What the Shutdown Looks Like to the Rest Of the World


The shutdown of the federal government has provided new fodder for an old and profitable profession: criticizing the United States. As the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation, the U.S. is subject to a constant stream of disparagement from abroad. While a good portion of this disapproval is unwarranted, we certainly don't help ourselves when our elected leaders decide to board up shop for a week or two so they can hurl insults at one another and play politics with the nation's finances. Needless to say, the past week has been a good one for people who enjoy reading about ineptitude in Washington. Here are just a few samples of what people around the world think about the circus in D.C.

America is a banana republic

For years, Latin Americans have suffered the lectures, scoldings, and eye-rolls of Washington elites. Now it's their turn to reprimand us. In a biting editorial, the staff of the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo declared the U.S. the "biggest, richest, and craziest" banana republic out there. The editors deplored the "poor and sectarian" arguments of the Republicans who are rushing to "embrace the abyss" and proclaimed they lack any other way to describe the insanity in Washington than to use the banana republic moniker. However, they're not alone in rolling out this well-worn pejorative. Harry Reid himself used the term the day before the shutdown went into effect. 

Forget fiscal bankruptcy, we're already politically bankrupt

In Germany, the national newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung expressed dismay and disgust with the state of politics in the U.S. "What has already been apparent in America for a few years now," the editors write, "is the self-destruction of one of the world's oldest democracies." They see this as the result of a political system that rewards partisanship over cooperation, obstruction over achievement, and the volume of your voice rather than the intelligence behind it. 

"At the moment, Washington is fighting over the budget and nobody knows if the county will still be solvent in three weeks," the editors conclude. "What is clear, though, is that America is already politically bankrupt."

The GOP is behaving like a group of Iranian Mullahs

Even our closest ally, Britain, has harsh words for the Republicans who precipitated the shutdown. For the editors of the Guardian, it is clear the GOP has become just like the radical ideologues they so often rail against, in this case Iranian extremists. They write,

"A timeworn trope of right-wing discourse about Iran is that it is futile talking to ideologues. Historian Bernard Lewis thinks that the dichotomy between Iranian moderates and extremists is false. A more accurate description, he maintains, is between pragmatists and ideologues, between those who find it necessary to make compromises in power and those who maintain the pure doctrine of the revolution. How would America's Grand Old Party fare under the same analysis? After all, Republican leaders have complained that Barack Obama was more interested in talking to Iran than to them about the budget. The comparison between Iran and the GOP might be closer than they think."

It's the economy, stupids!

Last, no overview of global responses to the shutdown would be complete without the opinion of our largest foreign creditor, China. While some writers have focused on how the shutdown has undermined the U.S. pivot to Asia, and thereby strengthened China's hand in the region, Beijing has chosen to ignore this conversation and instead hammer home a simple message: quit playing games with the global economy! The editors of the China Daily, the largest English language newspaper in China, summed up the country's frustrations by proclaiming, "Five years after the start of the global financial meltdown triggered by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, it is pitiful that the U.S. is now putting the fragile global recovery under renewed threat with its mind-boggling political infighting."

They conclude with a stern upbraiding: "U.S. politicians can discuss, bicker and argue over government spending and economic growth. Kicking cans is one thing, but throwing caution to the wind is not a course of action worthy of the world's leading economy."

Harsh words, but given the total mess in Washington these days, it's hard to disagree.