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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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How the Game Travels

The National Basketball Association has honed its image around the world as the purveyor of all that is hip, trendy, and cool. But there is one thing about the league that remains hopelessly anachronistic: its name. The NBA should really be called the IBA, replacing "National" with "International." The league is already making a large chunk of its fortune overseas; NBA commissioner David Stern predicts that, within the next decade, foreign broadcasts will reach 50 percent of U.S. television revenue. But the global influences manifest themselves in something far more obvious for even casual observers of the game: the rapid influx of foreign names and faces into a league that has long assumed the superiority of American players.

When U.S. basketball's mad rush to globalize began in 1992 -- the first time the world witnessed NBA players at an Olympic Games -- the Dream Team waltzed through the competition, even signing autographs for starstruck opponents. Nevertheless, those Olympic broadcasts spawned a new generation of NBA hopefuls from Beijing to Buenos Aires. Before 1992, there were fewer than a dozen foreign-born players in the NBA. Last season, a whopping 81 foreign-born players from 35 different countries and territories crowded the league's rosters. Only two teams lacked a foreign player, and the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs boasted three starters born outside the United States: Tim Duncan from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tony Parker from France, and Manu Ginobili of Argentina.

Scouring the remotest regions of the Earth for teenage seven footers has become the rage among NBA teams. In the league's June 2005 draft, 18 foreign-born players (including overall top draft choice Andrew Bogut of Australia) were selected, compared with 10 in 1999 and 4 in 1994. The foreign invasion, naturally, has its critics, from those who moan about the NBA's eagerness to exploit overseas markets to those who say it is part of a "pearl drops" strategy to whiten a league whose players are mostly black -- and whose fans and corporate sponsors are mostly white. But such arguments ring hollow every time the foreigners prove that they've got game. Foreign-born players now make up some 15 percent of the NBA's starting lineups, and they are virtually colonizing the All-Star Game. If that doesn't convince, just look how badly the American team got spanked at the Athens Olympics last year. It was the gold medal-winning Argentines' turn to sign the autographs.