President Joe Biden has a unique opportunity to jump-start the US and global economies through a new Marshall Plan by utilizing individual US state National Guard units to lead the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines around the world.
The US Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program – which pairs US states with 84 allied nations around the world – could be the most effective and welcomed tool of American diplomacy since US secretary of state George C Marshall persuaded president Harry Truman to rebuild a decimated Europe after World War II.
The citizen soldiers of US National Guard units already distribute Covid-19 vaccines made by New Jersey–based Johnson & Johnson, New York City–based Pfizer Inc, and Massachusetts-based Moderna in their home states.
The best example of the huge capacity of America’s citizen soldiers is the New York National Guard, which has taken over mass vaccination sites such as New York City’s Javits Convention Center.
The New York National Guard and members of the US military were the true unsung heroes who saved thousands of lives while now-embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo repeated the fatal mistakes of ousted Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, such as releasing Covid-19-infected seniors back to nursing homes.
In fact, the New York National Guard has probably the two most important state partnerships in the global fight against Covid-19 – with Brazil and South Africa. Both countries have mutated Covid-19 strains and extremely low vaccination rates (South Africa 0.45%; Brazil 6.38%).
President Biden has been given a historically unique opportunity to harness the economic and military might of the United States to execute a vaccination program that will allow an inclusive global recovery and at the same time curb the increasingly belligerent ambitions of China and Russia.
While China and Russia attempt to divide American allies by selectively offering their home-made Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines to Western and developing nations, Biden has the full force of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to bully-pulpit American pharmaceutical groups to produce enough vaccines to cover global demand.
Lost between the too often self-serving headlines is the fact that all the current vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca were funded by the American taxpayer to tune of $20 billion and pushed through by former president Donald Trump’s US militarily led and DPA-mandated Operation Warp Speed.
“We would not have a single vaccine out by now without Trump appointing military leaders like US Army General Gustave Perna to browbeat the likes of Pfizer [CEO Albert Boura] and others,” a source who led the US Covid-19 efforts said, adding that Johnson & Johnson’s mono-dose, room-temperature vaccine will be the true game changer in the battle to end the pandemic.
In fact, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has already enlisted US military help via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with Covid-19 vaccines and appointed a uniformly respected general, Paolo Figliuolo, as the country’s pandemic czar.
Biden’s use of the National Guard would re-cement America’s place in the hearts and minds of the world and could also generate export growth by US companies not seen since World War II.
The best example of the transformational use of the US National Guard is the state partnership between the Mississippi and the critically strategic Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan.
The US state visit by former Mississippi governor Phil Bryant to Uzbekistan with a delegation of private-sector companies led by Mars Inc and Uncle Ben’s Rice was born out of the state partnership.
Bryant’s state visit to Uzbekistan was also historic as it was the first time a US state had used its State Partnership as the impetus for an official trade mission and came on the back of $6.5 billion worth of contracts with US big businesses such as conglomerates GE and Honeywell; agriculture-machinery giants John Deere & Company and Case New Holland; and Boeing for the soon-to-be privatized Uzbekistan Airways.
Every US governor can follow the Mississippi-Uzbekistan example of using Covid-19 with investment, such as Virginia with Tajikistan; Wyoming with Tunisia; the District of Columbia with Burkina Faso; and California with Ukraine.
The US International Development Finance Corporation (US DFC), with its $60 billion development fund earmarked for private-sector investment, could easily accompany US National Guard units on their country-by-country vaccine programs.
In fact, US DFC has proved to be a much welcomed substitute for the bureaucratic and highly ineffective US Agency for International Development (USAID). Trump handed over Covid-19 Defense Production Act powers to US DFC chief executive Adam Boehler because of the agency’s close working relationship with US Fortune 100 CEOs.
A new US Marshall Plan using American generosity and American business would be the best tool to beat back China’s Belt and Road military and economic encroachment and bring back Russia to Western norms and standards.
Biden could immediately appoint Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to lead this new National Guard/US DFC Marshall Plan just as Harry Truman picked General Marshall to raise Europe from the dead.
Peter K Semler is the chief executive editor and founder of Capitol Intelligence. Previously, he was the Washington, DC, bureau chief for Mergermarket (Dealreporter/Debtwire) of the Financial Times and headed political and economic coverage of the US House of Representatives and Senate.