Europe loves Obama. Does it matter?

By Bernd Debusmann
July 30, 2009

Bernd Debusmann- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

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 U.S. 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 change, from 2008 to 2009, was noted in Britain, France, Germany and Spain. In Germany, 93 percent of those polled expressed confidence in the U.S. president’s leadership compared with 75 percent for German  chancellor Angela Merkel. In France, the score was 91 percent  for Obama and 53 percent for Nicolas Sarkozy.

In 2008, just 31 percent of Germans saw the U.S. in a favourable light. This year: 64 percent. In France, the favourability rating jumped from 42 percent to 75 percent, in Britain from 53 percent to 69 percent and in Spain from 33 percent to 58 percent. 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 apologizing for past American actions. In his view neither Obama’s popularity abroad nor a better U.S. 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: Take Obama’s call on NATO nations to provide more troops  for Afghanistan, for example. 63 percent of the Germans polled are opposed to that, along with 62 percent of French, 51 percent of Britons, and 50 percent of Spaniards.

Similarly, Europeans showered praise on Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo prison but while the European Union has agreed in principle to meet American requests to take some of  the prisoners, there has been no rush to do so.

CAN NICE GUYS WIN?

So, is this a lesson that nice guys don’t win on the foreign policy front? The gap between Obama’s ratings and those of George W. Bush could hardly be bigger. A median of 71 percent in the 2009 survey expressed confidence that Obama will do the right thing in world affairs. Bush last year drew a paltry 17 percent.

Obama has only been in office for six months and he has achieved more in polishing America’s image than a succession of public diplomacy czars who for years attempted to sell Bush’s foreign policies in a more attractive package, much like trying to market the same corn flakes in a new box. Or shining a car to  a high polish and trying to sell it – without an engine.

It didn’t work and failed to stop a relentless slide in America’s international standing from the high of almost universal sympathy for the country immediately after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.  (Memorable post-attack headline in the French daily Le Monde:  “We are all Americans”)

Now there’s a new honeymoon but concrete results of what some call Obamamania may remain elusive in Europe, where it runs strongest, and even more in places where his charisma, brilliant  speeches and brilliant smile have made less of an impression. In Turkey and Pakistan, both countries of key importance for U.S.  foreign policy, negative views of America did not change with  the election of Obama.

If history can serve as a guide, a president’s popularity abroad has limited effect.

The French celebrated John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie  like rock stars when they visited Paris in 1961 but that did  nothing to make President Charles de Gaulle less inclined to act  as a rival to his American counterpart.

Returning to the question of how much a better image matters, Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center,  has part of the answer: “The views of the U.S. are being driven much more by personal confidence in Obama than by opinions about  his specific policies.”

One of these policies, his decision to step up the war in  Afghanistan, which could eventually play as big a role in the  Obama presidency as the Iraq war played in Bush’s, is viewed  with disapproval in most of the countries in the survey.

In the end, it will be the policies that count, not affection for a charismatic leader with a compelling only-in-America life story. Or, as a 19th century European politician, Britain’s Lord Palmerston, put it: nations don’t have eternal friends, they just have interests.

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)

29 comments

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I’m starting to understand the phrase:

“real power rests behind the throne”

Because the “President” changes every 4 years
but the lobbyists, insiders, and influence peddlers
never change. Has Obama changed anything?
Or has he kept with the status quo?
The real question is can he create change
when Congress is so buddy buddy with “Moneyed Interests”,
Contributors, PAC’s, Lobbyists, C street, K street, ect..

I think the heart of America (D.C.) has become a giant massive knot of Cancer.

How can anyone make a change when everyone fights change?

Posted by C.D. Walker | Report as abusive

Obama has changed little in America since getting into power. And he will not change most of the policies that are current causes of anti-americanism.

The only reason Europe’s perception of America has changed is because the US now has a well-spoken president who can manipulate a crowd. Not because of anything that president has done, or promised to do.

If that is the basis of Europe’s perception of America, then their opinion is of no more relevence then their taste in pop celebrities.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Your views on Obama!s innings in America and Europe are similar.
I agree of your sayings.
Mr.Obama is great,crowd puller among youngsters,adults,jobless middle class,and to upcoming African nations youth population.
Because of severe economic meltdown in Germany,England,Spain,Finland and in Italy,their present icon is Mr.Obama
Now, we means affected classes want to some solace words from getting rid of !recession!,!no dollar! concepts
Hope for the Best.
He may be slightly low in Popular U.S.A. Map,but other countries,He maintains same popularity in many countries.

To all the people who are self admitted Obamaholics. It is just a perception issue. His multitude of promises and immediate actions when he took office did not occur. And even the ones he is implementing, now will take years instead of months. Why is the timing important? Because unlike the EU, the US voters can see the practical results of his promises going unfulfilled. So in 2010, the DEMs could easily lose their majority. Then instead of all these “Obama has 4 years to show us his CHANGE”; it becomes the last two year are those of a Lame Duck.

