Poll Disputes Claim of Obama’s Weakness

Democrats’ hawkishness is fed by fear that Republicans will attack them as doves, a concern heightened by the charge that President Obama is disdained globally for not using more military force, a point disputed by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Americans in general have mistaken beliefs about how foreigners view the United States. The misbeliefs stem in large part from circumstances and experiences of the entire American nation. But when it comes to shorter term beliefs about the current standing of the United States in the world, how incumbent American leaders are viewed abroad, and how recent U.S. policies are viewed, a couple of other factors that are infused with partisan politics account for most of the mistaken beliefs among Americans.

One such factor is the drumbeat repetition of certain themes that are invoked so often that they come to acquire the status of conventional wisdom and to be believed not only by much of the public that is exposed to them so often but also by those who, whatever their political motives in first invoking the themes, come to believe them as well. Such a theme has been the notion that the power of, and respect for, the United States has declined in recent years and that the incumbent U.S. administration’s “retreat” from the world has much to do with this.

President Barack Obama concludes a National Security Council meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, April 19, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama concludes a National Security Council meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, April 19, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Another factor is selective attention to the statements and reactions of a few foreign governments whose complaints say more about their own interests and objectives than about the trajectory of the United States. In recent years such attention has been given particularly to the complaints of Persian Gulf Arab states that naturally want the United States to take their side in ethnically and religiously stoked local competitions to which they are parties.

A Revealing Poll

Fortunately, there are more direct and reliable indicators of foreign views of the United States, U.S. leaders, and U.S. policies. The Pew polling organization has provided some of the most comprehensive data on the subject. A just-released survey by Pew of 15 foreign countries does not support the notion of America’s standing in the world having been diminished.

When asked whether the United States plays a less, more, or equally powerful and important role as a world leader today compared with the role it was playing ten years ago, the results were a wash. Japan was the only country where a majority thinks the United States plays a less important and powerful role than a decade ago — offset by India, where a majority thinks the United States has become more important and powerful. Results in the other countries were mixed.

At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as "shock and awe."

At the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to conduct a devastating aerial assault on Baghdad, known as “shock and awe.”

Americans — exposed to all that conventional wisdom in the rhetoric — are shown in other Pew polls to be more likely than foreigners to believe that the United States is playing a less important role in the world than before.

With regard to the economy, the general perception overseas is that U.S. power is rising. This is particularly true in the five European countries surveyed. As recently as four years ago, when respondents in those countries were asked to name the world’s leading economic power, 57 percent said China and 28 percent said the United States. Today the result is 40 percent to 35 percent in favor of the United States.

The United States certainly has serious image problems in much of the world, including Middle Eastern nations that were not part of this most recent survey. The reasons for the negative views have been unpacked in some earlier surveys by Pew and others. Those surveys do not support the idea, so prevalent in much of the domestic rhetoric as well as some of the complaints from some foreign regimes such as the Gulf Arabs, that what is found wanting in the United States is insufficient assertiveness and willingness to use force.

To the contrary, such polls have found substantial proportions of foreign publics seeing the United States as a threat. The use of lethal drone strikes, the subject of a pre-holiday release by the White House that is sure to raise more questions than it answers, has been the subject of strongly negative views among foreign publics, according to Pew’s polling.

Obama’s High Marks

The most recent Pew survey shows foreign publics giving high marks to President Obama — a result directly inconsistent with the idea of an Obama “retreat” from the world being responsible for lowered respect for the United States. When asked whether the respondent has confidence in Mr. Obama “to do the right thing in world affairs.” a majority in all but one of the 15 countries surveyed (the exception being Greece) said yes.

President Barack Obama talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, Germany, June 8, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, Germany, June 8, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A similar question was asked about Angela Merkel, and President Obama got higher marks than the German chancellor in every one of the 15 countries. Mr. Obama also bested Russian President Vladimir Putin in every country except China and Greece (the margin being only one percent in China, where Mr. Obama’s stock has risen among the Chinese people during his second term).

It remains to be seen what sort of results future polls will yield about foreign views of the next U.S. president, but Pew has gotten a head start of sorts in a companion poll by asking respondents in ten European countries about the two presumptive presidential nominees, using the same question about whether the respondent has confidence in the leader to do the right thing regarding world affairs.

