Perception Matters

The Virginia Gazette

According to the latest survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, America's international image remains strong around the world. It's military and economic strength is undisputed as well as our country's political stability. However, there is also a perception of America as a helpless giant who is unable to harness the power at its disposal to right the wrongs in the world.

The rise of ISIS, the terrorist group that seeks to establish a Caliphate and currently rules over parts of Syria and Iraq, generated strong concern around the world. America's military efforts against the terrorist group elicited broad support internationally and domestically. However, a perception prevails that the Obama administration is unwilling or incapable to use the resources available that would destroy ISIS.

In spite of it, President Obama remains popular in most countries, except Israel where his standing has declined sharply over negotiation with Iran about that country's nuclear program. Most Israelis believe, a nuclear armed Iran poses an existential threat to their homeland.

In spite of their negative view of Obama, eight-in-ten Israelis have favorable opinion of the U. S. This contrast, sharply, with the critical stance of Jordanians where only 14 percent view the United States favorably. In Egypt and Pakistan the negative sentiment against the U. S, is 16 percent.

Interestingly, after years of economic turmoil in the United States, the assessment of U. S. economic power is on the rise. "After the onset of the Great Recession, in 2008," states the Pew Research Center report, "many believed that the global economic balance of power was shifting, as China's economy expanded while the U.S. struggled. But over the last year, as the American economy has continued to rebound, the number of people naming the U. S. as the top economy has increased, especially in Europe."

Another aspect of America's image is reflected in the reaction to U.S. "defense pivot" to Asia. "China's rise has generated anxiety and security concerns among many of its neighbors, and the Asian nations surveyed mostly welcome U. S, plans to commit more military resources to the Asia-Pacific region," the report notes. "More than half of surveyed in Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, India, Australia and South Korea say a greater American military commitment to the region would be a good thing because it would help maintain peace."

The report also states, the economic component of the "pivot to Asia," the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty, currently under negotiation, would deepen economic ties among a number of nations on both sides of the Pacific. Of the nine nations participating in the trade negotiations, the majority in seven nations believe that an agreement would be a good thing for their country.

Overall, the survey found that the U. S. is seen more positively than China in most of Asia, Europe, and Latin America, but not in Middle East.

Significantly, however, among young people under the age of 30, both the U. S. and China have one thing in common. Both nations are seen positively by young people. In the U. S. 55 percent of 18-29 year-olds offer a favorable view of China and 59% of Chinese under 30 see the U. S. favorable.

No doubt, the image and standing of the U. S. today is not comparable to the one it had in the last years of the administration of President George W. Bush, and the first decade of the 21st century. Of the 38 nations where the Pew Research Center conducted its latest survey, in 28 nations more than half of the surveyed expressed favorable opinion of the U. S. Among European countries three quarters of Italians, two-third in Poland, and 64 percent of French expressed favorable view of U. S. In Africa, 77 percent view America in positive ways and in Latin America the number in countries like El Salvador is 80 percent.

Thus, America may be far from being a perfect country, it is still seen around the world as standard bearer.

Frank Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and on Amazon.com.

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