So unless Obama’s popularity actual does Change The World, or even just the US, then his time of power ends November 2011. And unless the EU’s countries actually sign up for Obama’s programs, he will be seen as a failure despite having record numbers abroad.

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

The wording was a bit strange……..Obama’s popularity might be slipping a bit? Obama’s popularity is dropping like a rock. The “honeymoon” is certainly over and with the President’s thuggish, Chicago gangster type arm twisting in an attempt to get what he wants, he is beginning to show the public the attitude behind the mask.

It absolutely astounds me that the media (almost in it’s entirety) actually lies for the man. Oh, no, Obama never intended for health care to be government single payer. I challenge anyone to read page 16 of the bill and try to sell that point of view!!

Posted by OregonStorm | Report as abusive

Everyone views President Obama’s actions and politics in general through the lens of their own political party. It’s time for everyone to start thinking for themselves instead of just parroting whatever Fox or MSNBC said to think. The party is over for America. Our future is not a sporting event. Can’t get a good job? It’s time to hit the books or turn on the computer and learn something that an employer can actually use. Like it or not, we now compete with the entire world, much of which is willing to work for far less. No protectionism or any government policies can change that. For a century our prosperity has been based on cheap energy. That no longer exists. We’ve been putting off things we should have done decades ago and now everybody is whining about how painful it is. We have gotten fat, lazy, and dumb. Instead of whining about Bush or Obama, let’s take a long realistic look at ourselves and take action to do better! The real power is within each of us!

Part 1:
This could answer one with , if onw considers wich most Europeanians are not interest in the american policy.
Also I heare something out from its article disappointment over the political point of view of europeanians. With legal, then I think.

If my person as an european also – our hope, -fairy policy obtain and so on speak of, then is not only cliches.My hopes in president Obama go by, wich it we say times better in the chaos of the inheritances and still fast produced organized economic crisis where everyone the debt assigns, wich the predecessors (Funny Bush aera)behind read only somethings clears up.
The Obama administration is to that extent for Europe and the German linguistic aera important, because europe
- if i freely express myself being allowed ..to the simple form of primitivy (regarding criminal ones and violent ambition to his own population and so on) completely particularly in the leading positions of any economics and branches of Politics/party by the simple government coworkers continues to spread always.
End Part 1:

Posted by Ingeborg Metag | Report as abusive

Part 2:
This international of destruction of economcs,politics and the normal population where the juridical system already capitulated,rights of any forms are ignored (I think there also of mean)and one as an citizien meanwhile
faith likes that communism with the help of the criminal Psychos and primitiv fellow citiziens slowly its introduction into our allegedly in such away civilized european society holds introduction.
Not to omit the global terrorism, wich could to be taken as we nevertheless meanwhile all to the knowledge,Europe
indifferent to seem not whole is.
The differentiated similarieties between Europe and the United States of America and with security also different
states, forces to communicate to us simply somehow nevertheless with one another.

A solution is not to be expected naturally on the fast one, where nevertheless between communication always still the question is mor therefore is recognized.The field would like understandably to leave relucantly america to the europeans, Russia or the muslim states.
End part 2:

Posted by Ingeborg Metag | Report as abusive

Part 3:
Long I do not have noticed that at all global internet my
personal attitude find amusing, but there is the right of free expressions of opinion in a portal that was for this created itself and I thus thinks I do the journalistics truth and ethics for adhering and no hate messages like other Users also still their identidy masking.

Why does it matter that Europe love Obama,read furhter.
The Crime to also the slave trade heard distributed long
introduction into ranges taken, within wich one would never assume it, like also in our law courts with its Attorney’s external areas, authorities like evenly our political economy, wich one believes wich one so daily
to noticing in must such a way, these only of week-intimitate and criminal one citiziens consist. The german so highly preised precisly diligence one any longer does not exist more.
To the conclusion I would like to bring president Obama again to the expression the hope for change of the hate gape of the world among themselves am expected, since america stands as guidance power in world politics evenly bevore Russia,China and the Saudi’s.
Also my person expects assistance and assisted on the part of american policy, public security,justice and the understanding american one citizien of any skin color and
nationality.
Who can write white like for a long time I still in such away and thanks America that Mr.Moore despite any scold you he this clearing up work and all journalists take with important one activity implement to let him not to arresting, humiliating,take this existens and so on. :)

In the conclusion I thank the author for this article on wich I already for a long time waited and now my political situation in Europe and the United States of America with contributing was allowed.
End/fin 3/3.
Love Greetings

Posted by Ingeborg Metag | Report as abusive