Hillary Clinton gets fairly good marks but not as good as Obama: for Obama the composite numbers are 77 percent confidence and 22 percent no confidence; for Clinton they are 59 percent confidence and 27 percent no confidence. The views of the Europeans about Donald Trump are a much different story: nine percent have confidence, and 85 percent have no confidence, that he will do the right thing in world affairs. It looks like Mr. Obama’s comment a few weeks ago about how foreign leaders are “rattled” by the rise of Trump applies in spades to foreign publics.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

22 comments for “Poll Disputes Claim of Obama’s Weakness

  1. J'hon Doe II
    July 6, 2016 at 12:23

    “I have sometimes wondered whether the handlers who promoted him(Obama) to the national scene intended to have him be the used as a catalyst for this kind chaos…”
    ::

    Akech,for an answer to your bewilderment regarding Obama’s handlers,
    start here: http://projectcensored.org/22-obamas-trilateral-commission-team/

    Mr. Obama has been a dismantling/destructive tool in the hands of these people.

    • J'hon Doe II
      July 6, 2016 at 13:04

      Excerpt.

      The Age of Disintegration: Neoliberalism, Interventionism, The Resource Curse, And A Fragmenting World
      in American Imperialism — by Patrick Cockburn — June 28, 2016
      syria-war

      We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover. Cities like Aleppo in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, Taiz in Yemen, and Benghazi in Libya have been partly or entirely reduced to ruins. There are also at least three other serious insurgencies: in southeast Turkey, where Kurdish guerrillas are fighting the Turkish army, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a little-reported but ferocious guerrilla conflict is underway, and in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries where Boko Haram continues to launch murderous attacks.

      All of these have a number of things in common: they are endless and seem never to produce definitive winners or losers. (Afghanistan has effectively been at war since 1979, Somalia since 1991.) They involve the destruction or dismemberment of unified nations, their de facto partition amid mass population movements and upheavals — well publicized in the case of Syria and Iraq, less so in places like South Sudan where more than 2.4 million people have been displaced in recent years.

      Add in one more similarity, no less crucial for being obvious: in most of these countries, where Islam is the dominant religion, extreme Salafi-Jihadi movements, including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are essentially the only available vehicles for protest and rebellion. By now, they have completely replaced the socialist and nationalist movements that predominated in the twentieth century; these years have, that is, seen a remarkable reversion to religious, ethnic, and tribal identity, to movements that seek to establish their own exclusive territory by the persecution and expulsion of minorities.

      http://www.countercurrents.org/2016/06/28/the-age-of-disintegration-neoliberalism-interventionism-the-resource-curse-and-a-fragmenting-world/

  2. Akech
    July 5, 2016 at 12:42

    In many countries in Africa, Christians and Muslim Arabs have peacefully co-existed side by side, intermarried with the local African tribes and produced a language called Swahili which is now lingua franca in many African countries, particularly, East Africa. Swahili happens to be the national language in many of these countries.

    Barack Obama’s presidency has created nasty hostilities between Christians and Muslims in many African countries, particularly, in neighborhoods where such hostilities never existed prior to his presidency! Obama was a one-term Senator from Illinois, unknown to many African Americans who voted for him by the millions, thus, elevating him to the most powerful office on earth.
    I have sometimes wondered whether the handlers who promoted him(Obama) to the national scene intended to have him be the used as a catalyst for this kind chaos which has now engulfed several African states, particularly, those states where Muslims and Christians peacefully co-existed! Tribalism has been used to divide and rule African. With Obama’s presidency, Muslim fundamentalism has spread like wild fire everywhere and with that, loss of innocent lives and introduction of drones warfare.

    I have a lot of difficulties when a group people who have neither respect for God nor for human life embark on using religion as a camouflage for provoking bloody civil fights in which innocent lives are needlessly lost merely because they after controlling some natural resources found where these unsuspecting citizens live! The promoters of these bloody civil wars or regime changes are solely after the natural resources.

    Remember Southern Sudan? The newly created state was peeled off from the Arab northern part of Sudan and given independence in 2011. In December 2013, a bloody civil war broke in this newly independent nation with Obama’s administration endorsing use of Child Soldiers to be used. Who are kids being wasted here and for what? Natural resources like oil, fertile and abundance of water resources (River Nile). Water is a vital resource. Without it there will be no life on earth! In South Sudan, tribalism is the divide and conquer method right now!

