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The World Is Watching Us

Reactions from friends and foes to the assault on the Capitol and our democracy.
January 7, 2021
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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As rioters attacked and took over the U.S. Capitol, forcing Congress to flee, the world watched—America’s friends looking on with horror, its adversaries with undisguised joy.

Usually when there is political violence somewhere around the world, the U.S. Department of State releases a statement along these lines: Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely and peacefully expressed. The United States urges all sides to refrain from violence. Repeated violence and excessive use of force by security forces are deeply troubling.

So naturally Wednesday’s ugly, despicable events at the Capitol, and the anti-democratic lies and incitement that led up to them, elicited schadenfreude from the usual suspects. Here’s state media from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey:

Erdoğan is trolling us: Dear United States, you’re no better than the rest of us.

The following gleeful tweet about the riots—with an attempt to dunk on Victoria Nuland, a Russia hawk who will be a high-ranking official in the Biden State Department—from the Russian deputy head of mission to the United Nations was retweeted by Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs:

Venezuela’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro, has been busy retweeting dozens of tweets about the riots, and his minister of foreign affairs, in an almost perfect parody of the typical State Department language, tweeted to “express concerns” over the violence:

Chinese state media also joined in the schadenfreude fest, notably using Wednesday’s riot to mock the American critics of China’s behavior in Hong Kong:

Clearly Germany’s minister of foreign affairs, Heiko Maas, was right to point out that the “enemies of democracy” would take pleasure in the grim images out of Washington:

Meanwhile, tweets from leaders and foreign ministers of other American allies are also issuing statements of concern, solidarity, and sympathy. Here’s Josep Borrell, the foreign minister of the European Union:

Here’s Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO:

And here’s Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Great Britain—who was born in New York and so for a time had dual citizenship, spent some time in his childhood in Washington, D.C., and is known as an admirer of America:

The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand:

And there’s more—from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, from the embassy of France in the United States, from the president of the European Commission Ursula van der Leyen, and many others.

Allies are concerned both because of the important example that the United States has long set for the world’s democracies and because their own democracies depend in important respects on the fate of America’s.

Two paths lay before us. One path is for Americans to take Erdoğan’s statement as granted—that is, to accept that the United States isn’t special, and that today’s ugliness, as embarrassing as it is, is evidence that we’re no different than the world’s troubled and unstable democracies.

The other path is to study our allies’ statements and view today not as a mere embarrassment but a warning. If we choose the second path, we have the well wishes, assistance, and prayers of our allies behind us—both because they admire us and because they have tied their interests to our strength.

Do we want to answer Erdoğan’s wish or the prayers of our allies? Do we want to live in a world made in our image or get out of the way of dictators in Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey to remake the world in their own image?

One answer to that question can be found in the pitch-perfect statement that Joe Biden released earlier today:

The world is watching. Like so many other Americans, I am genuinely shocked and saddened that our nation, so long the beacon of light and hope for democracy, has come to such a dark moment. Through war and strife, America has endured much, and we will endure here, and we will prevail again, and we will prevail now.

Biden went on to quote Lincoln: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” Amen.

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri is a graduate student of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies. He grew up in Iran and left the country in 2011. He is currently seeking political asylum in the United States. Follow him @ShayKhatiri.