Let's talk about the facts - Part 4 - American Soft Power

Once upon a time, one of America's greatest strengths was its ability to lead. Citizen from other nations looked up to the US as a model. In WWII soldiers would give up to the US on purpose, because they knew that they would be treated fairly. How do I know this? My grandfather who fought for the Italians was one of them. Imagine that type of power. You are so highly regarded that your enemies would rather give up to you than fight you.

But we've squandered that. In the name of fighting terror, we torture. In the name of justice, we invade a country without justification. In the name of spreading freedom we've bombed a country and then let it rot. Hundreds of thousand dead for what? As far as I can see, after invading Iraq, we've failed to rebuild the country. This is really what caused the insurgency.

Why did we fail? All the talking heads would say that we didn't have enough of a military presence there, but lets face reality, the GOP just doesn't understand that the government has a role to play in building society. Instead of sending experts to rebuild Iraq, we sent cronies who were experts at chanting right-wing mantras and little else. Iraqis were angry. All of the good will that some Iraqis had for the US evaporated. Thankfully the Iraqi insurgents have figured out that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is far worse than the US ever was. As a result, the Sunnis are now fighting on our side to rid their country of religious zealots. Yes, fanatics can ruin your neighborhood.

In the midst of all this, the world's collective jaw dropped. The US launched an irrational war and then appeared incapable of governing. I'm sure that many around the world were glad that the current American leaders weren't responsible for enacting the Marshal plan, they would have surely wrecked the world with their uber free-market government-is-good-for-nothing ideology. And after this fiasco in Iraq, America's ability to convince its allies that it held the moral high ground evaporated. People around the world were sickened and disgusted with the Bush administrations policies. World opinion of the US dropped to its lowest levels ever.

Now why is this important? Well as a non-American I'm telling Americans that the world wants, and needs an enlightened and strong America. Why do you think that so many flocked to hear Barack Obama's speech in Berlin? Because he's a celebrity? Germans, Europeans and most of the world wants a America that spreads fairness, peace, equal opportunity and democracy. Obama, the candidate opposing McCain and the GOP, opposed the war. Obama wants to reestablish America's status in the world as a leader for justice and opportunity. Obama does not believe in laissez-faire economics. Obama does not believe in unilateralism.

The title of this post has the word "facts", and so here are some graphs to backup what I'm saying.

First this graph of world opinion from the BBC:


Here's a snapshot of how one country (this case Portugal - just for you evil gomez) views the US (source):

A majority of Portuguese (55%) sees the US influence in the world as mainly negative, while just 29 percent believes it is mainly positive. Disapproval of US foreign policy is widespread in Portugal, with very large majorities disapproving of US treatment of detainees at Guantanamo (84%), the handling of the Iraq war (83%), global warming (79%), and the Israel-Hezbollah conflict (72%). The Portuguese also tend to view US handling of rising nuclear tensions negatively, with 57 percent disapproving of the situation with Iran and 51 percent disapproving of the situation with North Korea. More than three in four (77%) in Portugal see the US military presence in the Middle East as instigating more conflict than it prevents, and just 15 percent see the US as a stabilizing force in the region.

If you want some really disturbing numbers, see this report by Gallup.

Note that these numbers are not the product of "jealously" or any of the crap that right-wing pundits spout. The Portuguese, just like many others, expect more from the US. And that's why Barack Obama, the candidate opposing McCain and the GOP, is so popular throughout Europe. So what are the numbers? This is from the Pew Research Center:


Even Aussies prefer Obama by a wide margin (and there is no way that Aussies are jealous of the US - trust me). In Canada, acording to a recent poll, Obama is more trusted then any Canadian politician.

If citizens from around the world have a favorable rating of Obama and his policies, they will be more likely to support initiatives launched by his future administration. Right now the US s in an awkward situation. It needs cooperation to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but outside the US, this is very UNPOPULAR. Russia can sense that there is a lack of respect out there for America and American policies. They can use this bad will to fly bomber jets to Venezuela and give foreign aid to Bolivia. By being an irrational blockheaded bully, we've lost quite a bit of soft power.

So will the act of electing Obama increase America's stance in the world? Probably. Will it increase America's soft power? Very likely.


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Could you explain what you mean when you say "there is no way that Aussies are jealous of the US?"

My experience with Australians has been mixed in that regard.

An awful lot of Europeans hated the idea of Bush II, but that didn't make much difference. I doubt that what other countries' people think will have a significant effect this time, either. Those US voters who might care about such things are probably Obama supporters already.

I would hope that should McCain get in he'd pay some attention to the USA's image abroad, but I won't hold my breath. I think the Republicans and their business allies have too much invested in the current approach and don't value soft power much.

Giving nationwide problems to contractors to solve, for whatever they want to charge, is no different than handing the job to the mafia.

Well, to be fair, the mafia wouldn't be so wasteful of resources.

By Rose Colored Glasses (not verified) on 17 Sep 2008 #permalink

At least for me, it isn't just an issue of good/bad. There is also the known/unknown dimension. After the Bush II years, the Republicans are "known bad". That doesn't make the Democrats "known good"; they still remain "unknown". They control the Capitol Hill and have achieved nothing.

Maybe the rest of the world supportings Obama only as the lesser evil.

By Lassi Hippeläinen (not verified) on 17 Sep 2008 #permalink

I hate when dumbfuck Americans claim that the rest of the world is jealous of them.

@David: what exactly did your Aussie aquaintences say? ("I hate those Americans, I wish we had big dicks like them, I hope they screw up in Iraq and that all their banks fail"????)