Obama’s ‘Ugly American’ Dilemma

Restoring America's reputation abroad is easier said than done.

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CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP / Getty Images

President Barack Obama listens to a speech of the German Chancellor as he sits on a podium in front of Berlin's landmark the Brandenburg Gate near the US embassy where Obama also gave a speech, June 19, 2013.

As Barack Obama travels across sub-Saharan Africa this week, he is basking in the love of one of the most pro-American regions on earth.

The rest of the world is another story.

Nearly six months into his second term, Obama has made scant progress towards one of his key goals from his first campaign, which he described in 2008 as “restor[ing] that sense that America is that shining beacon on a hill.” The idea was to revive the idea that America represents values like freedom, human rights and peace.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Worldwide supporters of the fugitive former NSA employee Edward Snowden have depicted him as a heroic crusader against a nefarious surveillance state reminiscent of the East German Stasi. The European parliament recently adopted a resolution critical of the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, which noted that “the fight against terrorism cannot be waged at the expense of established basic shared values, such as respect for human rights and the rule of law.” Recent polling shows America more unpopular than ever in Muslim countries, enraged by Obama’s heavy reliance on drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Though occasionally cooperative, Russia and China are content to speak about America with borderline hostility. Even a bite-sized nation like Ecuador is thumbing its nose at the U.S. over Snowden’s fate.

(MORE: Barack Obama’s Crisis-Driven Second Term)

Bogged down in his first term by the economy, health care, and budget fights, Obama may have hoped that his second term would offer a chance to win back a skeptical world. By the middle of last year, a survey of global opinion released by the Pew Research Center in June found that views of America and Obama’s policies had declined since 2009. A March Gallup poll found that, while America’s standing abroad had improved since George W. Bush left office, opinions of Obama’s America had dimmed. “This shift suggests that the president and the new secretary of state may not find global audiences as receptive to the U.S. agenda as they have in the past. In fact, they may find even once-warm audiences increasingly critical,” concluded Gallup’s Julie Ray. (Even in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the most pro-America regions of the world, pro-U.S. opinion has slipped.)

But turning around world opinion has been severely complicated in recent weeks. Snowden’s leaks about U.S. surveillance, spying and hacking activities revived the image of an arrogant post-9/11 America that acts without regard for the law, and forced Obama to publicly protest that he is no Dick Cheney. In a pungent expression of leftist European sentiment a socialist member of Ireland’s parliament recently branded Obama a hypocrite and a “war criminal.” The United Nations has launched an inquiry into the legality of Obama’s campaign of drone strikes against suspected terrorists, which has further inflamed the Muslim world. The ongoing hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp—and the force-feeding of Gitmo inmates—has drawn protests from human rights groups and medical professionals.

(VIDEO: President Obama Defends NSA Surveillance Programs As “Right Balance”)

Meanwhile, Obama’s effort to “reset” relations with Moscow has fizzled. And although Obama held a feel-good meeting with China’s new leader in California this month, Beijing did allow Snowden to flee from Hong Kong, and still clashes with the U.S. on many other priorities. The Middle East? So far,the Arab Spring has arguably empowered anti-American forces in the region—for instance, in Egypt, where an Islamist president replaced a longtime pro-American dictator. And Syrian rebel fighters are furious that Obama has not provided them with more support.

Foreign policy is no popularity contest, of course. But Obama’s second term agenda will require strong support from around the world. He’ll need Arab states and Russia to help him contain Syria’s civil war. A unified international front against Iran is the best lever to stop its nuclear program without military force. And the prospects for a U.S.-brokered Middle East peace are improved if Palestinians and their Arab supporters aren’t consumed with distrust for America.

It’s still not too late for impressions of America to turn around, especially if the debates about drones, detention and Edward Snowden die down. Whether Obama still has time to “restore that sense that America is that shining beacon on a hill” is harder to say.

MORE: TIME POLL: Americans Believe Country Heading In Wrong Direction

96 comments
Destroyed
Destroyed

I'm tired of Obama listening to my phone conversations.

