North Korea's people suffered a catastrophic famine that took (by the BBC's estimate) one in ten lives in the 1990s and continues to cause desperate suffering to the present day. The communist economy produces so little that the regime has taken to counterfeiting and arms dealing to obtain hard currency. North Korea is flouting the United Nations by building nuclear weapons, trading missiles to any bidder including other rogue nations, and saber rattling towards South Korea, Japan and the United States. The state maintains a Stalinist grip at home that forbids even whispering against the "Dear Leader" and has imprisoned and executed countless opponents.
Or consider the popularity of China. Forty-seven percent of respondents rated China's influence as "mostly positive" and only 32 percent considered its world role to be "mostly negative." The United States, again, was rated 35 positive and 47 percent negative. Let's see, there's a brutal crackdown on Tibet, constant threats toward Taiwan, complete repression of political and religious liberty, forced sterilization and abortion, military and diplomatic support for the genocidal regime in Sudan that has destroyed Darfur, and thousands of other violations of human rights and human dignity.
And the United States? Well, we've conducted a difficult, frustrating, but essentially benevolent five-year effort to liberalize and democratize two very tough customers: Afghanistan and Iraq. And we've imprisoned several hundred known and suspected terrorists -- giving them medical care, culturally sensitive food, prayer rugs, a Koran and a dental plan.
Actually, these international polls may not mean much. If the U.S. were truly unpopular, would we be building fences to keep immigrants out? Would the U.S. be the world's third most popular tourist destination? And would the world's people be glad to not have the U.S. available when another catastrophe like the Asian tsunami or the Bosnian crisis looms?
Contra Pat Leahy, we do not need to reintroduce America to the world, we need to remember that the world's moral focus can be strangely distorted.