Even though the January 6 disruptions in Washington that resulted in four deaths are seen to fall exclusively in the domain of the term “domestic terror,” leaders of the world’s major democracies nevertheless felt compelled to weigh in to condemn the violence and express solidarity with the democratic procedures for transferring presidential power that the US had been previously known and respected for.
The statements and commentary that America’s friends issued were undoubtedly intended to support a return to what passes for “normal” in pre-inauguration Washington, however, they failed to comprehend their messages in favor of the usually routine congressional procedure certifying Joe Biden’s November election victory would not be heard or understood by the protesting mobs unleashed earlier that day directly by President Donald Trump and his associates.
Once Biden’s victory was certified in the early hours of January 7 by a resumed joint congressional session, Trump quickly committed himself to an orderly transition of power on January 20. After January 6, Americans and likely some world leaders are questioning whether Trump is fit to serve the remaining two weeks of his term and what political options are practical in that time frame.
The last time security in the US Capitol had been breached was in 1814, during the War of 1812, the United States’ second war with the British Empire.
New nominees at State
The events of January 6 eclipsed what would have otherwise been important announcements of the Biden Administration’s new foreign policy team which had been expected this week. Obama-era State Department veterans Wendy Sherman and Victoria Nuland are said to be the nominees for the positions of Deputy Secretary of State (#2 slot) and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (#3 position). These postings reinforce the continuity with the Obama-era foreign policy that was understood by the nomination of Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State, and a more coordinated approach to global issues with allies, and much less of the lone-ranger Jared Kushner style deal-making of recent years that effectively sidelined large parts of the State Department.
As news of the Democrats’ sweep in Georgia is finalized, foreign observers should understand this will mean a much easier confirmation process for senior Biden Administration nominees. Nothing has been said so far on the career prospects of US diplomats now serving in senior positions under President Trump, who may well not face routine confirmation hearings in a democratically-controlled Senate if nominated for new jobs.
A sampling of the expanding list of world reactions to the turmoil in Washington follows:
The European Union
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “I believe in the strength of US institutions and democracy. The peaceful transition of power is at the core. Joe Biden won the election. I look forward to working with him as the next President of the US.”
EU Council President Charles Michel expressed Brussels’ shock at the scenes in Washington: “The US Congress is a temple of democracy. We trust the US to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden.”
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell tweeted: “In the eyes of the world, American democracy tonight appears under siege. This is an unseen assault on US democracy, its institutions, and the rule of law. This is not America. The election results of 3 November must be fully respected.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted: “Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “saddened” by the events at the US Capitol, according to his spokesman. “In such circumstances, it is important that political leaders impress on their followers the need to refrain from violence, as well as to respect democratic processes and the rule of law,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
Chancellor Merkel tweeted: “I regret very much that President Trump since November has not conceded his defeat, and not yesterday either. These images made me angry and sad. But I am sure: American democracy will prove to be much stronger than the attackers and rioters.”
FM Heiko Maas said, “democracy’s enemies would be cheered by scenes of violence at the United States Capitol,” and called on Trump to accept US voters’ decision adding that “the violence had been caused by inflammatory rhetoric.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a video message on Twitter: “What happened today in Washington, DC is not American, definitely.” He added “We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy,” he said, speaking in English.
PM Pedro Sanchez said in a tweet: “I am following with concern the news that are coming from Capitol Hill in Washington. I trust in the strength of America’s democracy. The new Presidency of Joe Biden will overcome this time of tension, uniting the American people.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a tweet called the events in the US Congress a “disgrace,” noting “the United States stood for democracy around the world” and that was it “was vital now that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.”
“Quite Maidan-style pictures are coming from DC,” Russia’s Deputy UN Permanent Representative Dimitry Polyanskiy tweeted, referring to protests in Ukraine that toppled Russian-backed President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.
“Some of my friends ask whether someone will distribute crackers to the protesters to echo the Victoria Nuland stunt,” he said, sarcastically citing a 2013 visit to Ukraine when then-US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland offered food to protesters.
As was to be expected, China sketched a comparison between the storming of the US Capitol and last year’s often-violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong but noted that no one had died when demonstrators took over the legislature of the China-ruled city. “We also wish that US people can enjoy peace, stability and security as soon as possible,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily briefing without noting incoming President Joe Biden by name.