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America's Decreasing Global Image Creates Caution, Not the End of the World

By; Morgan Caplan

With President Trump’s dramatic foreign policy decisions such as withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris climate accord and imposing a travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, it is not surprising that the U.S. has dropped in popularity amongst much of the international community.

Despite such results in a survey on U.S. global image conducted by the Pew Research Center, long-standing, resilient relationships will not be damaged under the Trump administration, Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, predicted for the upcoming four years.

“Does it lead to things that are very, very bad?” Hamid mused. “[I] think that's the presumption that at least a lot of people on the left have…I'm very skeptical of this narrative, but we will actually find out. And four years from now we can all sit down here…and be able to say, ‘Hey, what is the relationship between people hating our president and the world falling apart?’”

The survey, which had clashing results with its predecessor during the Obama administration, explored how countries around the world view President Trump and his foreign policies. With 37 countries and more than 40,000 respondents, the results showed a drastic decrease in the measure of confidence that the president will take the appropriate measures in world affairs.

Confidence in the U.S. president dropped from 64 percent to 22 percent after the inauguration of President Trump. These results are even more dramatic when looking at individual regions. Sweden, for instance, held 93 percent confidence in the U.S. during the Obama administration, but now holds just 10 percent confidence with Trump.

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The Pew Research Center's recent results on U.S. global image has striking results for the world's confidence in President Trump. (Photo: Brookings Institution)

Only two countries, Israel and Russia, showed higher ratings for President Trump than Obama. Due to events such as the Ukraine crisis that occurred during Obama’s second term, which ended with the annexation of Crimea by Russia, it was difficult for Obama to regain those positive results.

At a Brookings Institution discussion of the survey results, Richard Wike, director of global attitudes research at the Pew Research Center, humored the audience by discussing characteristics that people around the world associate with Trump.

“Arrogant,” Wike said. “[The] majority around the world also say that they think Trump is intolerant, and even dangerous. [A] relatively low number say he cares about ordinary people… about four in ten say they think of him as charismatic.”

These characteristics didn’t come as a surprise to the audience, which got a laugh out of his remarks, considering that in many instances the president has seemed to prioritize his unconventional expectations for America over U.S. bilateral relations.

It is difficult to define one specific foreign policy under the Trump Administration, Hamid said. Players such as ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security advisor H.R. McMaster all have very different approaches to foreign affairs, he said, making it difficult to predict international policies.

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From left, Richard Wike, diretor of global attitudes research at the Pew Research Center; Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Constanze Stelzenmüller, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Ely Ratner, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Tarun Chhabra, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, discuss the future of U.S. international relations after the recent survey from Pew Research Center was released. Photo: Brookings Institution)

This presidency, as many have realized, is unlike any other before it. With an unconventional president during a tumultuous political period, it is hard to use these survey results to make predictions about the future.

“[Y]ou don't see a huge majority saying they expect relations to necessarily get worse with the U.S.,” Wike said. “People tend to still like a lot of things about the U.S. even when they are not happy with the U.S. administration."

“You had anti-Americanism of different varieties for a very long time, long before George W. Bush. And yet, it's bounced back at different times as well,” he said.

The overarching theme of the panel was a weary optimism for the future of the U.S. and its ranking worldwide. Despite all the odds that currently stand against the U.S., the panelists still believed that the country will be resilient. Some relationships, such as those in Asia and the Middle East, have endured the test of time, as those countries are deeply politically and economically integrated with each other.

“There is an assumption that the machine, to some degree, is going to chug on by himself regardless of what the gentleman on the deck is attempting to do,” Constanze Stelzenmüller, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. “Over time that could obviously change, if the gentleman is on the deck a long time, but for now, there's a feeling…that we will weather this too. This, too, shall pass.”

 Morgan Caplan is an editorial intern of The Washington Diplomat.




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