BjørnThuranSchultz
BjørnThuranSchultz

I find it hillarious how time seems to have completely ignored the extent of the european anger towards America and there seems to be no mention of how the recent transatlantic trade negotiations are likely to be scrapped in the light of the US. actions towards its "friends". In the years after 9/11 America has completely failed to prove it was a nation that was willing to stand up for its so-called ideals and prove to the world that it was better than what the terrorist said, and instead used 9/11 as an excuse to mistreat other countries time after time. Say what you will about the actions of the Bush administration that were known at the time: they were towards supposed enemies, whereas in this case not only has Obama failed to stop "hostile" actions towards friends, but even encouraged and expanded them.


The greatest irony is that the more the US tries to tighten the grip on the world, the more nations slip through the fingers and poise themselves against the US. After 9/11 they had the ability to prove themselves as a nation that could use the world and truly represent the ideals of freedom, but have instead squandered and destroyed everything they have worked on since WW2, to the point where it is unlikely that US-EU relations will ever be truly fixed. And the worst part is that the world supposed Obama openly in the hope of getting their "friend" from the 90's back. The western world wanted to like the US, but the US has kept pushing those who wanted to help it further and futher away. 


The US is no longer the leader of the free world, it is just another tyrant trying to subdue those around it with no regard to freedom, human rights, free speech, or simple decency. Which of course applies to every nation, let us not live under the illusion that the european nations are not spying on the american government,  but the US has been caught doing it, meaning that politicians have to act tough and can't simply shrug it off for fear of the wrath of the voters.


America might try to pretend this is not a big deal, but it is possibly the greatest political loss of the past decades. Even Iraq was just a disagreement with friends, not direct action against them,


drudown
drudown

Contrary to the incessant barrage of GOP conditioning that you have ostensibly internalized, nothing exists in the vacuum that you and the GOP would prefer to believe. Even when History unequivocally shows the folly in the GOP policy...incredibly, there is a conspicuous and inexplicable refusal to take ownership of cause and effect. So, despite your best efforts to preemptively "defang the cobra" with such shopworn nonsense as "the President is vicariously liable for anything that goes wrong in the world" or "invoking Bush" somehow is misplaced if the People are still PAYING for W's "scandals"...I find it notable your ilk naively presupposes it makes one iota of difference whether it is Reagan, Bush or, say, Rubio as President. It doesn't.

True, I greatly admire both our existing President and our putative one. Yet the reason why the GOP seeks to impugn them both is simple as power corrupting, Soft Money corrupting- ah, me- as if, in the end, to lavish praise on Reagan is not, by design, so simple: he is the first of the "figurehead" Presidents. So, to be fair, whether its Rand Paul, Ted Cruz or Rubio: tell me, why DOES IT MATTER: the GOP has inculcated a "lock-step" mentality that completely precludes any subjective decision making, much less "leadership".

Conspicuously, the GOP leaders have to sign a "pledge" to a LOBBYIST (Norvquist) and shared a "vow" to obstruct ANY agenda of incoming President Obama...so, feel free to stir illusory "scandals", or even attend GOP mixers in Teva sandals, but your selective memory purposefully omits the FACT the OTHER party is unequivocally the "lesser of two evils."

Where Equal Rights are the Steeple.

"Outsourcing" leads to a "welfare state". "Deregulation" of Wall St. leads to derivative trading run amok and causing massive "bailouts" by the State. "Free trade" leads to a trade deficit and poisoned consumer goods from Asia. "Unilateralism" leads to expensive, protracted Arab occupations that simply exacerbate the anti-American/Israeli sentiment that purportedly "affirms" the propaganda Al Qaeda feeds its poor citizens to explain the "how" and "why" there is such a disproportionate distribution of wealth in Arab society. There will more unrest. You still think "austerity" is best?

