Thursday, August 07, 2014

Popular Apples and Elite Oranges

Is President Obama discounted by world leaders when they make decisions? I think our influence is lessened as foes discount our resolve and friends wonder about it, too. Perhaps I'm wrong, but citing world opinion polls does not refute that judgment.

This is a non sequitur:

With every new geopolitical crisis and hotspot that flares up, the idea that the U.S. has lost its global mojo surfaces once more. President Obama was asked about it again at his press conference on Friday. “Mr. President, like that cease-fire, you’ve called for diplomatic solutions not only in Israel and Gaza but also in Ukraine, in Iraq, to very little effect so far,” a reporter asked. “Has the United States of America lost its influence in the world? Have you lost yours?” ...

Whether you agree or disagree with Obama, in light of the latest round of questions about America’s role in the world, it’s worth asking yet again: Just how does the world see the U.S. now?The answer, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, may surprise you: The U.S. remains generally popular, even if some of its policies and agencies — especially the NSA — are not. Pew found that 65 percent of those surveyed across more than 40 countries view the U.S. favorably, little changed from 2013.

That's nice. It's great that the world public likes us. But that has nothing to do with the question of President Obama is taken seriously. I don't mean to be rude by pointing this out, but President Obama is not America. Really.

President Bush was not popular abroad and America's reputation amongst many in the world was poor. But nobody can see we weren't taken seriously in the places where decisions are made--in the elite circles of governments.

And the polling shows the power of personality. Much of the world public doesn't like our policies yet still they like the president and America.

Whether you want to pin it on a failure of President Bush to cultivate an image to bolster our reputation or whether you want to condemn the world media for treating Bush harsher than Obama (the always popular "What if Bush did it?" game), this is a reality in foreign policy.

Although we shouldn't get too worked up over that image and polling. As I noted, whether we are taken seriously--whether we have influence--is measured in the halls of power and not by public opinion.

I mean seriously, a majority of Americans believe China's much smaller economy is actually larger than ours. Public polling only gets you so far in measuring America's--or the president's--influence.