as UN ambassador, and I write a fair amount about it in "The Education of an Idealist" is just the collective action problem that takes hold, just as it does in large groups of any kind, but especially, when you have 193 countries.

So what degree of hope do I have? I mean, my view is that pragmatism at some point is going to have to prevail because remember we're not just trying to eradicate the virus, we're trying to get back to normal economic--

ADAM SHAPIRO: Ambassador, I've got to read you the latest tweet from Donald Trump. The President of the United States has just said this, tell the democratic governors that, quote, "Mutiny on the Bounty" was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the captain. Too easy!"

It ignores the fact that Republican governors have been critical about the power grab that the administration seems to be doing. What are your thoughts when the leader of what we used to call the free world says something like that?

SAMANTHA POWER: I mean, I think what we've seen, because of the mishandling of the prevention phase and of the response phase by the President, by the White House, by the federal administration that we have, there has been an effort now for weeks to divert attention from that mishandling and all of the accountability that there needs to be for that largely so we can learn, to the governors, to the World Health Organization, to any target you can find. And you know, often, when one reads the tweets or hears the statements, it seems more about ego and a desire for control, or to seem to be the president from a Hollywood movie than it seems to be about actually coordinating a response, whether within the United States or more broadly.

So those kinds of recriminations, I think are petty and particularly for those families who right now have people, you know, hanging in the balance, in part because of the lack of ventilators, the lack of social distancing guidelines in a timely way. But globally, again, it just is the case that we are connected. I know that there is a temptation to believe that we can build walls around our country, but this is not the 18th century. It's not even 1918. We are connected, and people are suffering great hardship now, not only because of the virus, but also because they are out of work, and they can't feed their families, and we need to get the global economy restarted, and that is not going to happen if we treat this virus as if it's each man for himself, and each country for himself because the countries out there cannot do it. Many, many developing countries, billions of people are not in a position to handle this virus. Look how much trouble we've had, and imagine if you're in South Sudan or in Kenya or in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

AKIKO FUJITO: Ambassador, let me pick up on that point that you made there. We've been talking a lot about inequality in this country, how we've seen these vulnerable communities exposed, but I'm wondering if you can address that on a global level. As you've already said, we've seen a lot of these countries put up their borders, you know, hang on to their own supplies to try to protect their own communities, and at the same time, we're seeing these emerging countries, developing countries, who are essentially going to be left out. Who addresses that issue in this lack of leadership you're talking about? The US isn't taking that role, if China isn't taking that role, does it go back to organizations like the UN?

SAMANTHA POWER: The UN, so you probably remember the late great US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, and he once said about the UN, that blaming the UN for a crisis is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the Knicks play badly. And so you know, right now again, the UN or the WHO, one can blame them, but it's an organization of states. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General, or Tedros, the head of the World Health Organization, doesn't have a doctor, doesn't have a dollar, doesn't have a policeman, doesn't have anything except that which is given to that organization by states that realize, governments that realize that their self-interest is tied up in the fates of the people that you mention who are-- you know this hasn't hit yet. I mean, it is about to wallop the developing world.

Three billion people don't have running water in their homes, you know, around the world. How are they going to wash their hands, and people in slums and refugee camps, how are they going to practice social distancing guidelines? Now Trump may say, well, that's not my problem. I have to focus on the American people, and that's absolutely every leader's responsibility.

ADAM SHAPIRO: And as you point out, the United States leads even when it's not leading. The world still looks to the United States. Former US Ambassador to the UN and author of "The Education of an Idealist", Samantha Power, thank you for joining us on--


ADAM SHAPIRO: Yahoo Finance.