But instead of even reaching the merits of ANY of these important policy issues...you just parrot the same "talking points" that simply run around in circles, i.e., there is no discernible benefit to the People to, inter alia, undermine and/or unduly hinder (1) the Commander in Chief's use of cost-effective drones against those taking up arms against our troops; (2) the IRS' ability to perform the necessary due diligence on behalf of the People to ensure "charities" are operating within the letter of the law when funneling money to special interest-driven agendas; (3) the Executive branch's ability to prosecute leakers of top secret information that touch and concern National Security; and, (4) of course, emboldening our enemies with this partisan witch hunt over, what, some seemingly rogue NSA program blown out of proportions or deliberately opaque Benghazi statements that create no prejudice to the People's strategic, fiscal or diplomatic interests? We need leadership from the World Community to engage our President.

Not your hisses.

mrateb
mrateb

It is interesting to note that the world has at last realised that Obama by emulating the Israeli target killing of Innocent Palestinians claiming that they were planning a terrorist attack on Israel is breaking the Law and Human decency.In Egypt the fact that he is still keeping Ms.Patterson the God mother of the brotherhood as Ambassador already aroused the streets and resulted in the State department withdrawing 45 families from Egypt and warning Americans not to visit.Furthermore he has put 200 or more Marines on Alert to fly to defend the Embassy if need be.This is the price you pay for supporting terrorist groups.

No American was touched during the January uprising.We regret the that an American Human Being ( or any human being for that matter )was killed.However,once Egypt rids itself from the brotherhood rule , it is better for face saving that the State Department  withdraws the Ugly American face instead of her being declared a "PERSONA NON GRATAS"

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

Maybe he just hasn't bowed and scraped enough. 

jmac
jmac

'Ugly American"?  Wayne Madsen, an NSA worker for 12 years, has revealed six EU countries, in addition to the UK, colluded in data harvesting with the US.   "Alarmed at the 'sanctimonious outcry' of political leaders he stated "I can't understand how Angela Merkel can keep a straight face, demanding assurances from Barack Obama and the UK while Germany has entered into those exact relationships."  

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

This is a no-brainer.  You can't go around invading countries that didn't do anything to you, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, just because you're bigger and richer -- and expect people to like you.  America has acted like a bully.  No one LIKES a bully, even if they're forced to "agree" with the bully or even depend on the bully.

sacredh
sacredh

Barack HUSSEIN Obama has gone to his birthplace to spread socialism. He is taking his godless religion and is trying to turn the fledgling democracies in Africa into anti-American strongholds. After destroying the US economy, he is trying to destroy theirs.

MichaelSweden
MichaelSweden

Obama is the president that DID NOT:

1. He DID NOT close Guantanamo bay detention camp.

2. He DID NOT end this economic depression now by increasing government spending (My reference P. Krugman, J. Stieglitz)

3. He DID NOT re-regulate the financial industry. There was not a single financial system crisis in the 30 years when the financial industry was regulated. (My reference is Joseph Stieglitz)

4. He DID NOT create a single payer health care system, which is 50% cheaper than the present system, has much better average results, and provide every american with complete health coverage. (My reference is P. Krugman)

5. He DID NOT end the pointless use of the army to chase the Al-Qaeda and similar riffraff around Asia. He contributed to the total sum of 5 trillion dollars spent on the Iraq war for example.

6. He DID NOT decrease the budget for the armed forces. The USA:s military expenditures in 2011 was higher than the next 13 countries budgets combined - on the ranking list. This includes some 800 military bases around the world. 

7. He DID NOT end the surveillance state that we associate with organizations such as the NSA and the CIA. He increased it.

8. He DID NOT create a Palestinian sovereign state based on the borders before June 1967. There is only two states in the world that oppose such a solution of the Israel - Palestinian conflict: Israel and the USA. (My reference is Norman Finkelstein). Giving the Nobel Peace Price to Obama was completely wrong then, and are even more so today. He has done NOTHING.

9. He DID NOT do anything to shut out the many thousands of lobbyists that corrupt the democratic system and drastically lower the quality of political decisions.

