From across the border and over the pond, the government shutdown consuming Washington is raising new questions about America’s claim to be the world’s leading superpower.
The BBC in a commentary compared President Obama’s Washington to Bashar Assad’s Damascus — unfavorably.
“For most of the world, a government shutdown is very bad news — the result of revolution, invasion or disaster. Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’ wages,” wrote the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher.
“That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on Earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many.”
Many foreign observers expressed alarm at the paralysis along the Potomac, with both the government shutdown and the looming debate over raising the U.S. government borrowing limit both without a clear resolution.
In Germany, Der Spiegel proclaimed in a headline, “A superpower has paralyzed itself,” while the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung referred to U.S. budget policy as “extremely dubious.” Die Welt editorialized that Mr. Obama was stuck between a “rock and a hard place,” adding, “Either he breaks the law and no longer pays teachers, firefighters and FBI agents, or he ignores the debt ceiling, which would also be illegal.”
Canadians expressed concern that trade with the U.S. could be hampered if the government shutdown starts to hurt the larger economy. “Canadians can only pray their economy won’t be collateral damage,” wrote John Ibbitson in Canada’s Globe and Mail. “Anything that drags down the American economy drags the Canadian economy down with it.”
France’s Le Monde called the shutdown “grotesque,” while its editorial page pleaded, “Jefferson, wake up, they’ve gone crazy!”
Italy’s Corriere della Sera referred to the shutdown as a “huge blow” to domestic and international economic recovery, explaining that sequestration has already wrecked havoc on Washington.
Writers in other countries, however, expressed hope that the governmental shutdown would be resolved soon and that the consequences for the global economy would be modest.
In South Korea, The Chosun Ilbo assured Koreans that the U.S. would not be forced to withdraw the 28,500 troops stationed there. “No, there’s never been any consideration of changing our force protection or force presence here in Korea or anywhere else in this area,” U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the newspaper.
The Moscow Times tried to calm fears in Russia that the U.S. shutdown would affect the lives of ordinary Russians. The English-language newspaper noted that the U.S. State Department continues to process local applications for visas, as well as continuing to provide services to American citizens at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
The Russian web-based news service RT.com, by contrast, offered its readers the “10 ways [a] government shutdown will hurt America,” raising the specter of U.S. troops not getting paid, national parks being closed and federally backed housing loans being canceled.
In China, Chen Qi of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy told the Voice of America that he remained optimistic, despite the grim news from Washington.
For commentators in many countries, the government shutdown and battle over Mr. Obama’s health care law took a back seat to fears of a possible U.S. government default when the Treasury hits its borrowing limit later this month. Default could play havoc with the global financial system and jeopardize the value of U.S. investments held by governments around the world.