0927 GMT February 27, 2021
Four years ago, a sea of spectators lined the streets and hundreds of foreign diplomats attended a pre-inauguration dinner hosted by Donald Trump.
On Wednesday – prompted by the still-raging coronavirus pandemic, and the security fears after the Capitol riot – much of that was absent in a relatively quiet Washington, billeted by thousands of National Guard troops.
For all of Biden's pledges to heal these wound, friends and foes alike will see this as a symbolic freeze-frame emblazoned across newspapers and nightly bulletins – one that shows just how badly the US has struggled under these stacking crises, NBC News wrote.
China's one-party state will be "rubbing their hands with glee" at the sight of a democratic superpower having to resort to such measures at the heart of its own government, said Steve Tsang, a professor and the director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London.
"The security procedures that the Americans are taking will enable the Chinese party state to say: 'Ha, ha, ha. You always jab at us for doing the same with big events in Beijing, but look what you're doing now,'" he said.
Meanwhile Russian state media has been savoring the sight of their old Cold War adversary laid low.
"The corridors of the American legislature look like the halls of power of a banana republic going through a military coup," Dmitry Kiselyov, one of the Kremlin's most prominent news executives, said over pictures of troops on Capitol Hill during his Sunday show on Russian state television. "This is the symbol of today's America."
Weakened and damaged
US allies remain deeply alarmed by the events on Jan. 6, which for many have defined the mood of this inauguration.
It was a riot that "weakened" and "damaged" the "reputation of the United States", according to Wolfgang Ischinger, German ambassador to the US from 2001 to 2006.
Even before those events, a survey of more than 15,000 people by the European Council on Foreign Relations found that most residents in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy believed that the American political system was fundamentally broken. Trump remains deeply unpopular across the continent and elsewhere, other data shows.
"America has been humbled in a lot of ways," said Karin von Hippel, a former nonpolitical senior adviser at the State Department under Barack Obama, referring to the storming of the Capitol. "When is the next time an American diplomat is going to be able to remonstrate with an official from another country about their elections, or human rights abuses?"
Few European leaders are under the illusion that Biden will be able to wave a magic wand to undo the damage wrought by Trump.