Better U.S. image abroad: how to attain it?
Presidential candidates cite intent to improve US stature, but retooling policies is complicated.
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Reversing the low stature may be helped along by the arrival of a fresh face in the White House, but what it will really take is a change in unpopular policies, analysts say – from the war in Iraq to the more restrictive criteria for granting US visas. But some unpopular policies, among them some of those resulting from 9/11, are likely to remain unchanged no matter who is president.Skip to next paragraph
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"The rise of anti-American sentiment is linked to specific policies. You can't just say it's a matter of rhetoric," says Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of the National Interest, a Washington-based foreign-policy review. "But that means changing it will be easier said than done."
In fact, there is likely to be a certain "continuity" to US foreign policy, Mr. Gvosdev predicts, especially on 9/11-driven security measures.
"People have bought into a narrative that all this negativity is the result of one man, or maybe two men in the White House, the president and vice president," he says. "But to suggest that on Jan. 20, 2009, everything will change to the world's liking doesn't take into account how the world has changed."
Candidates have already indicated the various means they would employ – in some cases reminiscent of the unilateral actions much of the world bemoaned in Bush – to assure America's security.
Take the Democrats' Mr. Obama, for example, who speaks frequently of the consequences of America's poor image abroad. The senator often asserts that the world will start to see the US differently the day he is elected because he is African-American. But he has also said that he would be ready to send US troops into Pakistan if he had credible intelligence that pointed to an effective strike against the Al Qaeda leadership – even if the Pakistani regime opposed the action.
That has led some commentators to compare Obama's position to the "Bush doctrine" outlined by the president in 2002. But others say Obama is talking about a specific case and not a policy. "The Democrats still do have a bit of a perception problem on national security. I'd say that's what [Obama] was addressing there," says Mr. Jentleson of Duke. "It was a specific case, not a statement of a presidential doctrine."
Improving America's image abroad will be a two-step process – one short term and one longer, some say. "People are looking for signals, and if the president-elect hits the ground sending signals of concern about our standing in the world, that would have an impact right off the mark," says Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.
More long term, he says his organization's surveys show that the people of many countries will warm to the US if they see it as resuming leadership of a rules-based international system – one many believe the US violated with the war in Iraq.