Wednesday’s raid on the US Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters has sparked mixed reactions around the world.
Many of America’s adversaries reacted to the news with marked schadenfreude (a German term denoting pleasure gained from another’s misfortune), seemingly rejoicing in the fact that the world’s premier exporter of democracy was embroiled in such an embarrassing domestic political snafu.
America’s staunchest allies, however, reacted to the news with alarmed dismay, underscoring how the unsettling images from Wednesday’s unprecedented assault on the US Capitol may have inflicted lasting reputational damage on the American brand of democracy — both within and without America’s borders.
“I have been following the news about Washington … this will hurt the American democratic system and devalue it,” Hirsch Yousefi, an Iranian Kurdish peshmerga fighter living in Iraq, told Coffee or Die Magazine in an email.
An Iranian Kurd who has fought both ISIS terrorists and Iranian military forces, Yousefi calls the US military the “liberation army.”
“I hope everything goes well,” Yousefi said about Wednesday’s violence in Washington. “America has always been called a true democracy in history, so this can be very difficult for people around the world, and will call into question the American democratic system.”
This video of the siege of the Capitol on TikTok is crazy and different than I had seen pic.twitter.com/JXwvKVLjxB
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 7, 2021
A pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday, interrupting the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election. Four people reportedly died in the melee, including a US Air Force veteran who was shot by Capitol police. After security officials had retaken control of the Capitol building, lawmakers reconvened and ultimately affirmed Biden’s victory.
The example of American democracy has inspired people around the world to fight for their freedom. However, Wednesday’s violence in Washington casts a shadow over America’s democratic prestige in the eyes of some foreign freedom fighters. It has also sparked concerns in some quarters that authoritarian regimes might exploit America’s domestic instability for their geopolitical advantage.
For his part, Yousefi is now worried that America’s political instability could portend negative consequences in Iraq — potentially emboldening Iran to make an offensive move in the Middle East.
“As for the United States, I hope that the situation will calm down, because the chaos in the United States will cause instability and unrest in the region,” Yousefi said.
The US government has long espoused democratic freedoms as a fundamental human right, no matter one’s geography. Often inspired by American-espoused democratic ideals, pro-democratic protest movements across the globe remain embroiled in contentious and often bloody resistance movements against entrenched authoritarian regimes. In recent years, the US has advocated pro-democracy protest movements in Belarus, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Ukraine, and Russia.
In 2014, Ukrainian street protests overthrew the corrupt, pro-Russian presidential regime of Viktor Yanukovych. Since the revolution, Ukrainian troops have been locked in a stalemated trench war in the country’s eastern Donbas region to hold at bay a Russian invasion force, which aims to scuttle Ukraine’s pro-Western, pro-democratic ambitions.
Ukrainian soldiers have been weathering Russian artillery, snipers, and rocket attacks for the past six and a half years. And all the while, many have held American democracy on a pedestal, considering the US to be the torchbearer for their own country’s democratic dreams.
Ukrainian army Staff Sgt. Kostiantyn Denysiuk, the first sergeant of a special operations company and a combat veteran, said that while he understands freedom is worth fighting for, he thinks that Wednesday’s mob violence in Washington was misguided and ultimately harmful to America’s reputation abroad.
“In my personal opinion, the way of democracy and freedom — is a way of struggle,” Denysiuk told Coffee or Die Magazine. “But in the case of the USA, yesterday’s Capitol attack was absolutely unnecessary.”
Denysiuk continued: “The United States already has the commonly known status of being the most democratic country in the world, and the most respectful of human rights. And regarding that, people should calmly listen to another’s opinion, even if it’s countering theirs. It’s the only way to preserve freedom of speech and choice … I think Americans will make the right conclusions from this situation, and it will never happen again in the future, because it strikes down the reputation of the United States.”
— ABC News (@ABC) January 7, 2021
America’s contemporary adversaries — chiefly Russia and China — are prosecuting an ongoing information war to discredit America’s moral and ethical leadership. Today’s world remains beset by authoritarian regimes whose domestic power and geopolitical influence largely rest on their propagandized, fictitious self-depictions as steadfast defenders against America’s hypocritical interventionism. Amid that historical context, Wednesday’s mob violence in Washington marked a defeat for America’s post-World War II enterprise of fostering worldwide peace and prosperity through the promotion of democracy and human rights.
