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How The World Reacted To The Insurrection At The U.S. Capitol


The insurrection on Capitol Hill may have ended, but there is still fallout for America's image abroad. Allies were shocked by the scenes in Washington, while U.S. adversaries ridiculed American democracy. NPR's Michele Kelemen takes a look at the international reaction.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: NATO's secretary general and many other leaders in Europe expressed shock, and today British Prime Minister Boris Johnson blamed Trump for inciting the riots.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: The president consistently has cast doubt on the outcome of a free and fair election. I believe that that was completely wrong.

KELEMEN: His comments came a day after the dramatic scenes on Capitol Hill were televised around the world.


ROBERT MOORE: We followed the aggrieved and infuriated Trump supporters as they stormed the building.

KELEMEN: This is Robert Moore of Britain's ITV, who was on the scene as rioters climbed through broken windows at the Capitol. America's adversaries were quick to mock the U.S. A Russian diplomat at the U.N. joked that if there were a U.S. embassy in Washington, American diplomats would be handing out crackers to the protesters, as they did in Ukraine in 2014.


YULIA OLKHOVSKAYA: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: This Russian TV reporter, Yulia Olkhovskaya, described the tear gas and chaos she experienced at the Capitol. She ended her report with a quote from former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty that the U.S. will never again be able to claim we are a model of democracy. Iran's president says the crisis shows that Western democracy is failing.

ELIZABETH SHACKELFORD: Our adversaries are having a great day with this.

KELEMEN: That's Elizabeth Shackelford, a former U.S. diplomat who wrote a book called "The Dissent Channel" about her time in the Foreign Service.

SHACKELFORD: They think that this is really revealing the United States for what they have always claimed that we are, which is, you know, just as bad as they are.

KELEMEN: Shackelford says America's moral standing has taken a big hit and there must be accountability.

SHACKELFORD: There has to be a cost for what has been done to our democratic institutions. And if we aren't able to do that, then how can we expect, you know, other countries around the world to listen to us when we push them to do the same?

KELEMEN: At the University of Virginia, a former Bush administration official, Philip Zelikow, takes a long view.

PHILIP ZELIKOW: People who don't like you can always relish a sense of schadenfreude when they see you have a bad day, but that shouldn't affect the way we regard ourselves.

KELEMEN: Zelikow calls this a test for America. While he says he was appalled to see some of his fellow Republicans side with Trump, he says the U.S. could still pass this test and remain a model for the world, unlike those criticizing America today.

ZELIKOW: That's a better model for the world than what the Chinese government did the same day, by the way, in the same news cycle - mass arrests of people who want to have democracy in Hong Kong. If you look at how China has responded to its crisis of choice and how the United States will respond to this crisis, the world can draw those judgments.

KELEMEN: But Shackelford says the incoming administration has a lot of work to do.

SHACKELFORD: We're going to have to admit that we are not a shining city on the hill and that we have a lot to fix at home. And I hope the Biden administration takes that seriously.

KELEMEN: Biden has called this a dark moment for the nation, which has long been a, quote, "beacon of light." Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.


Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.