Eighteen months before he was elected president, Barack Obama wrote in Foreign Affairs:
The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew. To see American power in terminal decline is to ignore America’s great promise and historic purpose in the world. If elected president, I will start renewing that promise and purpose the day I take office.
After just six months in office, his approach seems to be working. Obama continues to have tremendous appeal among humanity. WorldPublicOpinion.org conducted a poll of 19,224 respondents in countries that comprise 62 percent of the world’s population including China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Russia. The survey suggests that 61 percent have a lot or some confidence in President Obama to do the right thing in world affairs. This puts President Obama a full 21 points about UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. At the other end of the spectrum are Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who have the most negative confidence ratings around the world.
|Leader||A lot/some confidence||None at all/not much confidence|
High favorability ratings are certainly positive, but this should not compel the Obama administration to ignore other world leaders. For example, while Putin has low global approval ratings, he does occupy a favorable position where it matters: Russia (82%), China (64%), India (65%), and Ukraine (57%). In Ukraine, confidence in Putin is higher than Obama by 22 points. This suggests that President Yushchenko will have to find the right balance between his relations with Europe and his public’s affinity for Russia.
Chinese President Hu Jintao stands out as sixth in the global poll. European publics have little confidence in Chinese leadership; Germans and French were most negative (72%). Brits were mixed with 33 percent expressing confidence and 51 percent expressing little confidence. Russians were slightly negative (31% little confidence, 25% confidence), and Ukrainians are divided. 70 percent of Americans lack confidence in the Chinese leader. Among people in developing countries, President Hu does have appeal. This should validate Beijing’s development policies and encourage China to do more.
It appears that Obama’s address to the Islamic world did not inspire confidence. According to World Public Opinion, majorities in the Palestinian territories (67%), Pakistan (62%), Egypt (60%), and Iraq (57%) do not express confidence in Obama. Turkey is divided. Among Palestinians, President Ahmadinejad is the most popular, followed by President Hu. President Obama and Prime Minister Putin are about equal at 32 percent. Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy do not inspire much confidence among Palestinians. These views suggest that Beijing should become more involved in the Middle East peace process, which has largely been dominated by the United States and Europe.
With that said, President Obama should be proud that he is resetting the international image of the United States and is achieving his goal of renewing the American promise. His confidence ratings are far higher than President Bush: France (+77 percentage points), Britain (+ 75 points), South Korea (+ 58 points), Mexico (+45 points), Turkey (+38 points), India (+35 points), Egypt (+31 points), and the Palestinian territories (+30 points). Overall, confidence in American leaders has increased about 37 points in just six months.
Derek Reveron, an Atlantic Council contributing editor, is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI. These views are his own.