The Global Popularity Fetish
In the spring of 2008, during the waning months of the Bush years, I was among a group of journalists, think tankers, and former government officials who met in a swank restaurant abutting the Potomac in Georgetown, on the dime of a well-endowed Washington think tank, for a discussion about America’s “standing” in the world. Data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project was shared with us that evening, and the results were far from reassuring. Fewer than 25 percent of people in Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan expressed positive opinions of the United States; only 12 percent of Turks viewed America favorably. Sixty percent of Pakistanis said they considered the United States “more of an enemy” than “more of a friend.” Mostly, if not entirely, responsible for these negative views, we were told, were the policies and person of President George W. Bush.
The release of a Pew report is met with widespread gravity and deference in Washington; “global attitudes” carry an almost oracular power. A seemingly endless series of panel discussions, NPR interviews, and newspaper columns are produced about Pew and other assorted international poll findings, with journalists and experts intoning on why international perceptions of the United States have improved or worsened and what the country can do to better the numbers.
About the Author
James Kirchick, based in Berlin, is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributing editor to the New Republic.