James Gibney wrote a very interesting article following of a recent Gallup poll, Everyone Likes Obama’s Foreign Policy Except Americans. It seems that the world is actually quite keen on American leadership. And contrary to what pretty much every Republican will tell you, our allies are the most positive of all. The one exception to this is Israel, which thought that the US foreign policy was great under George W Bush. I think we can disregard any group of people who think that the high point of American foreign policy was the Iraq War. In addition to our friends being very happy with us, our enemies (at least as most would define them) are very unhappy with us. In Russia, the United States gets an amazingly low 4% approval rating. (I assume this is a reflection of the fact that Russian media is as biased and jingoistic as the American media is.)
But it is wrong to say that Americans don’t like Obama’s foreign policy. Right now, Americans aren’t that keen on foreign policy as a thing. But their opinion has improved steadily since Obama took over the presidency. So clearly, the Republicans who are shouting about America’s standing in the world are just preaching to the choir. (Gibney seemed strangely a bit confused on this point.) American approval of our own foreign policy reached a nadir at the end of Bush’s presidency with less than 30% and now it is almost 40%. And this is for a poll taken “even as Russia was annexing Crimea, Islamic State was beheading its way across the Middle East, Ebola was taking its toll in West Africa, and Europe was dealing with an unprecedented crisis in Greece.” If the poll were done today, I’m sure the numbers would be better.
But should we pay much attention to what Americans think in a general way about foreign policy? After all, we are the people who gave Bush a 51% approval rating the week before 9/11 and an 86% approval rating the week after. Even more stark, his disapproval rating went from 39% down to 10%. This is after he oversaw the worst attack on American soil ever — where his initial reaction was to sit there reading, The Pet Goat. (Although I will admit: goats really are charming animals!) Similarly, approval of our foreign policy went up after the Iraq invasion — the very thing that now makes Americans sad about foreign policy in general.
The main thing to consider here is that Americans are unhappy with the idea of intervention altogether. Since 1964, the Pew Research Center has been asking Americans if the United States should “mind its own business, internationally.” In 1964, only 20% said we should. The number went up quite a bit in the decades after that. But in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, it dipped back down to 30%. And as of 2013, it is at an all time high: 52%.
So I don’t think it means much when Ted Cruz rants, “Today, the consequence of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy is that our friends no longer trust us, and our enemies no longer fear us.” The truth is that he is completely wrong on the facts. Our friends do trust us. Our enemies fear us even more. But most of all, the American people just don’t care.