Obama fails to meet global expectations
By Peter Apps, Reuters
May 1, 2012, 11:10 am TWN
WASHINGTON -- It was not just U.S. Democratic voters who were looking forward to “hope and change” when Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. president.
Around the world, many anticipated the United States would behave very differently under the new leader. They wanted to hear less about Americans swaggering and throwing their weight around. Some, perhaps, wanted more talk of U.S.-style freedom and democracy, but not if it meant Washington imposing its will.
Few dispute that Obama's election brought with it a noticeable change in tone. But 3-1/2 years later, there are growing complaints that when it comes to substance, relatively little has changed.
A scandal over the hiring of prostitutes by the U.S. Secret Service in Colombia, killings and Quran burnings in Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan have helped fuel an impression of a United States that globally does what it wants regardless of others.
Even the “Arab Spring,” some complain, showcased U.S. hypocrisy: Washington withdrew support from autocratic allies like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak only when it became clear they were on the way out while still supporting authoritarian partners in states such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The failure to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, where suspected foreign terrorists are held, despite Obama's promises both before and after his election, has added to the disillusionment.
“We were very hopeful at the time Obama was elected,” said Abdel Rahman Mansour, an Egyptian political activist whose Facebook postings helped drive the revolution that ousted Mubarak in February last year. “But nothing happened. Obama didn't deliver change but diplomatic rhetoric.”
As it struggles with a slow economic recovery, a potentially crippling budget deficit and debt burden, and political gridlock in Washington, some wonder whether the United States itself is in a slow decline.
A poll released last week by Gallup and conducted across 136 countries showed 46 percent of respondents had a positive view of U.S. global leadership. That has fallen gradually from 49 percent in 2009 immediately after Obama's election, the highest since Gallup began polling on the issue in 2005.
It remains well above the 34 percent recorded in 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration.
Obama is also seen as much more popular internationally than his presumptive Republican challenger in November's election, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has indicated he would take a hard line with countries such as Russia and China.
The enthusiasm verging on euphoria that initially greeted Obama, however, seems to be gone for good.
Karl Lemberg, one of thousands who thronged a Berlin park in July 2008 for a pre-election address by Obama, says he believed at the time he was seeing a seismic shift in relations between the United States and the rest of the world.