The police riots in Ferguson, Missouri are causing a headache for more than just local and state politicians. Not only has the federal government felt compelled to get involved in hopes of quelling the outrage, but US diplomats overseas are going to have a more difficult time convincing the rest of the world that America is a credible authority on the rule of law and human rights with armored vehicles storming the streets and heavily equipped police officers arresting journalists.

Since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and police crackdown on protests related to that shooting China, Russia, Iran, and Egypt have all commented on Ferguson being emblematic of racism and police brutality in the USA and noting the hypocrisy of a country that lectures others on human rights while having such brutal displays of human rights abuses occur at home.

While the unrest has also shocked American observers and foreign correspondents from other Western democracies — including British and German reporters who have been struck by the “sounds of battle” and endured arrest — some of the most strident criticism of the police violence in Ferguson has come from authoritarian nations where the police are often venerated and dissent is scarcely tolerated.

The problem with claiming the mantle of moral leadership is it comes with obligation to live up to the same standards you set for everyone else. If the US wants to instruct China, Russia, Iran, and Egypt about those countries’ human rights problems then an example must be set.

Otherwise, the US has no credibility and other countries can laugh off US criticism of human rights abuses – no matter how accurate – by merely pointing to instances like Ferguson of the US not living up to its own rhetoric.