The view from the Kremlin was mainly one of glee. Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took to Facebook to comment on Wednesday’s violence, claiming that it underscores the “archaic” nature of America’s electoral system.
“Events in Washington are the internal affairs of the United States,” Zakharova wrote, adding: “At the same time, we reiterate that the electoral system in the United States is archaic, it does not meet modern democratic standards, creating opportunities for multiple violations, and American media has become a tool for political struggle. This was largely the cause of the division of society now observed in the United States.”
Trump supporters breach the line of police, now having opened the Capitol on the front and back side as outside crowds rush into the building #January6th #Capitol #DC #WashingtonDC pic.twitter.com/qUobYiubT7
— Brendan Gutenschwager (@BGOnTheScene) January 6, 2021
Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, compared the Capitol violence with Ukraine’s 2014 pro-democratic revolution, which many Russian officials maintain was a US-backed coup to overthrow Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.
“Quite Maidan-style pictures are coming from DC,” Polyanskiy tweeted, referring to Kyiv’s central square, the Maidan, which was the epicenter of Ukraine’s 2014 revolution.
On social media, some Russian commentators also compared Wednesday’s mob violence in Washington with Russia’s 1993 constitutional crisis during which government tanks, operating under the orders of President Boris Yeltsin, shelled protesters ensconced in the country’s government house, known as the Russian White House.
Some Chinese diplomats drew parallels between the mob that sacked the Capitol with the pro-democracy protesters who stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in July of last year.
“The response and words used by some in the US to what happened in Hong Kong in 2019 were completely different to what they used for today’s ongoing events in the US,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Thursday.
“We also wish that US people can enjoy peace, stability, and security as soon as possible,” Hua added.
Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, blamed Trump for Wednesday’s mob violence in an apparent attempt to gin up solidarity with the outgoing president’s critics.
A rogue president who sought vengeance against his OWN people has been doing much worse to our people—and others—in the past 4 years.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 7, 2021
What's disturbing is that the same man has the UNCHECKED authority to start a nuclear war; a security concern for the entire int'l community.
Mohamad Safa, a Lebanese diplomat and permanent representative to the United Nations, said on Twitter: “If the United States saw what the United States is doing in the United States, the United States would invade the United States to liberate the United States from the tyranny of the United States.”
And, not to be outdone, the government of Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro exploited Wednesday’s mob violence in Washington to take a dig at America’s democratic moral authority.
“With this unfortunate episode, the United States suffers from what they have generated in other countries with their aggressive policies,” the government of Venezuela said in a statement posted to its website. “Venezuela hopes that the acts of violence will soon cease and the American people can finally open a new path towards stability and social justice.”
Despite these digs from America’s adversaries, many allies reacted to Wednesday’s violence with alarm and sadness — and also affirmed their faith in the underlying, hopeful premise of American democracy.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) January 7, 2021
French President Emmanuel Macron published a video on Twitter, addressing the attack on the Capitol.
“I just wanted to express our friendship and our faith in the United States,” Macron said. “What happened today in Washington, DC, is not America. Definitely. We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy.”
Boris Johnson, prime minister of the United Kingdom, echoed that sentiment in a tweet on Wednesday.
“Disgraceful scenes in U.S. Congress,” Johnson wrote. “The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that his country was “deeply disturbed and saddened” by the violence in Washington.
“Violence will never succeed in overruling the will of the people. Democracy in the US must be upheld – and it will be,” Trudeau wrote.
We strongly condemn the unprecedented violence against the US Congress. We are inspired by the resilience of this world’s oldest & greatest democratic institution that within mere hours of this horrific attack held a historic session that affirmed the will of the American people
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 7, 2021
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter: “We strongly condemn the unprecedented violence against the US Congress. We are inspired by the resilience of this world’s oldest & greatest democratic institution that within mere hours of this horrific attack held a historic session that affirmed the will of the American people.”
For his part, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — America’s top diplomat — issued a statement on Twitter condemning the Capitol Hill violence as “unacceptable.”
“The storming of the U.S. Capitol today is unacceptable. Lawlessness and rioting — here or around the world — is always unacceptable. I have travelled to many countries and always support the right of every human being to protest peacefully for their beliefs and their causes,” Pompeo wrote.
“Let us swiftly bring justice to the criminals who engaged in this rioting,” Pompeo added.