“The world was with us after 9/11,” explains Hillary Clinton. “We have so squandered that goodwill and we’ve got to rebuild it.” Barack Obama has said that the “single most important issue” of the current election is picking a leader who can “repair all the damage that’s been done to America’s reputation overseas.”
But just how much are we actually hated… by who, and should we even care? The Democrats would have us believe that we’re universally despised. Not surprisingly, we’re unpopular in the Middle East and Asia, according to The Pew Global Attitude Project:
The U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America’s oldest allies. Favorable views of the U.S. are in single digits in Turkey (9%) and have declined to 15% in Pakistan.
But there’s good news, too:
First, the U.S. image remains positive in Africa. In several African countries, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, it is overwhelmingly positive. In addition, majorities in two of America’s most important Asian trading partners – India and Japan – continue to express favorable opinions of the United States. And the U.S. image has improved dramatically in South Korea since 2003 (from 46% to 58% favorable).
While opinion of the U.S. has slipped in Latin America over the past five years, majorities in such countries as Mexico, Peru and even Venezuela still say they have a positive opinion of their large neighbor to the north. Similarly, “new Europe” likes America better than “old Europe,” although the U.S. image is not nearly as strong in Eastern Europe as it was five years ago.
So no, we’re not universally despised. Check out the graph at The Pew Global Attitude Project if you need a visual.
The second premise of this Democratic argument is that American popularity in these regions could be increased, easily and permanently, by overturning Bush policies.
It is worth noting that American relations with European governments have rebounded strongly in the past few years with the election of Angela Merkel in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy in France. And the next president, Republican or Democrat, is likely to close Guantanamo and sign legislation to restrict American carbon emissions, mollifying two justified European criticisms.
I call b.s. on that last bit…Guantanamo, and carbon emissions are two Bush policies I would prefer to see left alone, but Gerson’s on a roll:
Yet the tensions between American and European worldviews ultimately have little to do with specific policies. Europe is an increasingly pacifist continent — which is an improvement upon its bloody history but a source of inevitable tension with a superpower that must occasionally enforce world order. European governments generally view international institutions as a way to constrain American power. Any future American president will continue to view those institutions as a way to amplify our influence in keeping the peace.
And the broader Middle East is an even more difficult case. A close look at the Pew poll shows that appeasing public opinion in this region would require not merely leaving Iraq but also leaving Afghanistan, abandoning the war on terror and ending our support for Israel.
Which begs the question…how far would a Democratic President go, to mollify Islamic countries? I shudder to think.
The third premise of the Democratic argument is that global popularity translates directly into global influence. Here the historical evidence is thin.
Gerson cites the example of Ronald Reagan who was detested, and protested against in Europe for deploying Pershing missiles. Yet Reagan helped end the Cold War, and lift the nuclear threat from Europe with his unpopular policies
The January 2007 decision to surge American troops in Iraq was clearly at odds with world opinion. But retreating from Iraq in failure would have earned global contempt for American weakness instead of global popularity. And the turnaround in Iraq has restored at least some of our standing and leverage in the Middle East.
Very true. This is why we shouldn’t throw up our hands in despair every time we hear someone in the world doesn’t like us. Very often we’re right, they’re wrong.
The real lesson in the years since Sept. 11 is different from what the Democratic candidates imagine: It is easy to be loved when you are a victim. It is harder to be popular when you act decisively to protect yourself and others.
A successful president should strive for America to be liked — and expect, on occasion, for America to be resented in a good cause.
But hey, if you’d rather be a victim, (but loooved)…vote Democrat.