Leaders in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran revel in US Capitol chaos

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani says western democracy is brittle and weak

In much of the world, the scenes that played out in Washington on Wednesday prompted shock, horror and anguish.

But in Moscow, Beijing and other capitals where autocratic governments have been subjected to frequent US criticism, there was a good dose of schadenfreude at the chaotic footage of protesters overrunning Congress. The events were also held up by many authoritarian governments as proof of a long-held insistence that the US is in no place to give other nations lectures on democracy.

“What we saw in the US last night and today really showed that first how brittle and weak western democracy is, and how weak its foundations are,” said the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, in a speech broadcast on state television on Thursday.

He called Trump an “unhealthy person” and said he had “tainted his country’s reputation and credibility. He disrupted US relations with the entire world.”

Russian lawmakers were quick to jump on events in Washington as proof of US moral bankruptcy, though they also threw in some words of support for Trump’s baseless suggestions of electoral fraud.

“The losing side has more than enough grounds to accuse the winner of falsifications – it is clear that American democracy is limping on both feet,” wrote Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, in a post on Facebook.

“America no longer charts the course and so has lost all right to set it. And, even more so, to impose it on others.”

While Russian policymakers were responding to years of criticism from Washington, Chinese officials had a more specific grievance, attempting to compare the violent scenes in Washington with the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The hawkish tabloid the Global Times repeatedly drew crude comparisons between the footage of Capitol Hill and episodes from the Hong Kong protests, ignoring the diametrically opposed motivations behind the two groups. The paper quoted unnamed netizens gleefully revelling in the scenes, describing it as “karma”, “revenge”, and “deserved”.

At a daily press briefing in Beijing on Thursday afternoon, China’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying claimed the deaths in Washington showed that US police were more brutal than their Hong Kong counterparts. “While the degree of violence and destruction in Washington is not as serious as what happened in Hong Kong, four people have died,” she said.

Hua, the Global Times and China’s Communist Youth League all referenced comments by Nancy Pelosi that the Hong Kong protests were “a beautiful sight to behold”, but erroneously linked them to protesters storming the legislative council, when in fact she had said it a few days after a non-violent march of 2 million people on 16 June 2019.

Other countries took joy in mimicking the kind of rhetoric usually sent their way from Washington when reacting to the events. Turkey issued a travel warning telling Turkish citizens in the US to stay away from crowded places and demonstrations, in a statement that echoed the tone of dozens of American communiques in recent years regarding instability in Turkey.

The foreign ministry statement also called on all parties in the US to “maintain restraint and prudence” to overcome the crisis in “a mature manner”. The parliament speaker, Mustafa Şentop, said Turkey had “always been in favour of the law and democracy and we recommend it to everyone”.

In Venezuela, politicians close to the president, Nicolás Maduro, were cock-a-hoop with the chance to bait Trump, who has spent the last two years unsuccessfully trying to overthrow Maduro’s Chavista regime. “I’ll be brief: the United States – what a disaster,” tweeted the Socialist party boss, Diosdado Cabello.

“As they say,” said the oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, “What goes around comes around.”

Over the four years of the Trump presidency, the idea of the US as any kind of moral arbiter has suffered repeated blows, and this has been reinforced by this week’s denouement, with an attempt at just the sort of power grab that the US state department would condemn elsewhere.

“When I served this nation overseas, we were constantly issuing pronouncements about the peaceful transition of power and the need to protect the democratic will of the people,” wrote Patrick Gaspard, the former US ambassador to South Africa under President Barack Obama and later the president of the Open Society Foundations. “Donald Trump and his radical movement have done deep damage to America’s standing as a democratic beacon.”

For some opponents of the US, however, the unrest in Washington was a chance to restate a point they have been making for years.

In response to an American reporter writing on Twitter that the US would never be able to claim status as a model of democracy for the world, Margarita Simonyan, the editor of the Kremlin-backed RT network, wrote: “They never were. It was just a matter of time for you to actually see it.”


Shaun Walker, Helen Davidson in Taipei, Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro, Martin Chulov in Beirut and Bethan McKernan

The GuardianTramp

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