Like so many pundits and partisans before him, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) declared last August that "this [Obama-Biden] ticket will repair our damaged reputation abroad." It was simply presumed that, drone strikes on Pakistan and a surge of troops in Afghanistan notwithstanding, an Obama administration would just be better for public diplomacy. In Europe, where the universal loathing of George W. Bush crept into most every news story about the United States, the presidency of Barack Obama has bumped opinions of the U.S. in a positive direction. That he has publicly declared that marriage should be between a man and a woman—a position for which Bush was routinely criticized during my years in Europe—is either unknown or politely ignored. That his waging of the war on terror has been, in many key respects, virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration is never acknowledged.
During his two terms, President Bush sent cack-handed teams of State Department officials on taxpayer-funded trips to remote villages in Belgium, where they were to teach Flemish youths about the NBA and MTV. A member of Karen Hughes' staff (after she took on the hopeless job of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs) told me of an attempt to "win hearts and minds" by funding basketball tournaments for Danish teens.
Indeed, in the last eight years European perceptions of both America and American policy (they are rarely dealt with separately) were deeply negative. But when people like Rep. Courtney talk of repairing damaged relationships, one imagines they are thinking of Berlin, London, and Paris—Cairo, Damascus, and Tehran being rather tougher nuts to crack. And according to recent polling data from Gallup, reported here by the indefatigable ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, opinions of the United States in the Arab are now only "slightly less negative."
Gallup reports that slightly fewer citizens of Arab nations disapprove of the US under President Obama than during the reign of his predecessor. In Egypt, for instance, last May US leadership enjoyed a 6% approval rating. In March it registered at 25%.
But not all the news was positive:
Interestingly, many of those polled may be holding off before making a conclusion. In Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, the percentage of respondents answering "don't know/refused" increased significantly.
In Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, approval of the US is actually lower now than under President Bush, dipping from 13% to 7% in the Palestinian Territories and from 25% to 22% in Lebanon.