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Popularity, but for What?

Mission accomplished. So President Obama can proclaim after the release of the new Pew poll showing that global opinion of the United States is on an upswing since he assumed the presidency. As the polltakers sum up:

The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama. In many countries opinions of the United States are now about as positive as they were at the beginning of the decade before George W. Bush took office. Improvements in the U.S. image have been most pronounced in Western Europe, where favorable ratings for both the nation and the American people have soared. But opinions of America have also become more positive in key countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well. . . . [I]n Germany favorable opinion of the U.S. jumped from 31% in 2008 to 64% in the current survey. Large boosts in U.S. favorability ratings since last year are also recorded in Britain, Spain and France. In its own hemisphere, America’s image rose markedly in Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.

But the love fest is hardly universal:

[F]or the most part, opinions of the U.S. among Muslims in the Middle East remain largely unfavorable, despite some positive movement in the numbers in Jordan and Egypt. Animosity toward the U.S., however, continues to run deep and unabated in Turkey, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan.

Israel stands out in the poll as the only public among the 25 surveyed where the current U.S. rating is lower than in past surveys.

So perhaps this is not “mission accomplished” after all, since it is in precisely the countries we worry about most — Muslim countries — where animosity to the U.S. continues to run the deepest. Reducing Israeli confidence in the U.S. is also nothing to be proud of since it will make harder Obama’s stated goal of wringing concessions from the Israelis on settlements and other issues.

It’s nice that the Europeans like us better now that Obama is in office — and that’s nothing to scoff at. No doubt the European animosity engendered by President Bush was not helpful to our overall foreign policy, and I am genuinely glad that Obama has gotten off on a better foot with Europe, although relations with France and Germany, among others, were largely repaired in Bush’s second term by the emergence of more pro-American leaders in those countries.

The bigger question is, So what? What advantage can we wring from Europeans loving our prez? Will they commit more troops to Afghanistan? Get tough with Iran? Spend more on defense to reduce our burden? So far the answers are no, no, and no. Popularity isn’t an end in itself. So far the Obama administration has not shown much success in leveraging the top guy’s favorability ratings. In fact, just in the past week the administration suffered embarrassing rebukes by India over emissions controls and by Israel over settlement in East Jerusalem. Unless the administration can do more to take advantage of these poll numbers, it will be seen as an increasingly empty accomplishment.



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