Despite ‘Engagement’, the World Views U.S. Less Favorably on Obama’s Watch

By Patrick Goodenough | June 14, 2012 | 5:13am EDT

President Obama shares a laugh with other G8 leaders at the group’s June 2010 summit in Ontario, Canada. Pew poll findings suggest that while Obama’s engagement policy may have borne fruit in some areas, it has not necessarily made foreigners think better of the United States. (AP Photo)

( – Favorable views of the United States have fallen in a number of countries around the world since 2009, despite the Obama administration’s repeated assertions that its international engagement – including paying United Nations contributions on time and in full – has “restored confidence” in American global leadership.

One of the numerous findings in this year’s Pew Global Attitudes Project report – a survey of 26,210 people in 21 countries – relates to respondents’ views of the United States as a nation, as opposed to their opinions of President Obama specifically.

In 14 countries across the globe where Pew asked the question both in 2009 and again this year, U.S. favorable ratings dropped in nine countries and only rose in four. The fourteenth country, Spain, remained the same at 58 percentage points.

Countries where favorable views declined between 2009 and 2012 are located in every region – the Muslim-Arab world, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Western Hemisphere. They are Jordan (down 13 points to 12), Mexico (down 13 points to 56), Germany (down 12 points to 52), Britain (down nine points to 60), Egypt (down eight points to 19), Lebanon (down seven points to 48), France (down six points to 69), Pakistan (down four points to 12) and China (down four points to 43).

The four countries where U.S. favorability ratings rose between the time Obama took office and now are Japan (up 13 points to 72), Russia (up eight points to 52), Poland (up two points to 69) and Turkey (up one point to 15).

The Pew survey found that even where U.S. favorability ratings have dropped under Obama, they are still higher than they were in 2008, the final year of the George W. Bush administration, in most of those 14 countries. (The exceptions were Islamic countries: In Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, U.S. favorable ratings are lower in 2012 than they were in 2008, by between three and seven points each.)

But the Obama administration came into office pledging a new era of engagement, designed to improve America’s standing in the world after what it characterized as Bush administration unilateralism and disdain for the international community.

The policy entailed reaching out to countries, blocs and especially the U.N., with the administration pledging to pay U.S. “dues” to the world body “in full and on time” and deepen engagement with various U.N. bodies.

U.S. taxpayers provide 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget and 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget, along with billions of dollars in “voluntary” contributions to various U.N. agencies. The total U.S. contribution in fiscal year 2010 was $7.69 billion.

The Pew findings suggest that while Obama’s engagement policy may have borne fruit in some areas, it has not necessarily affected the way foreigners view the U.S. in a positive way.

Administration officials frequently tout the engagement drive and its results.

“We’ve repaired frayed relations with countries around the world,” U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told the United Nations Association of the United States (UNA-USA) last June.

“We’ve ended needless American isolation on a wide range of issues,” she said. “And as a consequence, we’ve gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest.”

In the run-up to the annual U.N. General Assembly session opening last September, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs Esther Brimmer told the U.S. Institute of Peace that the administration had “restored U.S. global influence by engaging multilaterally.”

“President Obama’s decision to pay our U.N. assessments in full has given us greater influence with allies, partners, and others,” she added.

Brimmer repeated that assertion at a Center for American Progress event a week later, telling her audience “we oppose calls [led by Republican lawmakers] to withhold U.S. dues, given the impact doing so would have on U.S. influence and leadership across the U.N. system.”

This week, Brimmer reprised the theme while addressing the UNA-USA in Washington.

“The U.S. emphasis on engagement, on seeking shared solutions to common challenges, has been one of the key means by which we have restored confidence in America’s global leadership, and with it increased our ability to advance U.S. foreign policy goals on difficult and complex issues,” she said.

How Americans are perceived

Elsewhere, the Pew poll measured foreigners’ views of the American people.

There, too, only four of the 14 countries where the question was asked both in 2009 and in 2012 showed an increase in the favorability ratings of Americans between the advent of the Obama administration and now.

Those countries are Japan (up 10 points to 80), Spain (up eight points to 60), Russia (up six points to 63) and Poland (up one point to 73).

In the other direction, favorable views of Americans declined in Mexico (down eight points to 49), Egypt (down eight points to 32), Jordan (down eight points to 31), Lebanon (down eight points to 61), Pakistan (down six points to 14), China (down three points to 39), Turkey (down one point to 13), Britain (down one point to 72) and Germany (down one point to 63).

The fourteenth country, France, remained unchanged as 75.

Overall, Americans are today most popular in Japan (80 points), and in Europe, where majorities in every country bar Greece hold favorable ratings – ranging from France (75 points) to the Czech Republic (56 points) – according to the survey. Majorities also view Americans favorably in Russia (63 points), Lebanon (61 points) and Brazil (59 points).

At the other end of the scale, majorities view Americans unfavorably in Pakistan (73 points), Turkey (69 points), Jordan (67 points), Egypt (62 points), Greece (53 points) and China (51 points).

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