US global leadership slumps, again
By Dinesh Sharma
An idealization is followed by some form of disillusionment. This psychological truism applies to politics as well, where an unspoken bond binds ordinary citizens to an extraordinary leader.
Not surprisingly, after almost four of years of unrelenting obstruction from the opposition on the domestic front, the toll of the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the great global economic recession, the US approval around the world has slumped, according to the latest report by Gallup Polls.
After the high point of the 2008 election of Barack Obama, it is
somewhat surprising that the decline did not happen sooner. You might have thought that Barack Obama was made of kryptonite or that he was a Superman and a Jedi warrior. Today, people have a more realistic view of his powers in office, and a better understanding of the formidable powers of persuasion he possesses as a global leader.
In June 2012, Pew Global Poll reported “while many still hold Obama in high regard, general confidence in his foreign policy leadership has slipped by six percentage points or more in most countries since 2009.”
While higher than the George W Bush years, the overall confidence in him and the US global leadership has slipped. While traditional allies remain confident throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, the US approval has slipped because of tough policy decisions.
According to a Gallup world poll released today, the image of US global leadership has seen better days. Gallup results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted throughout 2011 in 136 countries and 2012 in 130 countries.
The poll shows that Obama's global leadership was the weakest during his fourth year heading into the re-election - "Median approval of US leadership across 130 countries stood at 41% in 2012, down measurably from 49% approval in Obama's first year," according to Julie Ray of Gallup Polls.
Despite the decline in approval ratings, they were higher than at the end of the last Bush administration. Given President Obama still won re-election, clearly global opinion matters but not in determining election results.
The poll does not suggest what were the causes of the decline in approval - whether it was the drone strikes, Libyan and Egyptian crises or a general discomfort with the US image abroad.
However, the decline in approval does suggest the president and the new secretary of state may find it a little harder to sell their message of "development and democracy" around the world, according to the Gallup Polls.
It appears the world is a bit more critical of the US four years after the landmark election of Barack Obama. However, the image of US leadership remained very strong in Africa in 2012, "bolstered by strong majority approval in sub-Saharan Africa".
US leadership remains far less popular in North Africa - Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt, where approximately only one-third approved and ratings remained mostly flat. According to the survey, Libyans (54%) surveyed before the attack in Benghazi approved of US leadership in 2012.
In the Americas, the US leadership seems to have stabilized at 40% approval rating. "The free fall in US approval in the Americas that began after Obama's first year in office ended in his fourth year," stated Julie Ray of Gallup Polls. While there were no major declines in Latin America or the Caribbean nations, Mexico, one the closest allies showed a significant increase in approval for the US leadership, perhaps, due to the visit by President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto to the White House in late November 2012. Clearly, more can be done to bolster support for American policies in the Americas.
In the Eurozone, the median approval of US slumped by 11 points. During Obama's first year in office US approval was twice as high as the Bush years. The crisis in the Eurozone is partly responsible for the decline in approval, according to Gallup Polls, where "the US was likely shouldering some of the blame for the ongoing financial crisis in Europe." The median approval has fallen to 36% in 2012 down from 42% in 2011.
The US approval has remained high in Kosovo, Albania, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Italy. It has declined in France, Spain, and Sweden. In countries hit by the financial crisis - Hungary, Croatia, Macedonia, and Austria - US approval suffered significant losses. In Russia, US leadership has the lowest approval among the Eastern European countries (13%).
Despite the pivot to Asia, or may be due to America's heavy shift in policy, Gallup's surveys observed that the approval ratings in the Asian countries have been heading in a negative direction 2012. What is not clear is whether this is due to the downward trend in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries or due to the shift in policy towards the Pacific nations?
In Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, and Australia, US approval remains strong. Ratings in Asia tended to be more positive than negative, except for the Middle East and parts of South Asia. However, the 37% median approval in Asian countries in 2012 was still higher than any rating during the Bush years.
The highest disapproval ratings were in the Middle East and South Asia, perhaps, due to the Palestinian crisis and the drone strikes, respectively. "More than three in four residents in Pakistan (79%) and the Palestinian Territories (77%) disapproved of US leadership in 2012," according to the Gallup report.
In countries facing social upheaval and conflict in Africa, South Asia and Central Asia, US approval took significant losses. However, in other countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, and Chad with better than expected performance, US approval has gained ground.
According to Gallup, "US leadership faces increasing challenges as it attempts to build engagement worldwide, and in many places, this job may be even tougher than it has been in the past. US leadership thus far has been unable to recoup the favor it lost among audiences in key countries in 2011 and has continued to lose support in many places."
According to the similar poll by Pew Research in June 2012, the expectations were clearly very high. Many around the world thought in 2009 that Obama administration would bring enlightened leadership: try to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians fairly and make climate change a priority.
Many around the world feel their hopes have been dashed. Obama gathers high marks, however, for addressing the global economy and the crisis in the Eurozone. With his reelection, hope's eternal. While the mood has tempered, the dream endures. Populations around the world hope Obama administration will be able to take on the global challenges they could not tackle in the first term.
Dinesh Sharma is the author of Barack Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia: The Making of a Global President, which was rated as the Top 10 Black history books for 2012. His next book on President Obama, The Global Obama: Crossroads of Leadership in the 21st Century, is due to be published with Routledge Press.
(Copyright 2013 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)