Why it Matters that the World thinks US under Trump is Laughingstock

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Pew Research Center has found that the confidence of the world public in the US willingness to do the right thing has plummeted in just the few months Trump has been at our helm. Last fall, 62 percent of people throughout the world said they trusted Obama to do the right thing, and 64 percent had a favorable view of the US. (US favorability ratings were even higher before Bush invaded Iraq; nobody likes aggressors).

Now, 22 percent trust Trump to do the right thing (which means a fifth of humankind are nincompoops).


And US favorability has fallen to 49%, though 58% still like Americans. That’s only fair of them. A relatively small proportion of us just made a fateful mistake.\

In fact, as much as Americans like a cold brew in the summer, a majority of them say they would give up alcohol if only Trump could be impeached! (See the full study here).

So the question all this raises is, does it matter if the rest of the world has a low opinion of the United States?

You betcha.

Despite the go it alone cowboy tough guy rhetoric that plays so well to the Republican base, the world system is not a frontier town and one sheriff can’t clean it up. 7.4 billion people are an incredibly complex puzzle to solve. The US can project influence and power only if it has powerful allies. It is only 5% of the world population, and while its GDP is 22% of the world’s, that still means that nearly 80% of the global economy is in the hands of others. The US has more high-tech weapons than others, but those haven’t done it much good; it hasn’t won a war since 1945.

Ironically, the recent president who perhaps best demonstrated the value of diplomacy was a Republican, George H. W. Bush, who orchestrated an enormous global coalition (it included Argentina, Syria and France) to kick Iraqi occupation troops back out of Kuwait in the Gulf War.

Exhibit A is what George W. Bush did to American prestige with his gotten-up war on Iraq, which involved a great deal of lying about intelligence findings to allies. Although the Bush crew often maintained that that the rest of their allies’ intelligence was the same as that of the US, this is not true. First, the French tried to tell them they were wrong and they would not listen. Second, it is a phony excuse because most allies of the US at least used to take their lead from US intelligence, so Washington was shaping the narrative of what was plausible, biasing e.g. German intelligence.

So Bush dragged Britain and Australia and Czechia into Iraq on false pretenses, and the British public really minded having been taken for a ride. British politics is somewhat less corrupt than that of the US, and many of their television journalists ask dogged questions of politicians with a tenacity and frankness that would get them fired at compliant corporate news channels in the US. The British public take their own soldiers’ atrocities ‘way more seriously than Americans typically do, and there were several embarrassing inquiries that hit the front pages. The British also seems less suggestible than Americans, who apparently will believe 24 impossible things before breakfast. This is not the fault of the American public. It appears to me that the wealthy and corporations have for decades deliberately been interfering in the quality of public education, in hopes of producing pliant dupes rather than citizens with a critical faculty. Betsy DeVos is a poster child for such ruination of good public education, and she now finally has a chance to screw over the entire country . The number of Americans who are unable to understand simple principles of science such as that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produces a greenhouse effect is deeply embarrassing to this country. But that is exactly the sort of ‘citizen’ Exxon-Mobil and Big Gas want you to be.

In any case, the British were duped by Bush into a long national nightmare.

So then, remember that President Barack Obama established a red line that the Syrian regime should not use chemical weapons? And then the regime allegedly did. It isn’t important to the story I am telling you whether they did or not. Obama believed they did and a UN investigation backed him.

So Obama was in the position, in 2013, of being forced by his own rhetoric to consider bombing Syria. But he did not want such an act to be seen as another rogue American policy. He wanted a partner.

So he went to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and asked for support. He didn’t know that Cameron was the worst British leader since Ethelred the Unready. Cameron wanted a vote in parliament before committing to bombing Syria, which was itself a side-effect of the Bush lies, since parliament had felt badly used by Tony Blair.

And parliament voted the proposal down.

Obama was left hanging out their alone. And then the Republicans in Congress made it quite clear to him that they wanted a vote on any Syria action, and that also they did not intend to authorize one.

Obama was rescued by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who pointed out that Russia could sequester Syria’s chemical weapons. They did not 100% follow through on that pledge, but they also did not do nothing. Obama took the deal, having been left in the lurch by the Mother of Parliaments and by the US Congress.

Obama has been attacked ever since by the very Republicans who told him they would not authorize a Syrian bombing campaign. They jumped up and down for joy when Trump acted alone over the Shuayrat base in Syria and the alleged launching of chem from it. But they would have impeached Obama for the same thing. Both Obama and Trump are presidents. Gee, I wonder what the difference is between them, that causes the GOP to adore the one and abhor the other?

