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Foreign adversaries skewer US after Capitol riots

Foreign adversaries skewer US after Capitol riots
© Greg Nash

Global audiences watched in shock this week as pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol and violently attempted to prevent a transition of power from one presidential administration to the next.

The images broadcast around the world capped four years of chaos, confusion and strife under President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE that has radically eroded global confidence in America’s leadership on the world stage.

Foreign adversaries are now using the scenes of destruction in the nation’s capital to bolster attacks on what they say is hypocritical U.S. moral authority in condemning other countries for violating and suppressing democratic freedoms.

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“We know the world was watching yesterday and that it damaged our standing in the world,” Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulSenate Intelligence panel working on legislation around mandatory cyber breach notification McCarthy unveils House GOP task forces, chairs Republican, Democratic lawmakers urge fully funding US assistance to Israel MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Hill.

“It just doesn’t give us the moral high ground when we have this democracy and yet our symbol of democracy is attacked by this mob that quite frankly was organized by the president,” he added.  

The scenes of Trump supporters ransacking the Capitol were seized upon by officials in countries that are routinely condemned and sanctioned by the U.S. and international community for their violent crackdowns on democratic institutions and pro-democracy protesters.

"What we saw in the United States last night showed the failure and frailty of Western democracy in the world," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday.

In Venezuela, where the Trump administration has called the government of Nicolás Maduro illegitimate, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted that the insurrection in Washington “reflects the deep crisis the political and social system of the United States is currently going through.”

“With this unfortunate episode, the United States suffers the same thing that it has generated in other countries with its policies of aggression,” read a statement released in Spanish.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, who is often criticized by human rights groups for instituting a systemic and brutal crackdown on activists and political opponents, used the mob attack on the Capitol to call for an end to U.S. sanctions on his country.

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“Yesterday’s events showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy. These sanctions must end,” he tweeted.

Lew Lukens, a 30-year veteran of the State Department who served as deputy chief of mission to the U.S. embassy in London until 2018, said, “There’s definitely a fallout to U.S. global standing.”

“In countries like China, Russia and Iran, after we have been lecturing these countries on building their democracies, and holding free and fair elections for years, I think they’re getting great glee at looking at this dysfunction in our country.”

Even U.S. allies that had largely stayed quiet on Trump’s more populist and xenophobic rhetoric over the past four years were quick to condemn Wednesday’s events and highlight the president’s role in fomenting the violence.

“Unacceptable and undemocratic scenes in Washington D.C.,” tweeted Priti Patel, the British secretary of State for the Home Department and a member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conservative party.

“There is no justification for this violence and Donald Trump must condemn it. The United States is a beacon of democracy, hope and liberty and there must now be an orderly transition of power.”

Trump was widely condemned for stoking the violence with his refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom MORE and repeated, unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, riling up his supporters to fight back against what he called a “rigged” contest.

Dani Dayan, former Israeli consul-general in New York, called it “embarrassing” to have an Israeli community named “Trump Heights,” in an interview with Israel Army Radio on Thursday. The community was established in the wake of the Trump administration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Syria claims. 

“I think everyone now recognizes being associated with” Trump, or some aspects of Trump’s policies or rhetoric, “is no longer a good thing anywhere,” said one European diplomat, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly.

This could work in Biden’s favor, the diplomat said, as U.S. allies welcome a return to stability and leadership that is bolstered by Democratic control of both chambers of Congress to advance Biden’s agenda.

But despite the shocking images of the violence at the Capitol and the criticisms from autocratic nations, America’s image abroad remains strong, the diplomat added.

“It is more significant in some ways because it’s America, but at no point does anyone who’s lived through more serious rebellion start getting worried about the strength of the American state,” the diplomat said.

Eliot Cohen, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a former counselor at the State Department, said that while the images were shocking and have caused serious damage to America’s standing abroad, he’s optimistic the U.S. will weather the criticism and emerge from the crisis.

“One theme of Nazi propaganda during World War II was American race relations and lynching, and Jim Crow, and that was something real that they could point to. And they did,” he said.

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“The question with the United States is ... how quickly do we recover.”

Biden was quick to address the nation, condemning the violence and calling for order. He also expressed hope for unity and the healing of divisions.

“The world is watching — and like so many other Americans, I am shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of light, hope, and democracy has come to such a dark moment,” he said. “Through war and strife, America has endured much. And we will endure here and prevail now.”

His remarks drew praise from world leaders who are optimistic about his presidency.

“I commend the words of President-elect Joe Biden,” tweeted European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borell. “The strength of US democracy will prevail over extremist individuals.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has frequently clashed with Trump and was reportedly on the receiving end of some of his more harsh insults, blamed the president for the violence at the Capitol but expressed support for the future of U.S. democracy.

"We all saw the unsettling pictures of the storming of the Congress building yesterday evening. These pictures made me angry and also sad. I am, however, sure that this democracy will prove to be much stronger than the attackers and rioters,“ she said.

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While some Trump loyalists and senior administration officials have condemned the violence and are beginning to distance themselves from the defeated president, some Democrats argue the Republican Party is not doing enough to separate itself and take responsibility for Wednesday’s violence, going so far as calling for invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump or impeach him.

“I’ve tasted tear gas, come under gunfire and seen people die in strife in other countries. I never thought I’d see an insurrection in our Capitol,” tweeted Rep. Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinOvernight Energy: Update on Biden administration conservation goals | GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices | Push for nationwide electric vehicle charging stations Ocasio-Cortez, Levin introduce revised bill to provide nationwide electric vehicle charging network OSHA sends draft emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 to OMB review MORE (D-Mich.).

“In a hierarchy of blame, I hold my colleagues who called for the overthrow of democracy more responsible than those who broke in.”

Cohen, of Johns Hopkins, said that while he expects the U.S. to emerge from this crisis, the threats are not yet over.

“Everything’s going to be tense, at least until Biden gets inaugurated,” he said. “What we haven’t had is a madman as president, that’s the part that I think unnerves people most.”