Pictured: National Guard soldiers clear a street of protestors outside the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)
This month's mob assault on the Capitol in Washington DC has injected new vigor in the "end of America" crowd across the globe. In China and Russia, the talk is centered on the claim that American democracy is no longer a model for nations seeking a global profile. For Khomeinists in the Islamic Republic in Iran and Chavista in Venezuela, the event marked "the beginning of the end" for the "Great Satan". Some chattering circles in Europe relaunched speculation about the end of America as leader in the international arena.
In the US itself, too, some commentators presented the incident as an historic turning point. Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, hailed by the Tehran daily Kayhan as "America's greatest strategist", saw the riot as the starting point of the "post-America" world order.
The idea that America is somehow "ending" or losing its leadership position is not new. The retired American linguist Noam Chomsky and Dr. Hassan Abbasi, known as "Dr. Kissinger of Islam" have been peddling that yarn for years. The Indian-American TV star Fareed Zakaria even wrote a book about the "American dream" being on its death-bed.
But, what if all the talk about "end of America and "death of the American dream" is based on partial or even total misreading and mis-description of the mini-riot in Washington?
The BBC headlined a remark by President-elect Joe Biden saying the Washington riot was "the darkest day in our history". However, when you read the actual news item, you find out that Biden said "one of the darkest days". London newspapers headlined Biden "condemning" the difference in treatment of the Washington riot and that of Black Lives Matters protestors. Several papers quoted unnamed BLM activists saying that "had it been us, we would have all been dead." The fact that in 2020 they had numerous riots in more than 20 American cities and they are still in good health was ignored. However, Biden described the difference in police treatment of pro-Trump and BLM rioters only as "unacceptable", the weakest term in the lexicon of sulking.
The European Union foreign policy spokesman, Josep Borrell, described the riot as "unprecedented in a democracy" and, presumably, a sign of American decline. He may have to refresh his knowledge of European history to remember French President Charles De Gaulle having to flee Paris to seek refuge with French troops in West Germany in 1968, not to mention the seizure of the Spanish parliament in Madrid by Lt. Colonel Antonio Tejero's armed gang in 1981.
Some commentators compared the Washington blip with Mussolini's 1922 "March on Rome" and spoke of an attempted putsch if not a full-blown coup d'état. However, if only because America is America, seeing Donald J Trump as a new Mussolini is as hilarious as branding Joseph R. Biden as a new Stalin.
What happened, however, seems to have been less dramatic than what the hate-America had wished.
U.S. Capitol Police chief Steven Sund (who resigned, effective yesterday) said that two days before Congress was set to finalize Biden's victory, he felt concerned about "the size of the pro-Trump crowd" expected to gather in protest. However, for reasons not yet known, most of the over 2,200 members of the Capitol Police were told to stay home for the day.
Thus, when the riot broke out, the Capitol Police had only 400 or so officers on hand. Was that a conspiracy by the Trump machine? As the DC police is controlled by the Mayor, an ardent opponent of Trump, and with Democrats holding majority in the House of Representatives, it is hard to see how Trump could have plotted the "stay home" scenario for security officers.
Even then, the pro-Trump crowd, estimated by the DC police at around 8,000 in its first phases, was rather smaller than Mussolini's "One Million Man March". In the final phase of the demonstration, around 2,500 people joined the march on the Capitol and around 150 actually penetrated the heart of the building. Of those, 53 were taken into custody and, at the time of this writing 13 had been charged with "trespassing". In other words, the police do not see the riot as a major attempt at seizing power by force, thus challenge claims that the United States has become a "banana republic" in which armed men seize government buildings and establish themselves in power with a pronunciamento.
The term "Trump supporters" is used as a shorthand to describe the rioters. However, if we go by electoral measures, Trump supporters number around 74 million people who voted for him. There is no evidence that many, let alone a majority, of them approve of the tactics used by rioters in DC just as it would be unfair to claim that anti-Trump crowds who pillaged shops and burned neighborhoods last year represent the majority of Democrat voters.
The attack on Capitol was not a March on Rome. Nor was it a popular uprising in the style of Tiananmen Square, which ended with the massacre of over 15,000 protestors. Nor was it an anti-despot insurrection as we have seen in Tehran and Caracas, among other places, that left thousands dead in streets, in the past few years.
The whole episode disrupted the democratic process of formalizing Biden's victory for just a few hours, after which the nation's legislative body resumed its work with full serenity
Sadly, the incident caused claimed five lives. One policeman died of injuries. One woman demonstrator was shot and killed, while three other protesters were crushed in what may have been a stampede.
The key question is whether or not Trump was responsible for "incitement to violence", a serious charge against anyone, let alone the President of the United States. The best way to probe that is for the Capitol Police to demand that the District Attorney in DC opens an inquest, collects evidence, hears witnesses and, if necessary, bring a case against the outgoing president. In other words, American democracy is alive and well, with robust institutions capable of dealing with any political crisis within a constitutional framework.
To write America off, either as a democracy or as a world leader, is an obsession better left to Chomsky and Abbasi.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.