The world expected more from Obama

By Bernd Debusmann
June 18, 2012

The 2012 global performance scorecard is in and the grade for Barack Obama is “failed to meet expectations.”

To varying degrees, that’s the view in each and every of 20 foreign countries — some close U.S. allies, some not – whose citizens were polled for the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a widely-respected survey that has tracked the standing of the United States, its president, and assorted foreign leaders every year for the past decade. The Washington-based Pew Research Center polled more than 26,000 people.

Though views of Obama are not as rosy as they were in 2009, when he took office after a campaign that promised “hope and change,” the U.S. president’s star is still shining so bright in 11 countries that sizeable majorities in seven and pluralities in another four would like to see him re-elected for a second term in November.

So where did Obama fall short of expectations so high that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just nine months into office?

A comparison of the 2009 and 2012 Pew surveys provides answers: In 2009, millions around the world thought the president was intent on making a decisive break with the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose penchant for unilateral actions made him deeply unpopular in large parts of the world.

Obama was expected to open a new chapter of multilateralism, take a fair approach on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and energetically push policies addressing climate change. His soaring pre-election rhetoric obviously raised expectations to lofty levels, both abroad and at home. For example, his assertion, in the summer of 2008, that his nomination as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party would be remembered as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

As for the rising oceans and the healing earth, the 2012 Pew survey reports that 56 percent of those polled in 2009 expected Obama “to take significant steps to deal with climate change. Today, a median of just 22 percent think he has actually done this.” There are similar declines in expectations on other key issues. In 2009, 45 percent of those surveyed thought Obama would seek international approval for the use of military force. Now, 29 percent say he failed to do so.

“While many around the world still have a positive image of Obama,” wrote the authors of the Pew report, “he has nonetheless failed to meet expectations on specific policies. For instance, in 2009, many public anticipated that the U.S. leader would consider their country’s interests when making foreign policy decisions. Today, relatively few believe Obama has done either.”

MILITARILY AGGRESSIVE LEADER

Part of the reason for that view is the ever-increasing use of drones to kill adversaries in countries such asPakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen. Dealing high-tech death from above, without risking American lives, has become Obama’s favorite kind of warfare. He has embraced it much more enthusiastically than Bush, part of a gradual transformation into “one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades,” in the words ofPeter Bergen, a national security expert at the New American Foundation, a liberal think tank.

Drone strikes are popular in the United States (62 percent in favor) and unpopular everywhere else, even in countries whose citizens want to see him re-elected and even in countries where his 2009 rock-star image has not been significantly dented. In Germany, for example, he outshines the popular chancellor, Angela Merkel. Eighty-seven percent expressed confidence in “Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.” Merkel polled 77 percent on that question.

The confidence to do the right thing does not extend to drone warfare. Almost two out of three Germans disapprove of it.

At home, Obama’s job approval never reached the heights it did in much of Western Europe. A Gallup poll taken in his first week of office gave him 69 percent approval. This month, it stood at 47 percent, two percentage points lower than Bush at the same point in the election cycle in 2004. Bush won, by the slimmest of margins.

All of which probably shows that the way an American president is seen abroad makes no difference to his electoral fortunes at home.

PHOTO: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with U.S. President Barack Obama (R) during before the G20 summit in Los Cabos June 18, 2012.  REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

14 comments

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You didn’t mention the economy. There were two massive places where he didn’t meet expectations. #1 The stimulus was half-hearted and insufficient, as he played to all parties and tried to walk a compromise path down the middle. #2 Obama’s flip to prioritize debt above unemployment was bad for everyone, including himself. Expansionary Austerity is an oxymoron that simply does not exist anywhere but in human minds, including Obama’s.

Posted by snippityp | Report as abusive

A man, who campaigned to be an extraordinary President, turns out to be just another ordinary President.

However, Romney isn’t any better.

Posted by KyuuAL | Report as abusive

What was all that nonsense about? Norway falling over itself to kiss his behind and give him a peace prize. The humble thing to do was to say ‘give it to me in 4 years if you think I still desrve it.’

Your version of Tony Blair. All show and no substance.

