Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How to Fix America's Image Abroad

Recognizing that America can't go it alone is the best way to boost the country's standing.

Since 2000, the United States' standing has deteriorated in all parts of the world, and anti-Americanism has grown intense. The 2008 Pew Global Attitudes survey reveals that in the past eight years, favorable views of the United States fell from 78 percent to 30 percent in Germany, 50 percent to 22 percent in Argentina and 75 percent to 37 percent in Indonesia. Yet as bad as this looks, America's image problem can still be healed—if the next administration correctly diagnoses the problem.

Many Americans want to believe things will automatically get better when George W. Bush leaves office. There is a kernel of truth in this. The Bush administration has been amazingly incompetent in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, lately, Georgia. Yet the same administration has also improved America's relations with China and India, suggesting that not all of America's PR problems can be blamed on the 43rd president.

The discord actually dates from the end of the cold war, when Washington thoughtlessly disengaged from the world. After whipping up the Islamist mujahedin into a frenzy to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the United States walked away from them once the communists were defeated—without thinking about the consequences. This oversight led directly to 9/11. Other allies like Pakistan were also dropped, and today Pakistan is a nuclear-armed—and deeply troubled—state.

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