Do we care what the world thinks of us? Should we? A new survey of global opinion is getting the usual respectful attention. The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed people in 57 countries and found that President Obama's approval ratings have slipped a bit among Europeans, Latin Americans, and Asians -- though he remains quite a bit more popular than George W. Bush was in his final year in office. (Obama is far better liked abroad than he is at home.)
Liberals tend to care a great deal about the way America is perceived globally and will doubtless be gratified that their pin-up continues to score well in Brussels and Timbuktu. They remind us that Thomas Jefferson himself bowed to a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind" when drafting the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson had never attended a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. On June 18, the council voted by acclamation to select Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann to serve on its Advisory Committee. D'Escoto, a defrocked priest who served as foreign minister for Nicaragua's communist Sandinista government in the 1980s, was fully implicated in that regime's multiple and grievous human rights abuses.
This is not D'Escoto's first high-level posting at the U.N. He served as president of the General Assembly from 2008 to 2009, during which time he warmly embraced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and described the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as "atrocities that must be condemned and repudiated by all who believe in the rule of law in international relations." He branded Ronald Reagan as an "international outlaw" and suggested that Israel is "crucifying our Palestinian brothers and sisters."
Well, perhaps the U.N. Human Rights Council isn't the best measure of world opinion. Even stipulating that the U.N. represents only the twisted posturing of a largely unelected, corrupt, and cynical collection of thugs, are global opinion polls useful guides to anything? Did you know that 63 percent of Turks, according to one recent survey, approve of polygamy?
Americans, one suspects, pay far more attention to these global popularity contests than other nations. Can you imagine Vladimir Putin or Hu Jintao poring over these results? Ah, 50 percent of Germans have a favorable view of Russia compared with only 38 percent of Brazilians! Fifty-eight percent of Indonesians like the Chinese, but only 39 percent of Mexicans feel the same! Summon our image-makers!
President Obama's most concerted effort since taking office has been to improve America's image in the Muslim world. The president's first interview was granted to Al Arabiya. He traveled to Cairo to sprinkle the fairy dust, and filmed a fawning New Year's message to the gangsters who rule in Tehran. He has sent multiple envoys, most notably Sen. John Kerry, to woo Syria's brutal Bashar al-Assad. With what result?
As this survey indicates, Obama has achieved very little in terms of popularity in Muslim lands. After a short spike following the inauguration, approval of America has fallen fast. The number of Egyptians expressing confidence in Obama fell from 41 to 31 percent, and in Turkey from 33 percent to 23 percent. The Pew report notes that "Last year only 13 percent of Pakistani Muslims expressed confidence in Obama, but this year even fewer (8 percent) hold this view."
Who knows why so many respondents in Muslim countries are disappointed in Obama? It's possible, based on the way rumors and conspiracy theories metastasize in that part of the world, that many believed our president was actually a Muslim Manchurian candidate and have been disappointed in the reality. It's possible they expected a complete repudiation of Israel, rather than the icy disdain this administration has shown. It's hard enough to interpret the views of our own voters -- South Carolina Democratic primary anyone? -- the motives of foreigners are even more mysterious.
OK, popularity is slipping, but perhaps the apology tour/charm offensive has yielded dividends in policy support? Not so much. Syria has clutched Iran even closer to her bosom than before and has recently transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon -- all while the U.S. continues to grovel to al-Assad. Iran is racing toward nuclear status while essentially dropping the fig leaf of "peaceful" energy. Turkey, the Muslim nation with the warmest ties to the West, has accelerated its turn toward jihadism. Brazil has spurned the U.S. by embracing Iran and Turkey.
Machiavelli provides ballast for Jefferson: "And that prince who bases his power entirely on ... words, finding himself completely without other preparations, comes to ruin."