- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

POLITICAL THEATER COLUMN:

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on Thursday delivered some spectacular news to all Americans ashamed of their homeland: With President Obama now in office, you no longer have to pretend you’re not from the States when you summer in Europe.

“It is nice to be popular, and I think that people feel better if we are liked, if, you know - Americans now don’t have to say they’re from Canada when they travel around,” the Clinton-era diplomat said to laughter from a roomful of reporters at the National Press Club.

Mrs. Albright joined former Sen. John Danforth for the release of a new poll dubbed the “Global Attitudes Project,” a worldwide survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. The findings show double-digit increases in U.S. popularity across Europe, spurred in equal measure by the election of President Obama and the departure of President George W. Bush.

Some 26,397 people interviewed in 25 countries between May 18 and June 16 said they have far more confidence an Obama-run United States will do “the right thing in world affairs.” In Britain, confidence jumped 70 percentage points, in France 78 and in Germany a whopping 79, from a dismal 14 percent in 2008 to 93 percent this year.

Oddly, the poll comes just as the president is beginning to slip in American polls, making him far more popular in Europe than he is at home.

Mr. Danforth, a Republican and one-time U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that the newfound European popularity is due to Mr. Obama’s conciliatory foreign policy.

Some of Mr. Obama’s most visible diplomatic initiatives have targeted rogue nations, including Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and North Korea. He was photographed with a broad smile as he shook hands with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has berated America and made overtures to the Castro brothers in Cuba. The new president even bowed to Saudi King Abdullah at a London summit in April.

“I think the popularity of Barack Obama and the increased popularity of the United States are a function of a less assertive and more passive approach, particularly in dealing with terror,” Mr. Danforth said.

While admitting the obvious - “You’d rather have people cheer you than throw eggs at you” - the former Missouri lawmaker said that the president’s popularity has not paid off in cooperation on tough issues, from the war on terror to Afghanistan to help in closing the controversial U.S. detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I think the president is telling people what they want to hear. He’s apologizing; he’s saying we will get out of Iraq and close down Guantanamo. But when he does ask for something, he doesn’t seem to get anything,” Mr. Danforth said.

For instance, 82 percent of the French respondents said they favor closing Guantanamo, “but when the president asked France to take detainees, France agreed to take exactly one person,” Mr. Danforth said.

“I’m sure Guantanamo is unpopular, but what are we supposed to do with these people? I mean, do we just let them go? So where’s the help from the rest of the world? If the popularity is based more on a more passive, less assertive approach, then what do we do in the real world of terror?”

The 200-page poll by the Pew Center, which calls itself independent and nonpartisan, has some unusual headlines, such as “Obama Runs the Table on Guantanamo and Iraq.” But that was in world opinion.

Oddly, the poll found that in America, 45 percent of respondents favor closing Guantanamo, while 47 percent oppose the move, promised by Mr. Obama just two days after he took office. Across Europe, support for closing the facility tops 70 percent. The Palestinian territories come in at 93 percent to 5 percent in favor of closure.

On the question of whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, opposition across the world runs almost as high, with respondents in France opposing the move by a 62-to-37 ratio, and in China by 71 percent to 17 percent. Even Mr. Obama’s personal popularity, highlighted in his trip across Europe this summer, failed to sway members of NATO when he urged allies to send more troops to the fight at the alliance summit in France.

Mr. Obama also fared poorly in trying to move world opinion after his speech in Cairo aimed at Muslims.

“The needle barely moved in the Muslim world,” said Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut. After the speech, Muslim support of the United States in Turkey went from 13 percent in 2008 to 14 percent this year. In Pakistan, it dropped two percentage points to 15 percent. It did increase in Jordan and Egypt by 5 points.

Mrs. Albright dismissed some of the more distressing numbers as “remnants of past policies,” notably those of Mr. Bush, but she was optimistic about Mr. Obama’s leadership.

“We are on a better glide path to restoring our reputation and our leadership than we were for the previous eight years,” she said.

Reporters guffawed when a small, tilted screen displayed a chart in the small press club room. The table showed the median of the “Obama-Bush Confidence Gap”: 71 percent confidence for Mr. Obama this year, compared with 17 percent for Mr. Bush in 2008.

But there was much less confidence in the Middle East. In Israel, 43 percent of respondents said they have “not too much” or “no” confidence in the new president. The lack of confidence among the Palestinians stood at 75 percent.

Still, Mrs. Albright gushed that the president is doing all the right things when he travels around the world.

“He goes into countries, he meets with the leaders, he has town hall meetings: He is approachable, to the extent that any American president can mix and mingle,” she said. “He is - this is my term - an inspired truth-teller in terms of what the United States might have done wrong in the past.”


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