After the a succession of corrupt Republican presidents, the Obama administration has continued an american descent that probably will lead to a major disaster, if it hasn't already. It will impact not just America but the whole western civilization and beyond.


arvay
arvay

Obama has proven to be just another American president determined to keep America fixed as cop of the world, sole superpower and now as we've learned -- global snoop. He's had Americans killed without charge or trial, along with the thousands of collaterally killed people in various areas that have been turne into virtual free-fire zones. Guantanamo remains open. 

"The idea was to revive the idea that America represents values like freedom, human rights and peace.'

As much of the world can see, America represents war, assassination and neocolonial interference. We start cyber wars. We threaten to attack other nations. Our threats to bomb Iran's nuclear facilites are clear violations of the UN Charter. If carried out, the would be crimes of aggression just like those prosecuted at Nuremberg. 

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

Maybe the world views the illegal killings of innocent people in Obama's Drone War as maybe a really bad thing. Also, when you have scandal after scandal, the world unlike (the US Media) recognizes a rotten egg when they smell it. Bush was his own worse enemy when it came to global politics, he was a cowboy, and didn't much care what other nation's thought of his 2 wars, along with his power grab, the trampling of our civil liberties, and privacy rights. Obama has not only embraced the Patriot Act, he has expanded it, and those hypocrites who shouted on every soap box while Bush was taking our rights away; now not only do they support Obama doing the same thing, they cheer him when he does..

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

This is a shout out to all the hypocrites who applauded and cheered when WikiLeaks was dropping dime on the government secrets of the Bush Administration's war on terror and other abuses of power, but now cringe and call for Richard Snowden's head because he's doing the same thing to the Obama Administration..Now he's a traitor, and should be hunted down..You hypocrites know who you are on this thread, I say keep up the stellar work..

MatthewW.Hall
MatthewW.Hall

So, everyone accepts that he's American now, even if a potentially "ugly" one. That alone is real progress.

Shadow_ito
Shadow_ito

It might help if America listened to the world once in a while, like just let Syrians resolve their problems. That's why we're at odds with Russia right now. Maybe there's reason to hear Russian opinion this time. Do we always have to be right?

We need to step back from the World Police attitude, and wait for the UN to call for our help, with every country's approval. Then we'll be seen as the heroes that protect the innocent.

Padmore
Padmore

Speaking as somebody from that very large category of 'the rest of the world', I would argue that Snowden has nothing to do with the U.S.A's unpopularity, that's simply short-term and will be forgotten in a few months. The reason many countries dislike the U.S.A is due to it's penchant for bombing and invading every country in sight. In Europe this tends to be combined into the perception of the U.S.A as pretty right-wing, notably on issues such as gay marriage, climate change and gun control (although of course this varys from country to country). There is also criticism for the perceived lasciviousness of american culture, drugs, sex and rock and roll sort of thing, which is viewed as being evil in many countries and cultures. 

In short, Snowden isn't the problem. The problems are so wide and varied that no single president could solve, and arguably there is no reason why any president should.

drudown
drudown

The "ugliest" thing about being in the US these days is having to endure the partisan politics played at the expense of ruling in the People's best interests. Sorry, but it is beyond disingenuous to fault President Obama for the obstruction, negative messaging and outright hostility of government expressed by the GOP. Get real!

jmac
jmac

Snowden's leaks -  The Pentagon is in the process of updating classified rules for warfare in cyberspace.   Cyber is "the most serious threat to our national security.  An entire country can be disrupted by the click of a mouse."   One rogue egotist whose dad thinks he was "manipulated" by wiki sends us into a negative spiral of press reports.   The phone metadata was used to identify networks of suspected terrorists, a process called network chaining.   The internet metadata was apparently stopped in 2011.  If it starts up again, maybe we can thank both Snowden and the Boston bombers.     

His dad is now setting down ultimatums for his return.    I say let him rot on that airport tarmac.  

