America’s soft power was already melting fast under Donald Trump. Along came coronavirus and the politicized response by White House that has slowed the global progress on virus containment. Now a latest Pew Research survey shows that America’s image is at an all-time low among many of its close allies. It is quite a fall from grace that its allies in West and Asia-Pacific no longer look up to it.
Within two decades, from 2000 to 2020, favorable views of US have dropped significantly, from 83 percent to 41 percent in UK, from 78 percent to 26 percent in Germany, from 77 percent to 41 percent in Japan, from 72 percent to 35 percent in Canada, from 62 percent to 31 percent in France, and from 59 percent to 33 percent in Australia.
Says a lot when a majority of people in allied countries speak unfavorably of US, with the Germans and the French holding special distaste. The Pew survey shows a long-term declining trend in US favorability overseas, starting with the Bush presidency’s high-handed response to 9/11 and the ensuing invasion of Iraq. Back in late 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, America’s foreign favorability made a comeback and people in allied countries dramatically restored their confidence in the then American President.
Obama’s unique background, his personal charisma, the oratory, and above all his desire to restore a sensible foreign policy, played a major part in restoring American soft power abroad. However, as the Obama presidency wore on, the drone war expanded and mistakes were made in handling issues such as the Arab Spring and the Syrian and Libyan civil wars, the US desirability plateaued among allies.
However, the decline has worsened particularly since the election of Trump and his policies that smack of xenophobia, and disparage allied countries in public over trade and security issues. Note that while the average favorability in the 13 countries studied in the survey is 34 percent for the US, the average drops to 16 percent when it comes to confidence in Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs.
Now, Team Trump’s coronavirus response has shocked allies anew. When asked whether the US has done a good job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, the median response in the affirmative was just 15 percent. The survey, which also included Spain, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and South Korea along with the six nations mentioned above, has another sore point for US policymakers.
Respondents said that the coronavirus responses of their own countries, the WHO, the EU, and even China, was far better than that of the United States. There are consequences of this growing lack of trust in America. Slowly, the advanced world is looking up to China, at US’ expense. With pandemic still present, Trump’s re-election will further weaken multilateral coordination and financing systems, which are needed to counter future pandemics and shocks. Joe Biden, if elected, will have his task cut out.