Anyway, folks, for anyone who cares about the American security position in the world, the Pew findings should be terrifying. Because as long as Trump is there, there won’t be any major joint initiatives, and if we need our allies, it isn’t clear that they will show up, since they think we were idiots to put a bull in a China shop in charge of the world’s most powerful country.

21 Responses

    • Colonial wars don’t count.

      The Gulf War was repeated. D’ya really think it was a war that could be called a victory?

      Kosovo involved European allies.

    • “The US has more high-tech weapons than others, but those haven’t done it much good; it hasn’t won a war since 1945.”
      I don’t think winning is the point. Winning shuts down the perpetual motion money machine. Otherwise what economy is there left besides paper pushing on Wall Street?

    • Panama was the CIA removing a high-level agent who’d gone rogue and stopped taking orders from Washington.

      What the US military hasn’t done is win a war against a country that could shoot back. The first Gulf War was against a country already wrecked by its previous war – debts from which were a large issue in its invasion of Kuwait. Both the sheer strength of the coalition the US brought to share the burden and the limited goals and resulting stalemate resemble the outcome of the Korean War. Not that this is bad. But it hardly justifies the trillions we have spent on our military – and the creeping militarization of our culture and governance that has somehow resulted from it. It isn’t just that it hasn’t won wars on its own, it’s that without the Soviet Union, there aren’t any major wars that could happen that are worth fighting, yet the damn machine just keeps running along as if there were.

  1. Thank you very much, again, Juan, for mentioning how

    “It appears to me that the wealthy and corporations have for decades deliberately been interfering in the quality of public education, in hopes of producing pliant dupes rather than citizens with a critical faculty. … The number of Americans who are unable to understand simple principles of science such as that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produces a greenhouse effect is deeply embarrassing to this country. ”

    I have been pushing this argument for a long time, and I intend to keep pushing.

    As a writer on human history and futures, I want to be an optimist, I personally have to be an optimist to make it through any day. As a worker in a big retail marketplace, even in a hip neighborhood in a progressive West Coast city, the amount of human ignorance, blind self-centeredness, and selfishness I have to deal with every day is not conducive to optimism. Yet there are many nice, smart people too.

    • I think what happened was a combination of two groups of disgruntled extremists in the 1960s. The war on public schools began in earnest as a defense of Jim Crow in the South; that was a populist movement in the worst sense of the word populist, with private schools materializing as segregation academies. Later on, the oligarchs in the more economically relevant parts of the country, like the DeVoses, panicked about civil rights and youth protests and environmental regulations; they started squirting money at any far-right thugs who were getting traction anywhere. Nixon’s Southern Strategy ratified in the mainstream what those oligarchs did at the extremes.

      However, I think their personal animosity towards public education started with simple Yankee selfishness before it melded with Southern bigotry in a toxic brew of Christian fundamentalism. The Proposition 13 movement in California was where the capitalist war on public education began, and the appeal was wholly about tax cuts. No one intended to close the public schools because that would have been politically toxic, but my high school near Fresno was faced with the possibility of being cut to only 5 classes a day, endangering my fellow students’ ability to get into college.

      They were willing then to leave the useless corpse of public schools in place without coming up with a replacement. Whereas Betsy DeVos absolutely wants to bring about that useless corpse so she can whine about replacing it with a covert beast she and her family helped design over the last 30 years, one that will not save money but will redistribute the burden of paying for it and the benefits to different classes from what it spews forth.

  2. As far as respect for the president is concerned, the American people treat stupidity as though it were a virtue! When Trump goes off on a bombing spree to Syria he is lauded by the media, congress, the republicans, the democrats and everyone else in the deep state as a hero. Yet when the novelty of the wizz bangs of missiles wears off, its back to mocking the president again. It looks like there is another chemical weapons attack brewing in Syria so Trump will probably bomb the hell out of the Syrian government this time and once again become everyone’s darling.

  3. I can assure you professor that the English public are every bit as gullible as the American public. We swallowed the lying spew from Tony Blair’s mouth about the Iraq war, “hook, line and sinker” Our own members of parliament also fell for the fake stories that Blair and Bush were telling them. In Blair’s defense, he did at least ask parliament for a vote which he won. As you rightly point out, Trump was adored when he fired missiles at Syria but treated with disdain when the media have put the story on the back burner. Trump needs another war boost and as it looks like the Syrian government are planning another chemical attack, so he can expect to be popular again any time now.

  4. The ugly American has surfaced. I was recently in Milan and an Italian citizen answered when I said I could not understand how anyone could watch Trump for 10 minutes and want to vote for him “Trump represents what America is”. Sadly that is our image now.

