America's Reputation in the Muslim World Is Worse Than Ever

Kevin Glass

9/13/2012 9:14:00 AM - Kevin Glass
Despite a promise that America's reputation would be restored throughout the world during his tenure, public opinion of the United States is worse than ever in the Muslim world.

Attacks on American diplomatic institutions in Egypt, Libya and Yemen this week highlight the low approval ratings that the United States has in the Arab world. A Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project poll completed in June showed that in places like Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan, U.S. favorability is lower now than it was at the end of President Bush's tenure.

The Pew poll found that there was a huge opportunity for President Obama to improve America's reputation at the beginning of his tenure. The simple explanation, however, is that he blew it. There was a brief uptick in approval for American policies in 2009, when President Obama was elected. But Pew found that there's been a ten percentage point drop in favorability in Muslim countries since 2009 and, specifically, a 19% drop in approval of President Obama's foreign policy.

A 2008 promise saw president-elect Obama saying "I think we've got a unique opportunity to reboot America's image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular." Obama also promised,

an "unrelenting" desire to "create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of goodwill who want their citizens and ours to prosper together."

The world, he said, "is ready for that message."

"The message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the terrorist extremism we saw in Mumbai," Obama said, adding that he plans to give a major address in an Islamic capital as part of his global outreach.

What's important was that there was a significant opportunity for President Obama to improve American relations around the world. But since 2009, there's been a near-universal decline in attitudes both towards President Obama and the United States generally. The only countries that are more favorable towards America today than 2009 are Poland (+2%), Russia (+8%), Japan (+13%) and Turkey (+1%).

The American media's perception of President Obama as a universally-beloved figure is represented by remarks that The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in the wake of the President's election in 2008:

There is almost this childish belief that on January 20, 2009 we will elect another president and that it will be Obama, or at least a woman, and the world will say “Oh great! Now we can like you again!”

There is this level of childish certainty in that -- that I find unfathomable. Because the next American president will have to advance America’s interests around the world. Some of those interests will have to be advanced in hard ways.

I predict that if Barack Obama becomes president, by late 2009 the stories in newspapers in Europe and on TV across the Arab world will be “Oh my God, this Obama is like Bush Lite!”

Far from starting a new era of harmoney between the U.S. and predominantly Muslim countries, President Obama has fared even worse than President Bush. The riots and violence in Egypt, Libya and Yemen this week have cemented this.

The Washington Examiner's editorial today drove this point home, writing that President Obama's "grand vision" has been a failure.

There is nothing wrong with a president mouthing sweet nothings to the Islamic world. But there also comes a point when Americans must recognize them for the nothings they are.