Another year of dithering and fumbling has somewhat tarnished The One’s halo:
The list of countries where approval of U.S. leadership dropped substantially in 2010 is nearly four times longer than the list of countries with sizable gains. It also represents every major global region and includes major nations. Notably, U.S. leadership lost significant ground in three Arab countries — United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Algeria — but the relatively low approval ratings are still higher in Egypt and Algeria than during the Bush administration.
Every write-up I saw was careful to note that last caveat, where Gallup emphasized that Obama’s America is still more popular than the second half of the second term of Bush’s America. AFP, for example, put it in the lede and then repeated it so many times that Bush’s name appeared more in the article than Obama’s name.
The punchline, of course, is that even this argument is a red herring. Popularity is a component of global influence but it’s not the definition. Exerting our power is a tradeoff between doing what we need to do when it’s unpopular and following the international consensus when it’s popular.
Bush’s America was feeling the fallout from mobilizing mostly Western allies to invade mostly Muslim countries – the price of leading coalitions of the willing while most of the world remained unwilling. Obama doesn’t have that excuse.
What Obama has is the promise of buying global popularity with American deference. The president – along with Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and their media and academic enablers – insisted that subordinating ourselves to the Lilliputians at the United Nations would create robust alliances. Listening to the Arab Street was supposed to quiet its clamor. Resetting relations with rivals, as in banana republics where each new regime repudiates and apologizes for the last, was supposed to create long-lasting dialogues.
Instead we have a situation where we’re ceding the global stage without the promised payoff of even a pat on the back. Maybe another Cairo Speech will fix things.