“If Barack Obama is elected president, I daresay America will present a new face to the world, will restore, simply by his election, hope – not just within the United States, but from all corners of the world, that America’s claim to moral authority is back on track and that our leadership in world affairs will see a renaissance.”
So said U.S. Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) at a recent campaign event in which the leading Democratic foreign policy voice endorsed for president a candidate who admits: “the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact I spent four years overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia." Well.
His gratuitousness aside, Delahunt’s statement echoed the conventional wisdom about the most urgent task awaiting the next president: to repair America’s sullied image abroad. But take a closer look at the evidence, and a different reality emerges.
The idea that America’s reputation is in a state of disrepair was put forward in a Washington Post op-ed this week by Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright. She wrote that President Bush has embraced a “culture of fear that has driven and narrowed our foreign policy while poisoning our ability to communicate effectively with others.”
But such fierce criticism of the White House’s foreign policy isn’t limited to knee-jerk liberals. Moises Naim, editor-in-chief of Foreign Affairs magazine, claims “The world wants America back” and suggests the “powerful anti-American sentiments around the globe” are the result of a White House whose foreign policy has been defined by “more power than brains and whose legitimacy is undermined by regular displays of incompetence, recklessness and ignorance.”
Even Republican presidential candidates — including Mike Huckabee, who chided the Bush Administration for what he called an “arrogant, bunker mentality” — have parroted the leftwing line that our nation has been tarnished for its “ugly American” image abroad.
The list of America’s alleged transgressions is as varied as it is well known. It includes: Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” and the resultant “illegal” war in Iraq, abuse of prisoners at Gitmo, failure to sign on to the Kyoto protocol and, of course, the administration’s support for Israel.
But while it is true that in some parts of the world the U.S. and the Bush administration are unpopular, by one standard, at least, the U.S. is doing as well as it ever has. The governments of the world are shifting decidedly in our direction.
Consider Europe, where anti-American sentiment is supposed to run as high as it’s ever been. In Great Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made strengthening transatlantic ties a top priority, and Labour Party insiders insist Brown is more pro-America than pro-Europe. Brown may be pulling British soldiers out of Iraq, but he also wants to maintain the “special relationship” with the U.S. Brown even vacations in Cape Cod.
What about “Old Europe”? In France, Nicolas Sarkozy (“Sarko the American”) calls America the world’s “greatest democracy” and recently appointed a pro-American foreign minister. In Germany, meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel ascended to power in 2004 pledging to reinvigorate trans-Atlantic cooperation with the United States and said shortly after taking office that Germany “does not have as many values in common with Russia as it does with America.”
How pro-America is Europe? A recent survey of members of the European parliament found that seventy-seven answered ‘yes’ when asked whether or not it was desirable that the U.S. exert strong leadership in world affairs. Such a shift in sentiment forced even the New York Times to admit: “So old Europe has warmed toward the United States.”
New Europe — Central and Eastern Europe — has traditionally been very supportive of the nation that played a crucial role in bringing down the Soviet regime that dominated them for so long. Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic all support the war
in Iraq and have provided troops and assistance there.
In Albania, a recent six-hour visit by President Bush prompted the parliament to unanimously approve a bill allowing “American forces to engage in any kind of operation, including the use of force, in order to provide security for the president.” President Bush and America are so popular in the predominantly Muslim nation that one newspaper published a headline that read: “Please Occupy Us!”
Georgia has been a close American ally, contributing 2,000 troops to Iraq, the third largest contributor, after the U.S. and Great Britain. The popular Georgian government even named a street after George W. Bush. Can you feel the love?
Such appreciation for America doesn’t end in Europe. America’s relations with Australia, Canada and Japan are very strong. And a 2005 Pew survey found that 71 percent of Indians had a favorable view of America, and a majority had either some or a lot of confidence in President Bush’s ability to conduct world affairs.
And while the anti-American governments in Venezuela and Bolivia get all the headlines, they are outliers in Latin America. Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico all have strengthened their relationships with the U.S. since President Bush took office.
And in no continent is America more beloved than Africa. President Bush has given the continent the most sustained attention of any president in recent memory, condemning genocide in Sudan (and recently signing ground-breaking legislation allowing state and local governments to divest from companies that do business with Sudan) and sending aid to war-ravaged Liberia. The Bush Administration has allocated $15 billion to fighting HIV and AIDS in Africa and $1.2 billion to prevent the spread of malaria.
Even in the Middle East, where anti-American sentiment remains strongest, President Bush has re-engaged with countries like Libya, which ceased its search for WMD with Bush’s urging.
None of this is to say that America does not have enemies. (Name one historical superpower that did not.) There will always be First World elites who look down their noses at America’s unrivaled abundance and prosperity, and there will always be Third World dictators who find in America a convenient scapegoat for their nations’ instability and underdevelopment.
The fact is, however, that no other nation in history has been as benevolent or charitable as the United States. Many in the world insult us, but when crisis comes, it is to the United States that the world turns for assistance. So, while the United States may not always be loved, most of the world recognizes that we are indispensable.
It’s important not to get caught up in campaign hype. And it’s time to recognize that, in many important ways, the United States is well received in the world because we promote a foreign policy that keeps us, and thus the world, strong.