  5. The 37% of Europeans who think relations with the US will deteriorate is particularly interesting, and it’s worth bearing in mind that this view reflects European attitudes to a process that is under way, rather than something that will likely occur at some future time. One strong contributory element here is Russian sanctions. Most Europeans are beginning to feel that the problems of Ukraine require a more nuanced, less punitive approach because the present stand-off is not solving the issue while many European commercial interests are suffering for what is increasingly viewed as a US obsession that has become bogged down and is effecting them more negatively than the US. There is also the issue of the Nord Stream pipeline where again Europeans feel sanctions are an attempt deliberately to hinder progress which would offer cheaper Russian gas in order to promote US LNG exports. The situation is dynamic and not just going to sit there. Kites have even been flown suggesting reciprocal sanctions on US LNG exports to Europe.

    • The more gas pipelines anywhere are hindered, the more that solar and wind rush in to fill the gap. Once the damn pipelines are done and pumping, the entrenched interests claim that it’s unfair to strand their assets, even if solar and wind have become cheaper. Who’s going to prove fossil fuels imported from the US or Russia are for the good of their people? I hope any negotiations drag out like Panmunjon.

  6. Republicans and especially neocons are incredibly short sighted. They still think that the US can dominate the world and enforce a Pax Americana. That is foolish nonsense. What the US should be doing is preparing for the day when we are no longer the world’s top super power. We should be working to set up an international regime that supports and encourages our values of freedom and democracy. This means fostering alliances and working with and through the UN with like minded powers, the exact opposite of what Trump and the neocons prefer. In such an international system, a positive view of US leadership is crucial for success. Go it alone nationalism is doomed to fail given our current and future international environment.

    • After I wrote this I realized that the phrase “our values of freedom and democracy” is not valid anymore. I’m not ;sure we have either in our own country right now. What i meant was our traditional foreign policy values of promoting freedom and democracy, which of course often gave way to power politics and supporting anti-communist dictatorships.

      • Well, the US still worships “freedom” and “democracy”. But their meanings have changed. “Freedom” is basically gross irresponsibility. And “democracy” describes representation of the worthy – the white guys (sorry, ladies!) with enough leisure time to jump through an increasing series of hoops to register and to vote.

    • I’ve been saying this, especially at this site, for ten years or more. The peace movement refused to consider the idea that anything could be worse than American hegemony; they grabbed at supporting anyone anywhere who stood against it regardless of their practices, thus were tarred with support for Assad, Khadafi, and Chavez. They acted as though paradise would commence the instant our dying empire collapsed. Instead, in only months we have teleported not only into a fantastically cynical multipolar world of dictators, but into that world looking alarmingly like it did in 1913, with the alliances already forming to drag each other into a major war.

      The burden of persuading the American public to stop paying for hegemony required explaining to them what would replace it, how it would work in detail, and who would pay for it. Such a task was unlikely from those who viewed America as itself uniquely evil, and thus any American who wanted their country to be strong as complicit with evil. It was also unlikely from those who hate all militaries so much that they would rather see NATO demoished rather than the pragmatic alternative of the US negotiating a phased replacement of its membership with a simple alliance with the EU and a proper European military representing sovereign European interests against all comers.

      But no one was willing to educate the public about these things, leaving it ignorant about the inevitability of American decline. It was very frustrating and unnatural to have a public where no one, even Bernie Sanders, talked about a middle position between isolationism and hegemony: the planned self-demotion of America into a Great Power state in consultation with the other Great Powers, with agreements in place to prevent alliance escalation and red lines to govern their behavior in hot spots like Syria. Unfortunately in the amount of time we’ve lost, many nations (the US, Russia, India, Turkey) have become considerably less democratic and considerably more contemptuous of human rights, while the remaining adherents to both are under threat at home from ethnonationalists campaigning against that adherence.

      The window has closed, in our time, for the world to be both multipolar and democratic.

  7. Hey, no fair! We kicked Grenada’s butt! USA! USA! USA!!

    Also Panama. And we punched Serbia real good, since they couldn’t hit back.

    We are the Number One Tough Guys at picking on smaller, weaker nations that can’t fight back! (Guerrilla war is cheating! Those big cheaters!!! )

    USA! USA! USA!!

  8. “In any case, the British were duped by Bush into a long national nightmare.”

    It was Blair who sold the lie. He is much more culpable than Bush, because he has a brain and knows how to use it. He should have known better.

  9. The opportune time to move against an adversary is when that adversary is demonstrating itself to be led by unqualified and unstable leadership.

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