Redacted from an article BY JAMES KIRCHICK
COMMENTARY, October, 2012
…PRESIDENT OBAMA is not the wildly popular international leader that so many Americans (and foreigners) assumed he would be. On the contrary, far from improving global attitudes toward America across the board, his seeming similarity to President Bush has made a world already resentful and suspicious of American power even more cynical. After all, if the man who proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world” will carry out drone strikes against suspected terrorists and fail to close Guantanamo Bay, who could do otherwise?
The more important question for Americans remains: Does any of this matter? Bruce Stokes of the Pew Global Attitudes project thinks it does. In a commentary for CNN.com, he flatly declared: “Experience shows that the success or failure of [a president’s] foreign policy may depend, in part, on how it is perceived abroad but he provides no evidence to suggest that foreign perceptions of American foreign policy have anything to do with its success or failure.
Citing Obama’s enormous popularity with Europeans as a potential stumbling point for a President Romney, Stokes writes: “In the long run, if Romney wins, none of this may matter, as Europeans get to know him. But, in the short run, it could matter. A 2005 Pew Research Center survey found that in Britain, France, Germany; Spain and the Netherlands, strong majorities said the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush led them to have a less favorable opinion of the United States.” All right – but so what? Did the British, French Germans, Spaniards, and Dutch stop buying America products because they were so angry with George W Bush? Did they cancel vacations to the United State or, more gravely, take up arms against it?
Four years after he was first elected president, Obama’s global popularity (at least in contrast to his Republican opponent’s), has once again been marshaled as a decisive argument in his favor. Former New Mexico governor and United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson, citing his frequent overseas travels, told CBS’s Face the Nation at the beginning of September that, “The international community wants to see this president re-elected.”
(Why not, as he continues to deliberately and maliciously weaken our military and economic power throughout the world and empowers our enemies?) jsk
Appeals to the inherent wisdom of the “international community” are always problematic, since no such constituency exists – but here it was factually in error, considering that a plurality of people in the world’s most populous country, China, opposes Obama’s reelection. But such nitpicking belies the real point, which is that it is Americans who choose their President, not “the international community.”
To people who obsess about being popular, the persistence of negative attitudes about the United States must be dispiriting. But as in high school, there are things more important than popularity. A foreign policy predicated upon the opinion of “global publics whose views are often informed by false or insufficient information and whose values are often entirely different from those of many, if not most, Americans – risks jeopardizing the central role America has played in stabilizing the international order since the end of Worid War II.
The “humility” that foreigners often insist America (and only America) display is really just a call for a far greater redistribution of American-generated and earned wealth, a lessening of American economic power, thus ensuring the comparative rise of authoritarian challengers such as Russia and China, not to mention Iran and Venezuela.
A closer look at the polling data, however, reveals some important findings that are often overlooked by those who like to use such surveys for domestic partisan political attacks. In 16 countries polled by Pew in both 2007 and 2012, a median of 65 percent embrace American music, movies, and television today — up six percentage points from five years ago.
While much of American popular culture is loathed by many Arabs and Muslims, our way of doing business is not: In the four Arab Muslim – majority countries surveyed by Pew, most people said they think American entrepreneurship is something to emulate. (Not surprisingly, Europeans, with their dying welfare-state model, found little to like in American business practices.) And among the cohort of 18-to-29-year-olds, “American ideas about democracy” are admired by 72 percent of Tunisians, 59 percent of Chinese, 52 percent of Poles, and 51 percent of Lebanese.
Economic opportunity, cultural liveliness, and a vibrant democracy: These are the American qualities the president of the United States, whoever he will become November 7, should commit himself to preserving and strengthening. It is only icing on the cake that they happen to be the American qualities the rest of the world admires the most.
JAMES KIRCHICK, based in Berlin, is a fellow with the Foundation/or Defense of Democracies and a contributing editor to the New Republic.
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