It's Lonely at the Top

It's no secret that in recent years, U.S. foreign policy has sparked widespread dissatisfaction and, in some instances, outright anger around the world. In Washington, many have assumed that with time people would simply "get over it." People would eventually accept that the superpower you have is the superpower you get -- whatever your hopes or wishes.

In fact, something more fundamental may be at work. A new poll of nearly 24,000 citizens from 23 countries, conducted by the international polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, suggests that the tectonic plates of world opinion are shifting. People around the world are not only turning away from the United States; they are starting to embrace the leadership of other major powers.

Clearly the largest beneficiary in this global power shuffle is the European Union. In 20 of the 23 countries polled, a majority or plurality welcomed Europe's becoming more influential than the United States. Some of the highest levels of enthusiasm for greater European influence (outside of Europe) are among U.S. neighbors -- Mexico (66 percent) and Canada (63 percent). The only countries where a majority sees this prospect as a bad thing are the Philippines (54 percent) and the United States (55 percent).

Americans may be even less pleased to hear who is leading the global popularity contest. France, the clearest champion of Europe and of opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq, gets the highest marks and is viewed positively in 20 countries. Another European power, Britain, is close behind -- viewed positively in 18 countries.

Outside of Europe, China's influence in the world is also rated substantially better than that of the United States, with 14 countries holding it in high regard. Even more striking is the fact that, despite the country's incredible economic clout, when asked about the prospect of China's becoming more powerful economically, 16 countries view that as a welcome trend.

Meanwhile, the two former Cold War competitors, the United States and Russia, are in a dead heat for last. (The United States is viewed positively in 6 countries and negatively in 15, and Russia is viewed positively in 5 and negatively in 14.) Both of these countries not only have large militaries but have recently demonstrated their willingness to use them -- the United States in Iraq and Russia in Chechnya. Although trade may buy you love, guns clearly do not.

American leaders can brush off these findings as simple anti-American envy. But that would be a mistake. Although negative attitudes toward the United States have spiked in recent years, world public opinion is not intrinsically anti-American. There is still a reservoir of goodwill toward the United States for its good deeds in World War II and, in its aftermath, for promoting multilateral institutions and international law. Indeed, the current upset with America comes from a bewildered feeling that the United States (with its recent unilateral impulses) is not living up to the cooperative ideals that it promoted for so long. The world's people may not think highly of America today, but listen to their criticism closely: They are singing directly from America's own songbook.


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