    The Clintons-South Sudan-OIL-religion -Death:

    https://theintercept.com/2016/06/09/hillary-clintons-state-department-gave-south-sudans-military-a-pass-for-its-child-soldiers/

    http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article51307

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtmkSTqfy9U

  3. Rob Roy
    July 5, 2016 at 00:31

    Here’s another world-wide poll, Gallop this time. When asked “What countries do you fear the most?”, the vast majority listed these:
    1. the United States by a huge majority, 2, Israel, 3. Pakistan. I agree with this poll. As for Hillary, reading her emails, I found what I’ve been predicting for ages…all written out by her own hand: If she’s president, she will attack Iran at the behest of Israel, because “Israel has a right to protect itself,” against WHOM? “Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” of which there ISN’T any. She will go for a “regime change” in Russia because of “Russian aggression,” of which there ISN’T any. If she chooses Victoria Nuland as her Sec. of State, we know how those two heads together will conspire against Putin who has shown ZERO aggression against the encroaching NATO who has now ILLEGALLY pushed aggressively right up to Russia’s borders when NATO promised it would not more “one inch farther east than it’s line which ran through the middle of Germany. Look where they are now. As Gorbachev said, “You can’t trust the Americans.” Obama has been weak, consistently has been pushed to do things that are criminal, has droned to death thousands of innocent civilians, didn’t have the guts to get a single payer health care system when he had both houses in Congress, made a bad choice of all his advisors, and worst of all, let Hillary Clinton run rough-shod over him. She pulled a coup in Honduras, Ukraine (now under Nazi rule), destroy a stable country, Libia, and after her coups, immediately recognized criminals who replace democratically elected leaders. She’s a disaster. We don’t have to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” We can vote for Jill Stein.

  4. Rob Roy
    July 5, 2016 at 00:29

    Here’s another world-wide poll, Gallop this time. When asked “What countries do you fear the most?”, the vast majority listed these:
    1. the United States by a huge majority, 2, Israel, 3. Pakistan. I agree with this poll. As for Hillary, reading her emails, I found what I’ve been predicting for ages…all written out by her own hand: If she’s president, she will attack Iran at the behest of Israel, because “Israel has a right to protect itself,” against WHOM? “Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” of which there ISN’T any. She will go for a “regime change” in Russia because of “Russian aggression,” of which there ISN’T any. If she chooses Victoria Nuland as her Sec. of State, we know how those two heads together will conspire against Putin who has shown ZERO aggression against the encroaching NATO who has now ILLEGALLY pushed aggressively right up to Russia’s borders when NATO promised it would not more “one inch farther east than it’s line which ran through the middle of Germany. Look where they are now. As Gorbachev said, “You can’t trust the Americans.” Obama has been weak, consistently has been pushed to do things that are criminal, has droned to death thousands of innocent civilians, didn’t have the guts to get a single payer health care system when he had both houses in Congress, made a bad choice of ALL his advisors, and worst of all, let Hillary Clinton run rough-shod over him. She pulled a coup in Honduras, Ukraine (now under Nazi rule), destroyed a stable country, Libya, and after her coups, immediately recognized criminals who replaced democratically elected leaders. She’s a disaster. We don’t have to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” We can vote for Jill Stein.

  5. zman
    July 4, 2016 at 12:44

    Obama, the enigma. Yeah, I imagine everyone has their opinion on Obama. For myself, I was hoping for the best and, unfortunately, got much less. As many have pointed out, Obama has been a failure when viewed against what he had promised. Whether it was just another fraud perpetrated on the world or whether he was given the same education Reagan got when he was forced to nominate GHWB as his VP., makes no real difference in the end. If I were to give him for kudos for anything, it would be his recalcitrance toward Israel and his reluctance to jump into another major ME war whole hog. It seems as if the GWB holdovers (which should have been purged) complicate things greatly for him (witness the document signed by 52 state employees)…not to mention the hag herself (who is a good match for Cheney). Yeah, our intrusions world wide have expanded during his term, he has really gone after whistle-blowers surpassing even GW and continued fiscal policy only a neocon/neolib could love…but things could be much, much worse. What if he ignored Russian concerns? What if he had used the chemical weapon ‘red line’? What if Nuland got her way in Ukraine? Yeah, his admin has not been what it was touted to be (is any?), but let there be no doubt that had Insane McQaeda had been elected, I cannot fathom where we (indeed, the world) would be now. Even Putin, in comments about Obama, seems to acknowledge that he is constrained by a neocon/neolib bureaucracy that is fully entrenched in DC.

    • Peter Loeb
      July 6, 2016 at 07:19

      WEISEL DIED—PALESTINIANS DIE EVERY DAY

      Before hearing of the death of Elie Weisel, I saw a video on another
      electronic newsletter (“EI”) of Israeli police throwing tear gas bombs
      on Palestinians. The colonization of Israel (called such by
      Zionist Validmir Jabotinsky) is a replica of the racism and cruelty
      of the Aryan Race in World War Two. While Zionists mourn the holocaust
      because Jews are superior, sanctified, CHOSEN, people and all others
      are inferior by divine commandment (“beasts”, “cockroaches” etc.), Zionists
      simply put themselves in the place of Aryans. On that logic, what is really
      wrong with the extermination, expelling of millions of Jews and other unwanted
      groups?

