Generally speaking, poll numbers regarding other nations’ perceptions of the United States tend to be on the depressing side. But this one in the BBC is quite interesting, and actually a bit of a relief.
Although the big news is about South Africa and Brazil, which have both seen their reputations soar, I know I was glad to see the US go into positive territory for the first time since 2005 and probably before. We still aren’t very popular with Muslim nations (Indonesia excepted), but we are more popular than China, and if you believe that size and influence generally breed resentment, that’s probably the fairest comparison. More importantly, we are finally moving in a positive direction.
I know a lot of progressives are disappointed with Obama’s performance, both domestically and in foreign affairs. I think, however, that the last few years have shown a real if not overly dramatic change. The internationally condemned war in Iraq is now less of a priority, the United States is far more cooperative in the United Nations, and, as recent events in Egypt have made clear, we have been more open to working to please the populations of foreign nations, rather than just their leaders. Public diplomacy, long neglected, can be immensely valuable.