I wrote yesterday about the the results of the latest annual survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. The story noted that, while Obama has retained his popularity in the 21 countries (besides the United States) covered by the survey, and that his handling of U.S. foreign policy generally over the past year and a half received quite high marks, his policies in the Middle East and South Asia — and especially his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — were altogether another story. Indeed, asked whether they approved or disapproved of Obama’s handling of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the last received the highest disapproval ratings, suggesting that the perpetuation of that conflict is harmful to U.S. interests not only in the Arab and Islamic worlds — as has been argued recently by Gen. Petraeus, Anthony Cordesman, and Obama himself, among others — but in other parts of the world, notably Europe, as well.
This is Pew’s table on respondents’ answers to the question of whether they approved “of the international policies of President Barack Obama.” It shows the comparison between the 2009 and 2010 results.
Overall, as you can see, an average of 64.4 percent of respondents voiced approval of Obama’s international policies. And while this particular table doesn’t show the disapproval statistics, they came to an average of 31.4 percent. So, on the question of general foreign policy, Obama’s approval/disapproval ratio is better than 2:1.
But if we look at the reaction to Obama’s handling of specific policy issues in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, the approval/disapproval ratio moves into negative territory, hovering around 1:1.4.
On Iraq, majorities or pluralities in nine (Britain, France, Germany Poland, Japan, South Korea, Kenya and Nigeria) of the 21 countries approve of Obama’s performance, while majorities or pluralities in eleven disapprove. Opinion in Spain is evenly split. Overall, an average of 31.7 percent approved, while 46.4 percent disapproved.
The results on Afghanistan were the same, only that Germany was evenly split, and Spain moved into the approval category. Overall, an average of 33.1 percent approved, while 46.4 percent disapproved.
Similarly, pluralities or majorities in ten countries, including both Germany and Spain, approved of Obama’s handling of Iran, while 11 disapproved. Overall, the approval/disapproval ratio was 33:44.4.
But on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, approvals outnumbered disapprovals in only seven of the 21 countries, and, among those, the margins were markedly more narrow than in the other three cases. In 17 of the 21 countries (the exceptions being Nigeria, Indonesia, and Turkey), approval of Obama’s performance on Israel-Palestine gained less support than his handling of Iran. Overall, an average of 31 percent approved, while 48.5 percent disapproved of performance on Israel-Palestine — the widest gap of all four issues.
In presenting his findings, Pew’s president, Andrew Kohut, noted that the poll was conducted before the deadly May 31 attack by Israeli commandos on the Gaza aid flotilla which, apart from the Obama administration, elicited condemnation from governments around the world. He suggested that, had the survey been taken after the attack, the gap may well have been wider.
You can study the findings for yourself, but I think this latest survey helps demonstrate how damaging the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to Washington’s — and Obama’s — image in global public opinion and, conversely, how potentially helpful it would be to achieve an internationally acceptable resolution.