Last month, a Zogby International poll conducted in conjunction with the Arab American Institute found that despite favorable attitudes toward the United States and President Obama after his election in 2008, “ratings for both the U.S. and the President have spiraled downwards” in Arab countries. Naturally, the right wing appeared delighted:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD: No doubt the Obama team is amazed, shocked, and incredulous that favorable views of the United States can possibly be lower under his enlightened leadership than they were in the awful old days of George W. Bush. […] Part of it is that an apologetic America actually appeals to no one, for friends rely on our strength and enemies have contempt for any weakness.
COMMENTARY: The United States under President Bush was more popular in the Arab world than it is under President Obama. Now isn’t that a twist?
The Arab American Institute responded yesterday to those who “‘cherry picked’ the findings they liked, while ignoring the rest, in an effort to buttress their ideological positions” and singled out the “Bush was better” crowd:
In fact, what our history of polling in the Arab World shows, if anything, is that the policies of the Bush Administration deeply damaged the U.S. image across the Middle East. Torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and the devastation of Gaza and Lebanon were unforgettable policies that marked the Bush era. It was because Arabs expected that Obama would change all of this that U.S. ratings soared in 2009. But with the realization that the new President could not or would not be able to make those changes, U.S. ratings have sharply dropped. Expectations raised and then let down can be quite devastating—but nowhere is there an Arab cry to “bring back Bush”. The holes Bush dug were so deep and the damage he did was so great that the Arab World and the U.S. will be living with the consequences of his policies for a long time to come.
Part of the reason Arab attitudes about the U.S. and Obama have declined is that the expectations for the new American president, particularly after his Cairo speech, were so high. James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute and the polling firm’s senior adviser, also said after the poll’s release, “There was this sense that it’s a fundamentally broken system, that (the U.S.) can’t do the right thing.”
And as the Center for American Progress’ Matt Duss noted, “Arab opinion of the U.S. fell dramatically after the invasion and occupation of Iraq” and “[w]hile many Arabs were willing to give Obama a chance to change the U.S. orientation, they now seem to have given up.”
“When your neighbor’s been fooling around with your wife for years,” Zogby said, “you don’t suddenly change your mind about him when he takes out your garbage and trims your hedges.”