International Views of President Obama

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 2, 2011

The plural of anecdote is not data, and all that, but in light of the Obama campaign’s promises in 2008 that a vote for their man meant a vote for a President the country and the world would respect, it is worth paying attention to the following excerpt from Peter Feaver’s post:

The Obama team operated in rapid response campaign mode, giving higher priority to demonizing Republicans than in honestly negotiating with them. In terms of media gimmicks, this approached scored some tactical successes for Obama, even from afar. For instance, many of my interlocutors over here bought into the White House narrative that a few score Tea Partiers, who were not even the majority of House Republicans (themselves only controlling one half of Congress, itself only one of the two relevant branches of government in the dispute), were so strong that Democrats who controlled the White House and the Senate had no choice but to do their bidding. This distorted view served the short-term interests of a president who wanted to avoid responsibility for leading, but likely did damage to his long-term standing as a global leader. (Ross Douthat argues persuasively that the same diminishment will happen with the president’s domestic standing).

I have traveled abroad at regular intervals since Obama entered the White House and the decline in his global image among the elites I interact with has been discernible. Early in his presidency, my foreign interlocutors sounded as blinkered and starry eyed as any Grant Park attendee. But with each new trip, I have noticed that the fervency receded and the doubts mounted. And now when I talk with government insiders, people with actual experience dealing with the U.S. government (as opposed to watching it on BBC and the Daily Show), there is often a quietly expressed nostalgia for earlier administrations — even, gasp, the Bush administration. A grudging consensus appears to be emerging: that President Obama gives good speeches, but even three years into his term he has not yet hit his stride on the nitty-gritty of actually leading as president, domestically or globally. (Interestingly, my interlocutors are much quicker to give Secretary Clinton strong marks. They seem to attribute any good things to her and any bad things to the president.)

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