President Obama may not have won the world’s chest thumping award, but he’s polling near to where he stood when he was first elected and Obama has a much higher favorable rating than did his predecessor, George W. Bush. As standing in the world goes, per Gallup’s poll of 137 countries, U.S. leadership had the highest approval ratings of five global powers (Germany, China, The European Union and at the bottom, Russia). Good PR counts for something. Credibility and respect from the rest of the world’s streets affect how their leaders behave.
“ Feckless,” “leader from behind,” ” weak,” “diminishing U.S. power.” “ carrying a soft stick, but speaking loudly” are epitaphs slung at Obama. A Pew Research Center poll, November 2013, found that “ 80 percent of Republicans (and 56 percent of Democrats) said they believe that the U.S. is “less respected by other countries than in the past.”
While Americans want less global involvement, world perception of U.S. leadership did take a dip, but it improved in 2013. The Gallup poll found “median approval of U.S. leadership across ... 130 countries stood at 46 percent, up from 41 percent in 2012” It was 49 percent at the beginning of President Obama’s presidency. George W. Bush polled in the 25 percent approval range in 2008. The lowest opinions of the U.S. are held currently in the Middle East, but Asia and Europe improved the most from 2012.
A survey of global attitudes released by Pew in July 2013 found that half or more of those surveyed in 2013 expressed a favorable opinion of the U.S. in 28 of the 38 nations polled. That’s markedly better than under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. In its 2008 poll, Pew found only nine of 23 nations polled reported half or more residents with a favorable opinion of the U.S.
Why? There are plenty of reasons why Obama’s popularity should continue low in the Middle East. He got Bin Laden, pulling off a sneak incursion into Pakistan. He urged Western-style democracy but did not do much to back movements in Egypt and elsewhere and he appeared powerless to shape the results. Gitmo was not closed down. Helping Syrian rebels was a well intentioned beginning, but it was too late: al-Qaida affiliates hijacked it from the moderates. Benghazi never landed in Obama’s lap, but the messaging was bungled.
Elsewhere, Obama’s threat of sanctions to stop Russia from keeping Ukrainians from choosing their own destiny have not yet been backed by Europe enough to be effective (Germany may change that, per recent Bloomberg News reports). Edward Snowden disclosed U.S. spying. Our relations with Russia fell apart. Still, per Gallup polls, improvement came because of our success in helping Myanmar open up to democracy and our improving relations with Iran.
A common thread of these successes and failures illustrate President Obama’s oft-stated intent of working through alliances, pulling out of past conflicts, giving diplomacy a chance first, quietly using the military and covert big sticks and letting emerging democracies shape their own destinies. These policies have at least won him the world’s PR war.
For links to the polls, visit www.mufticformblog.blogspot.com