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23 Apr, 2010 20:09

US confronts its reputation abroad

Many people believed that the election of Barack Obama meant a new US foreign policy. As the wars drag on, however, has anything really changed?

A popular president came to power as the US continued to fight unpopular wars. At the end of George W. Bush's administration, most of the world had little respect for the United States. Has the situation changed in the first year of the Obama administration? 

“ In 2009, we began to see signs of a revival in the image of the United States reflecting confidence in its new President Barack Obama,” says Andrew Kohut, President of Pew Research at a hearing before members of Congress.

But confidence is not on the radar where US rocket attack targets are. 

“As positive as the numbers were in much for the world,” Kohut said. “There was little indication of a better opinion of the United States in the Muslim world, I’m sorry to say. Opinions in the Middle East remain largely unfavorable.”

Anyone can watch videos of US airstrikes of this region online. “Ya, shake and bake baby! Does that not blow your mind,” a US soldier yells in a video as a bomb hits the ground.

Meanwhile, according to pollsters, “strong animosity continues to run deep and unabated in Turkey, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories” – allies the US is counting on in a hostile region. 

It’s a bad reputation that stretches beyond the latest blasts of two US wars in the Middle East.

“They know that, Palestinians in Gaza, the bombs that fell [during Operation Cast Lead last year, the Israeli invasion of Gaza] were made in the US, and the F-16s come from the US,” said Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Palestine Center in Washington and a Palestinian himself. “As far as the Arab and Muslim world, they view the United States through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Polls taken last year indicate that few Muslims think Obama would be fair-minded with regard to the Arab-Israeli situation. Even among people who support Obama, analysts believe the optimism may fade.

“While there may be some people who initially were very excited about Obama being elected because he was not [George W.] Bush,” said Munayyer of the Palestine Center, “They are probably going to see that there is not that much of a difference between American foreign policy today and American foreign policy several years ago.”

And while US lawmakers and academics hold meetings in Washington to talk about why the U.S. reputation abroad is so important, they are a world away from the drone attacks, battlefields, and wars that may be affecting it.

And looking at where the US is headed, the question is which images – Barack Obama’s campaign message of “Hope and Change,” or the viral videos of the US bombing countries overseas on the Internet – are making more of an impression on the world now.

As of June 18 President Obama remains well liked abroad, but his approval is shrinking in the United States. Recent studies show globally many approve of the US president’s efforts to handle the global economic crisis, while Americans disapprove of his approach.

It’s kind of an inversion of the Bush popularity,” said RT Contributor Danny Schechter.

Former President George W. Bush was nearly uniformly disliked overseas, but was liked in the US for a period of time.

In Europe and around the world you don’t have the rabid right-wing attacks on Obama that characterize politics here and polarize politics here; the people denouncing him as, depending on the day, a communist, a fascist, a terrorist,” said Schechter.

Many in the US are responding to the president in a partisan way, which is not a factor overseas. Schechter argues that in Europe there is greater access to a diversity of information in the media, which give a greater picture of what takes place; this is not the case in the US.

Some individuals in the US are even comparing Obama to Bush, and many of Obama’s decision to Bush’s decisions.