      I shall never accept this view of humanity.

      See: Norman G. Finkelstein, , IMAGE AND REALITY OF THE PALESTINE
      CONFLICT… (especially introduction and Ch. 1)

      See George L. Mosse, THE FASCIST REVOLUTION:TOWARD A GENERAL
      THEORY OF FASCISM

      eg “Nationalism is a belief-system which provided [provides in Israel]
      the foundation of all fascist movements, it was [is in Israel] the bedrock
      upon which they were [are]…Finally, a cultural interpretation takes
      account of fascism as a heightened nationalism, as well as of
      fascism understood as a right-wing revolution…” ( Mosse op cit p. xi)

      As a voter, there is nowhere to go where anyone cares. Even the
      smaller third parties (eg Green among others) fear to feature
      facing the truth, the rotten core in several versions since Zionism’s
      inception.

      “our allies”—the Israelis– are not mine. Never!!

      Many commenters follow the disinformation and exclude Israel’s
      brutality and cruelty with US support and complicity from mention.

      Instead they want to play games with the platform committee of
      a political party, essentially a meaningless action.

      We all share in the tragedy which the USA joins Israel in supporting.

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  6. Bill Bodden
    July 3, 2016 at 20:05

    The poll notes how the respondents have judged President Obama, but I didn’t see in an, admittedly, quick skim through the poll report anything about the quality of those respondents. What kind of education did they have? What are their sources for information about world affairs? Go to the un-Democratic Party headquarters and take a poll of the staff as to who will make the better president – Hillary or the Donald – and the result will be 100% for Hillary. Take another poll at a Trump rally and the result will be reversed.

    Some time after Obama’s Cairo speech that enhanced his image in the Middle East polls didn’t view him favorably when Middle Easterners came to see that speech, like many of Obama’s speeches, failed the test of time.

  7. LJ
    July 3, 2016 at 17:31

    Propaganda is effective. WE now have an official Office of Disinformation at the Pentagon thanks to Obama and Congress and there still has been no Declaration of War anywhere. We also still have the typical disinformation pipeline at the Washington Post and New York Times (both of which were 100% on line with disinformation about the unrest in Libya, Sarin gas outside Damascus, popular protests in Ukraine, etc.). The facts are clear that Obama has expanded US Military presence and engagement overseas. We have had deployments in 70 nations during his tenure. Centcom wasn’t enough to keep up , Africom either, now we have a -com just for covert activities abroad. . We are acting aggressively in the South China Sea and the Baltic Sea at the same time. We are still in the Persian Gulf and about to move into our new digs at Jeju Island in Korea. We are still trying to expand our presence in Okinawa against all odds. WE are expanding NATO’s presence in the North Sea. We are back in the Philippines. We never left Afghanistan or Iraq,( well not really) and we have troops on the ground in Libya and Syria. And this does not even include covert operations or drone executions elsewhere, like Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, ok I included a couple examples. If this polling was conducted in such a way as to ask respondents if they were aware of increased military and covert activity under Obama, given examples and then asked if they thought the US was “less involved abroad”, well they are so stupid and brainwashed that they would still answer yes. It reminds me how the Republicans can spin Obama as being against the Oil industry and energy exploration when Obama has called himself “The Pipeline President” and boasts of more oil leases issued and enough new pipeline to circle the globe 3 times all the while he approved fracking. The list of disconnects with reality could go on and on. It is disheartening to say the least. How Clinton or even Trump could be worse is hard for me to imagine. Also some of Obama’s actions that have curtailed Americans 4th Amendment Rights, Right to due process and Freedom of assembly should also be asked about by pollsters , I’m certain the answer they would receive from We the People would be something like, ” Huh”?

    • Bob Van Noy
      July 4, 2016 at 12:41

      Excellent but depressing LJ, how can you keep up?

  8. SFOMARCO
    July 3, 2016 at 13:21

    “Democrats’ hawkishness is fed by fear that Republicans will attack them as doves, a concern heightened by the charge that President Obama is disdained globally for not using more military force, a point disputed by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.”

    President Obama is particularly disdained by Israel. That is the background context for the “the drumbeat repetition of certain themes that are invoked so often that they come to acquire the status of conventional wisdom.” “The complaints of Persian Gulf Arab states”, cited by Paul Pillar, are all but ignored.

  9. Zachary Smith
    July 3, 2016 at 13:20

    I can’t say I approve of writing an opinion essay based on a single poll, one which is admittedly an outlier to many others.

    As for whether foreign nations prefer Hillary or Trump, I personally don’t give a hoot what they think – either way.

