World Leaders Express Horror as U.S. Capitol Attack ‘Shakes the World’
World Leaders Express Horror as U.S. Capitol Attack ‘Shakes the World’
BERLIN — As an angry mob stormed the heart of the world’s most powerful democracy, the rest of the world watched the once-unimaginable scenes unfolding in Washington with dismay and disbelief — and deep concern about what the turmoil could mean as authoritarian forces gain strength around the globe.
Many of those following live broadcasts of armed rioters forcing their way into the U.S. Capitol saw it as a stark and disturbing warning for all the world’s democracies: If this can happen in the United States, it can happen anywhere.
“We currently witness an attack on the very fundaments of democratic structures and institutions,” said Peter Beyer, the German government’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic affairs, who was watching the scenes from Washington on TV. “This is not merely a U.S. national issue, but it shakes the world, at least all democracies.”
The attack on the Capitol — coming less than a day after the Hong Kong police arrested more than 50 democracy activists — was seen as a deep blow to America’s global credibility on advocating liberal values that would make it harder for the United States to hold to account authoritarian leaders around the world.
The world’s authoritarian leaders “must be in euphoric and celebratory mood,” wrote Yossi Melman, a writer for Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, mentioning by name President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “The glorified democracy in the world is in shambles like a third world country.”
As shocking as the violence on Wednesday was, some were not totally surprised that the Trump presidency was ending like this, in a spasm of chaos.
“This is what happens when you sow hatred,” Stéphane Séjourné, a member of the European Parliament and close ally of President Emmanuel Macron of France, wrote on Twitter. “Let us defend and protect our democracy, because it cannot be taken for granted.”
Several leaders directly blamed President Trump for the violence.
“The peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of every democracy. A lesson once taught to the world by the USA,” the German vice chancellor, Olaf Scholz, wrote. “It is a disgrace that Donald Trump is undermining it by inciting violence and destruction.”
Jeremy Hunt, a Conservative former foreign secretary in Britain, said on Twitter that Mr. Trump “shames American democracy tonight & causes its friends anguish but he is not America.”
The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, took the highly unusual step of weighing in on a domestic issue in a member state. “Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Stoltenberg wrote in a tweet. “The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.”
Even some of Mr. Trump’s closest allies on the European populist right, including Nigel Farage, a leading Brexit supporter who campaigned for the American president, condemned the riot. “Storming Capitol Hill is wrong,” Mr. Farage wrote on Twitter. “The protesters must leave.”
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party in Italy and a vocal admirer of Mr. Trump, wrote on Twitter, “violence is never the solution, ever.”
For many foreign leaders, the scenes in America were also reminders of recent attacks on democracy at home.
Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, drew a parallel between the storming of the Capitol and the recent attempt by a mob of far-right German protesters to enter the Reichstag, the building that houses Germany’s Parliament.
“Inflammatory words will lead to acts of violence — on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the Capitol. The contempt for democratic institutions has a devastating effect,” Mr. Mass wrote on Twitter, adding, “The enemies of democracy will be happy about these unbelievable pictures from Washington, D.C.”
And they were.
In Russia, the violence fit neatly into the Kremlin’s propaganda narrative of a crumbling American democracy. Russia’s state-controlled news channel, Rossiya-24, broadcast the chaos in the Capitol on a split screen, one side showing happy Orthodox Christmas festivities in Russia, the other the violent mayhem in Washington.
Footage of bloodied Americans lying on the ground recalled the channel’s coverage of American-backed street protests in Ukraine in the winter of 2013-14, reinforcing Russia’s message that the United States is now harvesting at home the violent fruit of its own foreign meddling.
The official Turkish news agency urged “all parties in U.S. to use moderation, common sense to overcome this domestic political crisis,” while President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela took to state television dressed in a long white tunic to lecture his ministers on the virtues of democracy.
Iran’s official media offered minute-by-minute updates highlighting Mr. Trump’s role in instigating the violence by making false claims about election fraud. On social media some Iranians tweeted a famous line of poetry about karma from the Book of Kings about a hunter of zebras who is finally hunted down by the beast.
There was a whiff of schadenfreude in some parts of the world that have been on the receiving end of advice on good governance from Washington in recent decades.
“As Africa we call for Americans to respect democracy, to respect rule of law and allow for a peaceful transition to power,” Mmusi Maimane, South Africa’s former leader of the opposition, wrote on Twitter. “Follow the example of great democratic states like South Africa which respect outcomes of elections.”
But concern that the violence would send a message about the fragility of American democracy — and, by extension, liberal democracy at large — was far greater.
“For the first time the United States, which has been an example of democracy, is becoming the counterexample of it,” said Ana Paula Ordorica, a Mexican newspaper columnist and television host, who covered the U.S. election in November for Televisa. “This is something that normally, the U.S. would watch happen in another country.”
It took law enforcement several hours to regain control of the Capitol. In the early evening, the sergeant-at-arms, the top security official at the Capitol, announced that the building had been secured.
Amid the expressions of alarm, there were also several hopeful voices, insisting that this was a last convulsion of the Trump presidency rather than the beginning of the end of Western democracy — and that a Biden presidency would turn things around.
“I trust in the strength of America’s democracy,” tweeted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain. “The new Presidency of@JoeBiden will overcome this time of tension, uniting the American people.”
Closer to home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said Canadians were “deeply disturbed and saddened” by the attack on the Capitol. But he, too, struck an optimistic tone in a tweet. “Democracy in the U.S. must be upheld — and it will be.”
But others warned that the current crisis of democracy went beyond Mr. Trump and that America might take years to repair.
In Germany, where democracy once succumbed to Nazi rule following a volatile decade of marauding far-right militias and failed coups, the images of an armed mob attacking the seat of national power conjured uneasy echoes of history.
“After our catastrophic failure in the 20th century, we Germans were taught by the U.S. to develop strong democratic institutions,” said Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to Britain. “We also learned that democracy is not just about institutions. It is about political culture, too.”
That political culture is ailing, said Andrea Römmele, dean of the Hertie School in Berlin. “Democracies crumble if they are too polarized,” she said. “That was the case in Germany in the 1930s or Chile in the 1970s.”
For all the seriousness of the day’s events, some managed to identify trimmings of comedy.
Tumi Morake, a South African comedian, posted: “When you take a break from your own problems to watch your uppity neighbours’ drama unfold. #America”
The Lebanese-British comedian Karl Sharro drew a winking parallel between Mr. Trump’s encouragement of the Capitol mob with the United States’ history of helping to overthrow other countries’ leaders, saying on Twitter, “Trump basically imported the US’s foreign policy to the US.”
Felipe Neto, a popular Brazilian political commentator, took a shot at the United States.
“I’m waiting for the USA to invade the USA so they can ‘re-establish democracy,’” he wrote on Twitter.
Melissa Eddy and Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin; Andrew Higgins and Anton Troianovski from Moscow; Natalie Kitroeff and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City; Aurelien Breeden from Paris; David M. Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner and Adam Rasgon from Jerusalem; Mark Landler, Megan Specia and Benjamin Mueller from London; Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro; Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas, Venezuela; Julie Turkewitz from Bogotá, Colombia; Vivian Yee from Tunis; Jason Horowitz from Rome; Catherine Porter from Toronto; Farnaz Fassihi from New York; Ruth Maclean from Dakar, Senegal; and Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.