As part of Donald Trump’s pitch at a Republican campaign rally last night, the president turned his attention to the United States’ international standing.
…Mr. Trump appeared before an excited crowd to share his administration’s track record: North Korea had freed three American prisoners. The United States had withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran. And the American Embassy would soon open in Jerusalem.
The president’s message to his voters was clear – because of his efforts, “America is respected again.”
Wouldn’t it be great if that were true? Wouldn’t it be nice if, during tumultuous times, the United States enjoyed broad international respect and credibility, thanks in part to an American president people around the world admired?
Alas, it’s simply not the case. Even Trump’s evidence is difficult to take seriously. Yes, some American hostages returned home this week from North Korea, but that’s happened plenty of times before. And yes, the president withdrew from an effective international nuclear agreement with Iran, but by doing so, Trump infuriated many of our closest allies, many of whom begged him to be more responsible.
And yes, the U.S. embassy in Israel is moving, but that outraged Palestinian leaders and pushed them further away from any kind of peace agreement.
But there’s no reason to stop there. Earlier this year, Gallup published a report that found, “One year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is weaker worldwide than it was under his two predecessors.” Consider the results in chart form:
Making matters slightly worse, Gallup found, “With its stable approval rating of 41%, Germany has replaced the U.S. as the top-rated global power in the world. The U.S. is now on nearly even footing with China (31%) and barely more popular than Russia (27%) – two countries that Trump sees as rivals seeking to ‘challenge American influence, values and wealth.’”
What’s more, as we discussed in January, the Gallup report came on the heels of a separate study, published last year by the Pew Research Center, which also found that Trump’s presidency isn’t just unpopular around the globe, it’s also undermined international support for the United States. I put together a chart on this too:
What’s more, we don’t just have to rely on polling data. The L.A. Times recently had a good piece on the international landscape.
China has now assumed the mantle of fighting climate change, a global crusade that the United States once led. Russia has taken over Syrian peace talks, also once the purview of the American administration, whose officials Moscow recently deigned to invite to negotiations only as observers.
France and Germany are often now the countries that fellow members of NATO look to, after President Trump wavered on how supportive his administration would be toward the North Atlantic alliance.
And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S., once the only mediator all sides would accept, has found itself isolated after Trump’s decision to declare that the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Across the board, on practically every issue, American influence under Trump has waned, at times as part of a deliberate White House strategy. The Times’ article cited international critics of the administration saying the Republican president has taken positions on a range of challenges that have “disqualified the United States from the debate or rendered it irrelevant.”
Nicholas Burns, a former senior American diplomat under Republican and Democratic administrations, added, “Trump is weak on NATO, Russia, trade, climate, diplomacy. The U.S. is declining as a global leader.”
During Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans chose a line of attack that, in retrospect, was hilariously misguided. As regular readers know, Obama’s GOP detractors seemed absolutely convinced that the Democratic president had done real damage to the United States’ international standing. The opposite was true, but GOP officials nevertheless argued, with unnerving vigor, that America had forfeited the admiration of the world – and it was Obama’s fault.
During the Republican presidential primaries, for example, Jeb Bush insisted that during the Obama era, “We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends.” Around the same time, Scott Walker and Donald Trump had a chat about “how poorly” the United States was “perceived throughout the world.” Mitt Romney added, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”’
If we swap out “Obama” for “Trump,” the assessments suddenly have merit.