Posted by barry66 | Report as abusive

I read somewhere that the media here downplays or hides civilians casualties from the drone strikes. Maybe that would account for the difference in their popularity between here and abroad.

Obama’s friends argue that people are disappointed because he couldn’t measure up to his lofty rhetoric about himself. Another argument is that so often he never even tried. On the health care deal, opponents say he and his allies in congress embraced a conservative, market based approach from the beginning, dealing out progressives in a backroom deal with stakeholder industries, then mocked liberals when they cried foul. People haven’t forgotten.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

He promised “to change how Washington did business”. He did not even attempt to do that. I saw no attempts at changing anything. Washington is just as corrupt as ever.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

The economy notwithstanding, given solely the atmosphere in Washington 2009-2012, it’s not too shocking he did what he did. Despite ‘control’ of the legislature, it’s possible for the minority party to more or less roadblock anything they want.

My point is that even had he truly put forth a lot of initiatives and ideas, my guess is the majority would have been shot down. So…he’d either look like a weak president, who can’t ‘control’ the legislature (see above), or a stupid president, for having offered up so many ideas he knew would be knocked down.

McCain would have been no different, which I think is the real guidepost.

The drone thing is funny. The US likes it b/c we risk fewer lives of the armed forces. Makes sense to me. The rest of the world should have immediately been hit with the follow up question: “If you don’t approve or agree with drone strikes, would you be willing to offer up a hunk of your GDP and prime-age citizens to help with the effort?” My guess is NO, making such outcry without a lot of merit.

Posted by Adam_S | Report as abusive

What is going to happen when another country kills someone in this country with a drone? We are going to regret this drone stuff sooner or later.
Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

@adam_s your analogies are not good.

First of all regarding the perspective that McCain would have been no different. If the repubs are indeed blocking legislation just because barry is president why would they have blocked McCain? Would the dems have been any more willing to work with McCain? So unless you are admitting the dems themselves would be no different things would indeed have been greatly ‘different’ under McCain.

Second, why would the ‘world’ offer money and blood to cover american wars?! Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. People, other than americans, know that extrajudicial assassinations are wrong if you believe in Justice and the Rule of Law. Americans have as much right to assassinate (and kill thousands of innocent civilians) who ever they want around the globe as Hitler had a right to kill Jews. No right at all. The american drone assassination campaign has now killed many thousands more innocent civilians than were killed on 9/11.

The word ‘terrorist’ is becoming synonymous with the word ‘american’ around the globe.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

Folk talk in generalities, without acknowledging there are solid reasons for his set backs home and over seas. Although some were of his own doing (expecting congress to work with him) it is nice to see a President to represent our country (no more lies of WMD or shoes thrown at him in foregin countries). Re-elected or not Obama was a good President.

Posted by uc8tcme | Report as abusive

One more point – When someone guarantees your failure and they have a hand in your sucess or failure – believe them.

Posted by uc8tcme | Report as abusive

As a supporter of Obama, I am disappointed not in his legislative accomplishments or lack thereof, but in his partial failure to provide strong, consistent moral leadership. Too often he has allowed himself to be dragged into idiotic political infighting over trivial points. We select a President to lead, to establish the moral high ground and strive to hold it, to do his utmost to try to make the world a better place. This involves horrible choices in many cases, but the compass of integrity should always point the way. Obama has a full complement of personal integrity, but he has sapped his political integrity by engaging with the opposition at their own appalling level, rather than rising above them.

Posted by steve778936 | Report as abusive

Yes, Stambo, the ‘opposite party’ can more or less block and hamstring legislation as they see fit. While I personally think Democrats would have made more compromises (they are usually the ones who cave, much to the delight of the GOP), they still would have had the ability to do so, and probably would have done it so much that the electorate would be as disappointed as they are now. The messaging would have been different, but my point is that I seriously doubt there’d be any significant, meaningful difference in things now vs 2009, regardless of who won.

I’m not implying that what the US does w drone strikes is legal, or even just, and I’m 1000% in favor of getting US troops the hell outta Afghanistan. I’m just saying, it’s really easy to demonize a method of dealing with bad guys that doesn’t really risk lives, when you’ve got no boots on the ground.

Posted by Adam_S | Report as abusive

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