As Washington reels, U.S. foes see opportunity in the chaos of Trump-stoked riot

LONDON – For America’s opponents, there was no better evidence of the fallibility of Western democracy than the sight of the smoke-covered US Capitol, besieged by a mob, flogged by its involuntarily departing president.

China, Iran and Russia have already referred to the turmoil in Washington as evidence that the much-vaunted US system of government is fundamentally flawed and full of hypocrisy.

There are also major concerns across Europe. Not only because of the division and instability that is rocking its powerful transatlantic ally, but also because of the importance it has to its relationship with Washington after President-elect Joe Biden was inaugurated in two weeks.

Many wonder how the US can ever again teach other countries about democratic values ​​or how it can tell other countries that they are not internally stable enough to have nuclear weapons.

Protesters enter the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.Win McNamee / Getty Images

“You are now seeing the situation in the US,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a live televised address on Friday. “This is their democracy and their human rights, this is their election scandal, these are their values. These values ​​are mocked by the whole world. Even their friends laugh at them.”

While Iran criticized, its government in Tehran has restricted the rights of its people to freedom of expression and assembly, and its security forces have used deadly force to quell protests, kill hundreds of people and arbitrarily arrest thousands more, according to Amnesty International in London .

Officials in China and Russia asked why US lawmakers in other parts of the world have been so quick to support pro-democracy protesters while rioting rages on their own streets.

“You may all remember the words some US officials, lawmakers and some media outlets used about Hong Kong at the time,” Chinese State Department spokesman Hua Chunying said at a briefing Thursday. “What are you saying now about the United States?”

Hong Kong police arrested more than 50 pro-democracy people on Wednesday for allegedly violating the tough new national security law. Antony Blinken, Biden’s candidate for the office of foreign minister, said on Twitter this week that the new government would “stand with the people of Hong Kong and Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.”

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In Russia, Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Lower House of Parliament, told the state media that “the boomerang of the” color revolutions, “as we can see, is returning to the United States,” referring to the wave of downturns West advocated democratic uprisings in the former Soviet republics in the 2000s.

Many people have pointed out that many of the demonstrators – in the former Soviet republics and in Hong Kong – are campaigning for more democratic rights. According to observers, the rights of regular Russians were severely undermined under President Vladimir Putin.

However, the mob in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday attempted to overthrow a legitimate election.

The distinction has not stopped America’s critics from making a living comparison.

“This is an absolute gift for authoritarian leaders whose main narrative is that democratic systems are weak and unstable,” said Matthew Harries, senior research fellow in Berlin at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank.

“Someone like Xi Jinping can say, see, these people can’t get a grip on Covid-19 and they can’t even protect their legislature,” he said, referring to China’s leaders while talking to the Chinese Communist Party “that to get.” Stability and growth. “

House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Reiterated that sentiment Thursday, calling Trump “a complete tool for Putin” and saying the president gave the Russian president “the greatest of his many gifts” by delivering the Uprising in the Capitol.

A flag reading “Treason” early Thursday after protesters stormed the US Capitol.Andrew Harnik / AP

Victor Gao, who acted as interpreter for China’s late Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping, said the Washington scenes are a vivid response for those looking to transplant American political values ​​elsewhere.

“Our system has its own problems, but this system for China has worked for China for 45 years,” he said of the one-party state. “China will never accept an attempt by the United States to impose its system on China because it doesn’t work” for China.

Although President Donald Trump has spoken warmly about Xi, he has also imposed tariffs and sanctions on China for restricting Hong Kong’s autonomy and its human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslims, both of whom are contesting in Beijing.

Perhaps the most notable recent attempt to export American-style democracy has been in Iraq, with institution building being one of the stated goals of the US-led invasion in 2003. Following Wednesday’s events, a meme in circulation showed that Iraqi tanks launched an invasion. “Bringing Democracy Back to the United States.”

“It’s been 20 years since George W. Bush tried to export American democracy as a model to the rest of the world, and today that model is in deep crisis,” said Giovanni Orsina, director of the School of Government Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome.

“From what we’ve seen, the idea that Americans can teach democracy to the rest of the world is much weaker,” he said. “And what makes matters worse is the fact that there are no big alternative democracies. So the crisis in America reflects a crisis of democracy in the world.”

The front pages of the Italian newspapers Thursday. Andrew Medichini / AP

The feeling of a common crisis became clear in the alarms from several European heads of state and government. The US is far from the only country grappling with its populist law fueled by online disinformation theories.

“Inflammatory words become violent acts – on the steps of the Reichstag and now in the Capitol,” tweeted Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, referring to an attempt by anti-coronavirus lockdown demonstrators to storm the German Bundestag in August. “The contempt for democratic institutions is devastating.”

After a couple of years of bruised Trump, few European leaders have joked that Biden’s victory means they can go back to what they were before. For example, French President Emmanuel Macron is taking steps to be less dependent on Washington militarily.

Yet events this week in Washington have put the future of their relationship with the United States at the center.

Speaking in Paris, François Heisbourg, Senior Advisor for Europe at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “The outside world has to assume that there is an uncertainty, a great deal of instability, where the US will be in the next few years.”

European powers “must assume that the fate of the US is uncertain,” he said. “And if that is the case, we must prepare for a world in which the US is not the partner we used to have.”

Alexander Smith reported from London; Saphora Smith of Bristol, England; Claudio Lavanga from Rome; Nancy Ing from Paris; Andy Eckardt from Mainz; Tatyana Chistikova from Moscow; and Dawn Liu from Beijing.

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