John Mayer’s tepid anti-war ballad “Waiting on the World to Change” always bugged me, a slacker’s lament that makes excuses for its own lack of passion. At least now the once-popular song is dated, and we’re no longer waiting to see if the world’s attitude will change towards us. It already has.
President Obama has clearly contributed to this changing world his first 100 days. He’s authorized a staged withdrawal from Iraq, incorporating advice from top military commanders. This policy, earning grudging approval from Sen. John McCain and some concern from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is bound to sit right with moderates everywhere. He’s communicated unequivocally and directly to the Arab world, starting with an inaugural address that proclaimed a need to “responsibly leave Iraq to its people.”
The Decider has given way to the Diplomat, and the world likes what it sees. Yet gaining global approval hardly requires turning tail; our buildup in Afghanistan demonstrates a focus not on fleeing conflict but redirecting resources where they can best help us fight our enemies.
The Pew Research Center just wrapped up an eight-year comprehensive study of global attitudes towards the U.S., and stat after stat shows that our favorability rating took a nosedive since 2000, with the ongoing war in Iraq a major cause of discontent. Yet even though we stood on shakier ground last fall, many across the globe held out hope for better relations.
Those better relations were certainly evident during the recent G-20 summit. There is some rock-star hype around Obama, to be sure, but it doesn’t account for the degree of his current global approval. Far too much anger has been generated by past U.S. unilateral actions for other nations to fall in line just because they like Obama’s style. No, there’s a real change in the air, based on policy, not personality.
Will our Iraq pullout make us safer? Hard to say, given that there will always be those who wish us harm, even if their numbers lessen. Yet when it comes to looking forward to the day that our global reputation is saved, rising phoenix-like out of the ashes of that one disastrous move—well, the wait on that change is over.
Will U.S. standing in the world rise once we exit Iraq?
Our standing may rise upon exiting Iraq, but primarily because many nations simply have more trust in a non-conservative American president. Case in point: according to that Pew study, the socially liberal nations of France, Germany and Britain overwhelmingly have confidence in President Obama to “do the right thing” globally. Yet Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, does not, with only a 20 percent confidence rating.
Many don’t understand that some will dislike America no matter what we do – and that our global detractors have even more worrisome problems.
When the towers fell on 9/11, I watched in tears as CNN cut away to live Middle Eastern scenes of men, women and children dancing jubilantly in the streets. An ecstatic celebration of our 3,000 dead, of the great blow struck against the Great Satan. In the Palestinian territories, those fed and clothed with the aid of American dollars (an estimated $2 billion since the Oslo Accords) erupted in joy, firing weapons into the air as if they wished they had piloted the airplanes themselves.
CNN never aired those images again. But I remember. This was before Iraq. Before the war on terror. “Cowboy Bush” had been in office just 7 1/2 months. And still, presumably because we support Israel as well as the Palestinians, these Arabs rejoiced in our tragedy.
Heritage Foundation Middle-Eastern expert James Phillips explained by phone that Obama might currently be more popular in the overall Arab world, but “they are not going to like his policies, which are going to be pretty much the same. We will be defending our own interests and those of our allies.” And when Obama does that, “those that hate Israel and support the radical groups Hamas and Hezbollah are going hate us, regardless.”
Part of anti-U.S. feeling historically stems from our “global policeman” role – a role many nations abhor until they need it. Similarly, Phillips noted, Muslim extremists today hate Iraqi security forces just as much, since they are now defending a democratic country.
Europeans automatically like us more with Obama in office — but the Pew report also found an increase in their hostility toward Jews and Muslims. I wish other nations would look at the plank in their own eyes before picking the speck out of ours.