Jul 31, 2009

Europe loves Obama

Barack Obama’s star may be fading slightly at home but it is still so bright in Europe that he outshines the leaders of Germany and France in their own countries, according to a poll that shows a remarkable global shift in attitudes towards the US since he took office. The question is: does it matter? First, the statistics. The latest Pew Global Attitudes Project, a widely respected survey that has tracked anti-Americanism around the world since 2002, polled 26,397 people in 25 nations in May and June and found that the image of the United States had improved in all but one (Israel),reflecting, it said, “global confidence in Barack Obama”. The most dramatic before- and after-Obama changes, from 2008 to 2009, were noted in Britain, France, Germany and Spain. In Germany, 93 per cent of those polled expressed confidence in the US president’s leadership compared with 75 per cent for German chancellor Angela Merkel. In France, the score was 91 per cent for Obama and 53 per cent for Nicolas Sarkozy. In 2008, just 31 per cent of Germans saw the US in a favourable light. This year: 64 per cent. In France, the favourability rating jumped from 42 to 75 per cent, in Britain from 53 to 69 per cent and in Spain from 33 to 58 per cent. In short, “old Europe,” as former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to call it, is head-over-heels in love with Obama. The reason for this, and the general improvement in the American image, depends on who does the explaining. For former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who co-chairs the board of the Pew project, it is a mixture of “admiration for Obama and respect for the country that elected him”. Albright is a Democrat. Former Senator John Danforth, the other co-chairman of the project, says Obama love stems from “telling people what they want to hear” and apologising for past American actions. In his view neither Obama’s popularity abroad nor a better US image have resulted in concrete actions. Danforth is a Republican. He and others making that argument underrate the importance of public opinion in international relations but they do have a point.

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