The American brand is in trouble. Anecdotal evidence has led many of us to draw this conclusion for some time now, but a new Pew Global Attitudes Project poll confirms it—favorable opinion about America has declined in 26 of the 33 countries tracked by Pew since 2002.
Consider Turkey. A modern, secular Islamic state composed of over 60 million people, Turkey holds great strategic import in the Muslim world. The people of that great nation should hold the American brand in high esteem. But that’s not the case. The Pew poll found that only 9 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion about the U.S—down from 12 percent in 2006 and from an all-time high of 52 percent in 1999. This poll and others have also confirmed that unfavorable opinion about America has increased in Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Spain.
Unfavorable opinion about America matters not because international relations is a popularity contest, but because it hinders our ability to influence world events and achieve our goals. As such, the next president—Republican or Democrat—must seize the opportunity to reinvent the American brand that a change of leadership in Washington will afford. The goal: persuading the persuadable that America remains a force for good in the world.
To do this, I believe the next president must rebuild our relationships with friends around the world and recommit to understanding and communicating with our target audience, particularly in the Muslim world.
After September 11 the international community rallied around America, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have since negated much of this goodwill. Such is the cost of international leadership. This cost need not be permanent, however. The next president must rebuild relationships with crucial allies. There is no other way to ensure success in the face of a wave of international challenges.
We should begin with France. Thanks to the recent election of Nicolas Sarkozy, America has a unique opportunity to restore good relations with that country. Unlike his predecessor, Sarkozy is pro-American. In his victory speech he said he wanted tell his “American friends” that “France will always be by their side when they need us.”
We should capitalize on this goodwill by strengthening communication between our two countries; by cooperating to meet common challenges (e.g. the war on Islamic radicalism); and perhaps most of all, by smoothing over past disagreements by acknowledging that—as Sarkozy has said—sometimes “friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions.”
Doug Wilson is the the co-author, with Edwin Feulner, of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.
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