Updated: Jun 9, 2020
The Russian Federation, People's Republic of China, and Islamic Republic of Iran have repeatedly mocked and taunted the United States for its handling of civil unrest. Specifically, they claim that Washington is hypocritical for its criticism of their governments crackdowns on protesters and rioters, while it simultaneously suppressing American citizens.
Most notably, China has gleefully seized upon civil unrest in the United States to distract from its own problems in Hong Kong. Chinese media organizations across the world turned up the heat on Washington in the days following George Floyd's death, criticizing the US government's handling of the protests.
In an interview with Forbes, Rodger Baker, senior vice president of strategic analysis at Stratfor, observed, "The timing couldn’t have been better for China, as they face their own protests Hong Kong." The Chinese Communist Party can now say to its citizens, "Look at the US: At least we’re putting things in order in Hong Kong, so how can they yell at us?"
The Russian Federation has also seized upon unrest in the US to advance its own interests. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova directly mocked the Department of State and the White House, saying the US should release a statement of condemnation against itself, as it does for other nations who abuse citizens, "It seems to me that our American colleagues should now be somewhat distracted from the instructive tonality that they have been spreading over the years in relation to other countries, take a look in the mirror and then describe everything that they saw there in statements, like those they addressed to many countries of the world. We presume that, in carrying out measures to curb looting and other illegal actions, the authorities should not violate the rights of Americans to peaceful protest."
Lastly, yet perhaps most infuriating, is the statement of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on twitter, "Some don't think #BlackLivesMatter. To those of us who do: it is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism. Time for a #WorldAgainstRacism." The Foreign Minister also posted an old statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that criticized Iran's violent and brutal handling of protests in 2018 and replaced words to make it seem as though it focused on US abuse of protestors.
In August 1957, a Federal District Court ordered the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas to allow nine African American students to attend class and rid itself of segregation guidelines. Across the south, there was an uproar at the thought of white and black students sitting together, in the same classrooms, under the same teachers. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus made clear he would not follow or enforce ruling, and in fact swore to fight it, both in court and on the streets.
When the students attempted to enter the school on September 4, 1957, they were greeted by hundreds of angry whites and at least two hundred National Guardsmen who had been activated by Faubus to prevent the students entry onto the school's premises. The students were forced to leave, with onlookers shouting, "n****** go home" and "back to where you come from, n******." For his actions, Faubus received acclaim across the south and political power at home. The next day, pictures of terrified African-American children surrounded by the mob of adults and Guardsmen were plastered on the front pages of newspapers across the world.
What started as a domestic crisis over civil rights quickly evolved into a foreign policy disaster for the United States of America. Within hours of the incident, the Soviet Union seized upon the opportunity to paint America as two-faced. On one side, the communist nation declared, the United States proclaimed it supported democracy and equality in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. On the other, the nation subjected its own minorities to countless horrors. Political and Psychological Warfare operations being conducted by the Americans in the new "third world" countries were severely harmed, and partner nations in the African continent were at risk of switching sides to the Soviets. Even staunch allies of the United States, such as the United Kingdom and France, threatened to turn against the Land of the Free in the United Nations. Today, America's adversaries are seeking to replicate the Soviet Union's tactics from 1957. Sensationalized media, paired with influence and information operations, will help foreign states deflect American criticism of their own human rights records, which are considerably worse than that of the United States.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.