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John Hughes

World to US: ‘You’re No. 2’ – but can China be No. 1?

An international poll shows that the world thinks the No. 1 superpower is losing its cape to China. Debt politics only reinforce this view. But all is not lost. Remember de Tocqueville.

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The embarrassing political imbroglio that has been taking place in Washington over the debt ceiling and budget cuts hardly projects an image abroad of responsibility and stability. As Nicholas Kristof correctly asserts in The New York Times, “the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from the budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.”

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Where are the Ronald Reagans, even the Bill Clintons, in the present political mix in Washington today? They surely had agendas to defend, but understood the need for timely compromise, statesmanship, and deal-making rather than procrastination, posturing, and pusillanimous politicking that bemuses and unnerves the world.

Meanwhile a new Zogby International poll shows US standing in the Arab world has declined sharply since an earlier Zogby poll in 2009, conducted after President Obama’s first 100 days in office. Then, Arabs were hopeful that the new president would bring positive change to the US-Arab relationship. Early speeches and steps reinforced this view. Favorable attitudes toward the US climbed significantly from Bush-era lows.

But expectations have been dashed. In this year’s survey of more than 4,000 Arabs, favorable attitudes of the US are now lower in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates than they were in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration – though they are still higher in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

James Zogby’s Arab American Institute finds that Israel’s “continuing occupation of Palestinian lands” is seen by most Arabs as the “main obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East,” even within the context of the Arab Spring.

Great nations rise and fall. They are not necessarily loved, especially at their zenith. Polls are snapshots of their public standing, not necessarily accurate predictions of the future. Politicians can learn from the error of their ways and rise to new greatness. All may not be lost. As de Tocqueville, that perceptive early observer of the US, declared: “The greatness of America lies in her ability to repair her faults.”

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.


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