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Unfortunately for you Barack, and I do like you, but the Democratic party and mainly the Scum Media's role in depicting our previous president as a horrible man to be in charge of our country does in fact hurt our image as a whole across the world, and there is definitely a carry on effect with every other person that is depicted.  If the Scum media would just be reporters and not money making trolls who only care about character assassination of the politician regardless of the letter "D" or "R" next to their name, then maybe the rest of the world would take us serious.  Maybe the rest of the world actually believes that the U.S. Scum media is telling the truth. 

jmac
jmac

@BjørnThuranSchultz Name a European country who's not our friend.  Even China is working with us on rules for Cyberwars.   And the Bush admin invasion wasn't for "supposed enemies".  Bush in his autobio admits it was merely all about regime change and blames it squarely on France for not taking in Saddam.    You're lost in space. 

jmac
jmac

@jhoughton1 It's amazing that Barack Obama can be classified as a bully and invader and at the same time he's classified as a wimp without enough fire in his rhetoric.  

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

@ahandout That woman is a treat!  Why don't we have politicians like that??

sacredh
sacredh

Liberals smell funny because they don't bathe either.

FacelessCommenter
FacelessCommenter

@Padmore While I take issue with your notion that the U.S. "bombs and invades every country in sight," I am supremely amused that this perception persists under Obama. His silly believers, both at home and abroad (that means you, Mr. Rest of the World) thought he would put an end to all this.

CanofSand
CanofSand

@drudown The GOP is doing its job: "Obstructing" the left's radical agenda. That's what we elected them to do. You're a self-blinding ideologue.

jmac
jmac

@drudown The article mentions Snowden's leaks as part of the "ugly" problem.  The Independent Senator from Maine, Angus King, just joined both right and left senators to call this guy a traitor.  Snowden is the Ugly. 

Like the IRS "scandal", it is Issa who is the Ugly American.   It is some on the Supreme Court who hide common sense behin religion.  It is the press when it plays the equivalency game.   It is the press when they think drones should die down as they covered the filibuster of one of our worst Senators, who flip-flopped immediately after his filibuster.      If there's an ugly  american, it is without doubt the Republican party.    

MrObvious
MrObvious

@Realworldnonfantasyland 

It wasn't so much Dems or even Medias job of 'depicting' Bush as a bad president.

He did it pretty much by himself. Unless you don't believe your lying eyes that is.

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

@jmac @jhoughton1 I don't know who "classifieda" BHO as a bully and invader -- but it wasn't me. The "you" I referred to is America over the years, and Bush most recently.  Obama has continued some bad policies, but he alone cannot constitute a World Bully.  We've been supporting dictators, stealing resources and staging invasions for some time, now. When a couple of buildings got knocked down, "The Home of the Brave" lashed out abroad and created a security state at home, all in the name of "Oh, please don't let anyone hurt us anymore!!"  And as our prison population has grown and black people continue to live in an underclass, our chest-thumping about being the land of the free is starting to ring hollow.

Padmore
Padmore

@FacelessCommenter @Padmore The U.S.A has a reputation for using military force that has been built up over a century. This is not saying that in each individual case it has been right or wrong. Simply that it is always the U.S.A invading others, never others invading the U.S.A, this can create the impression of america being a bully. Obama was placed on a pedestal, given expectations he could never achieve given the realities of geopolitics and also the expectations of an american president created by the american people. He has however made some progress compared to Bush, non withstanding his drones policy. It is the issue of drones I think that could continue to shape the perception of the U.S.A as a bully into the future.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@CanofSand @drudown The efforts of the GOP have hurt We the People as they focus entirely on making the president look bad.  Is this your idea of doing their job?

CanofSand
CanofSand

@jmac @drudown I love it: ISSA is the bad guy, whereas the IRS harassing conservatives? Meh, who cares, amiright? You're just another self-blinding leftist ideologue.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@MrObvious @Realworldnonfantasyland Let me guess you agree 100% with Obama and 0% with Bush, because you know, even with your closest friends you agree with them 100% of the times with what they do and the people you hate you agree with 0% of what they do because you know they do everything wrong

roknsteve
roknsteve

@ahandout A Hand Out call someone A Hole?  You are so classy.  Not!  Trolls ore not too bright.

