The Cipher Brief asked our experts to weigh in on how they saw Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump protesters and how allies and adversaries are likely viewing the events of the day.
Nick Fishwick CMG retired in 2012 after nearly thirty years in the British Foreign Service. He did postings in Lagos, Istanbul and Kabul. His responsibilities in London included director of security and, after returning from Afghanistan in 2007, director for counter-terrorism. His final role was as director general for international operations.
It has been clear for some time that President Putin thinks that virtually anything bad that happens to the US has to be good for Russia. The fact that you have a President who refuses to accept the outcome of a democratic election, and who is still supported by a large number of fellow American refuseniks, will help all opponents of democracy. ‘Look what happens if elections aren’t properly managed’, they will say.
The apparently huge number of American refuseniks is something that the enemies of America will seek to exploit. I fear that President Trump will continue to maintain that he was somehow cheated out of the election, and I fear that millions of Americans will continue to believe it. This is likely to continue to simmer all the way through to the next presidential election when I assume Mr. Trump or someone from his inner circle will stand again, on the “we were cheated” ticket. This discrediting of US democracy gives America’s enemies plenty of material to exploit, and they have some very smart options for exploiting it. It’s not just that they want to discredit democracy per se. It is that they want to weaken the world’s most powerful democracy.
America’s allies have been shocked by what happened today, as British Prime Minister Johnson’s reaction made clear. It makes democracy look weak, even a laughing stock and reduces our influence around the world. It is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of democracy and we have seen other, very different, worrying developments in democracies around the world recently including in Europe. Perhaps this is another brutal reminder, in the middle of COVID, that we can take nothing for granted.
But let’s not panic. This was not Tiananmen Square, nor the storming of the Bastille. I assume 99.99% of Americans have had a quiet winter’s day and have been as astonished at what they saw in DC as I was watching from England. The US election has happened, Mr. Biden will be President in two weeks-time, and even Mr. Trump has told the protesters to go home. We look forward to him doing the same. American democracy and governance, its civil and public institutions, the beliefs and assumptions of its people, are far too deeply rooted to be threatened even by scenes like this. But perhaps we all needed a warning that we have to stand up and protect our values. The debate should now be about how best we protect them.
Read A Cipher Brief Special Report: Attack on Democracy in The Cipher Brief