    • Peter Loeb
      July 4, 2016 at 07:15

      ZACHARY SMITH ON TARGET AGAIN

      Agree! See my comment above, after Joe Tedesky.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  10. Nancy
    July 3, 2016 at 12:15

    A “world leader” without it’s base – actually, the mimorere I think about this article giving credence to Pew’ twisted poll the more outraged I become.

    Obama is leading the U.S. citizens behind and in the gutter – Clinton will be worse. The global support for these sicko wars will not be coming from U.S. tax payers but rather from the governments supporting world dominance.

    Obama has no Middle Class:

    Pew: The American middle class is losing ground in metropolitan areas across the country, affecting communities from Boston to Seattle and from Dallas to Milwaukee. From 2000 to 2014 the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined in a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. The decrease in the middle-class share was often substantial, measuring 6 percentage points or more in 53 metropolitan areas, compared with a 4-point drop nationally.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 3, 2016 at 12:53

      The new middle class is the old upper middle class, isn’t Nancy?

  11. David Smith
    July 3, 2016 at 12:05

    The Pew family is Propertied Class, from the Smokestack Baron era, Pittsburgh Plate Glass is a Pew family entity. They are secretive, hard right-wing and interested in social control, implemented thru The Pew Family Trust, a tax exempt foundation. Any “polling” by a Pew family entity is monitor the success of the mind control program. They must be a part owner of the “made man” Obama, want people to hate Trump, and are concerned that “high maintainence girlfriend” HRC can’t get to the White House on her own. The Pew family certainly has a use for a Past Master of the CIA.

  12. dahoit
    July 3, 2016 at 10:44

    Phew.

  13. Nancy
    July 3, 2016 at 10:00

    The poll should have surveyed whether people believe U.S. interventionism largely contributed to the threat of ISIS.

    Also, the idea that personal freedoms (how about supporting fair elections) would be a major accomplishment of the Obama administration was rightly viewed by Europeans:

    “Looking at the five EU nations we have surveyed consistently since 2008, the share of the public saying that Washington respects personal freedoms rose between 2008 and 2013, but has fallen in the years since. In France and Germany, for example, the share of the public that says the U.S. respects personal rights is lower today than it was during the final year of the Bush presidency.”
    Oligarchy weaving it’s way in.

  14. Joe Tedesky
    July 3, 2016 at 09:45

    If polls, and let’s throw in voting were to represent anything at all, then explain me this; why do we have the presumptive nominees that we have? Both Hillary and the Donald rate high on untrustworthiness and unfavorable categories every time I see this poll data show up, on TV. Yet, here they both are in the running to be our next president. I mean, if hardly anyone can trust them, or even like them, then how do they end up as next in line to live on the White House? Nothing is what it seems it should be.

    Let’s face it, Obama can be very likable. So likable, that I have already heard people talk about, how they hope he gets a television program when he leaves office. I think in some quarters Michelle is even more liked. My guest, is Obama’s legacy may prove to look good, when sandwiched in between a Bush and a Clinton…not sure about a Trump. Although, I sense something very strange happening when comparing Obama to Putin, in say Russia, or the Donbass region of the Ukraine, by every piece of information I receive Putin is a rock star in those places. Also, what countries exactly were these polls taken in? Would not media play a large part within the view of said polled states? Regardless, BHO is a very likable celebrity. Like Bill Clinton, he could have screwed the average citizen in the afternoon, and then by that evening got a standing ovation from that very same public after delivering his State of the Union speech from the senate podium that night. Short memories, and bad reporting, do wonders for a politicians image. BTW, Bernie did better by a mile in the polls, so why is he not the Democratic presidential nominee? Besides that, polling doesn’t win elections, rigged voting machines do….everybody knows that!

    • exiled off mainstreet
      July 3, 2016 at 15:24

      His role spearheading the “trade” agreements which seek to replace the rule of law with corrupt corporate tribunals in commercial transactions brand Obama as a traitor to those whose support brought him to power.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 3, 2016 at 17:49

      I agree, but you and I aren’t Wall Street.

    • Peter Loeb
      July 4, 2016 at 07:12

      USE AND MISUSE OF POLLS—WHAT DO THEY “PROVE”???

      I agree with most of the points made above by Joe Tedesky. Haven’t
      we learned that polls are primarily for use as PR of one interest
      (candidate etc.) or another. And we count on their being used in
      this way . As long as we keep our clear and definite distinctions between
      polls as FACT which they are NOT, we will be OK.

      In the above article by Pillar there is a reference the number of
      deaths via airstrikes in the NYT.

      “…. subject of a pre-holiday release by the White House….”

      which is more than worth study.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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