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

@ahandout @jhoughton1 So, in your world, the economy "almost" collapsed between 2001 and 2008. "Almost" being the operative word, since for the rest of us, that was a time of big stock-market gains, people using their homes for ATMs, new car sales through the roof, and the guy who bags your groceries talking about his new flat-screen TV.  I'm not saying it was an economy based on healthy principles, but it was hardly "collapsing."  Again, you're just...in a different world, dude.

ahandout
ahandout

@jhoughton1 @ahandout  Speaking of critical thinking...where did you make the 7 year leap in your brain from 2001 to 2008?  Snap, crackle, pop goes your synapses?  Reading comprehension is obviously not your forte. 

Here, keywords for you to lookup:  9/11/2001, almost, United Airlines flight 93. 

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

@ahandout @jhoughton1 How nice for you to be able to believe all the krap you read so you don't have to engage any critical thinking.  "It has been estimated..." "Approximately..." "Difficult to be precise..."  "Subsequent estimates were lower..."  

But you just go on believing what works for you.  The US economy was brought down by lax oversight of the financial industry (thank you, Republicans and Democrats alike) and Bush's mega-billions off the balance sheet to go kill people who never did anything to us certainly didn't help.  

ahandout
ahandout

@jhoughton1 @ahandout "I've heard some pretty crazy stuff"  Since you campout in Crazyland, I'm not surprised.

Like a huge stone thrown into a lake, the ripples of the attacks spread out and reached every aspect of the U.S. economy. It was initially estimated that the U.S. would lose 1.8 million jobs because of the attacks, trimming as much as 5 percent, or $500 billion, from the gross domestic product [source: Templeton and Lumley]. Other studies provide lower estimates [source: NBC Los Angeles]. It's very difficult to get a handle on these large-scale losses, however, because the economy was already in a recession before the attacks. It's impossible to know which losses were due to the attacks and which were just a natural part of an economic downturn. Other losses occurred because security concerns raised the price of oil and may have affected the flow of investment dollars into the U.S. [source: Wolk].

http://money.howstuffworks.com/september-11-economic-impact.htm

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

@ahandout Wow.  I've heard some pretty crazy stuff, but "The WTC attack almost collapsed the economy" is out there on the fringe.  Bush/Cheney reaction to 9/11 put a huge strain on the economy, but that ain't what caused it to almost collapse.  Do your homework, son, before you start commenting with the adults.

ahandout
ahandout

@jhoughton1 "When a couple of buildings got knocked down"... What kind of A hole just throws that out there like those building were meaningless?  You have your head between your butt cheeks.  Been reading anti-American propaganda?  It's not hard to find.  The commander in chief spouts it whenever he can. 

The World Trade Center attack almost collapsed the economy.  That was the aim.  Did you already forget that the plane that went down in PA was meant for the Capitol?  Another hit the Pentagon. 

There is an easy way to stay out of prison.  Since the 3 strikes law was passed in CA, crime has dropped; amazing huh?  Now the liberal judges and Jerry Brown are turning the criminals loose again to victimize innocents.

Hollywood murder suspect arrested multiple times before stabbing

Los Angeles County Probation Department's Reaver Bingham says Dustin Kinnear was picked up by police four times since his April 6 release from prison, including on May 28, when he was convicted of battery and sentenced to three days in county jail.

Kinnear was on probation in 2012 for an assault with a deadly weapon conviction when he was found with brass knuckles and a dagger. He was sentenced to three years in state prison for violating his probation terms and was released after serving 96 days because of custody credits.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@CanofSand @jmac @drudown No, jmac is right.  Issa is a bottom feeder just doing what he can to disparage this presidency.  His only aim is to gain air time and make President Obama look very very bad to We the People.  He's in lock step with the so called GOP leadership.

Psst!, Obama had nothing to do with the IRS scandal.

Meanwhile, we still need to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan, we still need to do something about our federal budget by putting into place a reasonable plan to balance it, we still need to do something to put a real foundation underneath our anemic economy, we still need to do something about our own crumbling infrastructure, we still need to do something about the unbelievable wealth disparity in this nation, etc.