As the world braces for the Trump era in US foreign policy, it appears the new President’s 140-character declarations are much less popular globally than the flowing oratory of his predecessor.
That’s according to a new global public opinion survey conducted by the Pew Research Group. Called “Views on the American Transition”, the poll surveyed thousands of people from around the world in order to gauge global opinions on the leadership transition in the US.
Similar to the Americanpublic, attitudes globally reflected a net favorable opinion toward former US President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, global respondents held mixed views about President Donald Trump. Trump’s favorable and unfavorable ratings both came in at roughly 40%, but researchers noted that an unusually high number of participants (~10%) wrote in “scared shitless” on this question instead of using the provided responses. (For survey purposes, these were scored as “not sure”.)
It turns out that one of the things people will miss most about Obama is his glittering foreign policy speech legacy. Fully 95% of respondents expressed a “somewhat” or “strongly” favorable view of Obama’s foreign policy speech record, and 90% indicated it influenced their view of his overall presidency.
In order to get a better understanding of this near-consensus result, researchers conducted brief interviews with some of the respondents around this question.
One respondent, Ken Yamamoto of Japan, said that Obama’s comments on nuclear weapons during his famous Prague speech gave him hope. “It was amazing to see a sitting US President to say he believed in a world without weapons,” Yamamoto said. “Sure, the policies he pursued in office made it next to impossible for the rest of us to believe that disarmament could happen. But at least he believed. That’s really something.”
Another respondent named Muhammad Hamid, of Palestinian descent, offered similar sentiments. “For the longest time, I’ve felt that a two-state solution to Israel-Palestine was possible. We didn’t need impartially moderated negotiations to address the ongoing annexation of Palestinian land, the biannual assaults on Gaza, and the general polarization of Israeli and Palestinian society,” Hamid said. “What we needed was more high-quality speeches affirming the virtues of democracy and self-determination.” And on that metric, Hamid believes Obama delivered, though he is disappointed peace hasn’t broken out yet.
Still other respondents, such as Ana Boyko of Ukraine, applauded Obama’s courage to boldly embrace double standards. Boyko mentioned a speech Obama gave to leaders in the EU shortly after the Ukrainian coup and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014. In part of that speech, Obama argued that “in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.”
Boyko told researchers she didn’t think she’d ever have “the guts” to say something like that. “He was talking about the importance of international law and popular sovereignty after his government oversaw a global assassination program and praised presidential elections that had one candidate,” adding that “he kept a straight face the whole time. It was really incredible.”
Researchers said these responses may help explain a surprising gap between global opinion of Obama’s foreign speeches (95% favorable) and his actual policies, which came in at only 10% favorable.*
Poll Director Aaron Mitchel believes he uncovered the reason for this disparity. Mitchell noted that while Obama routinely violated international law, contributed substantially to the destruction of multiple countries (Libya, Yemen, and Syria), and backed repressive dictatorships, “most presidents do that.” What made Obama truly different is that he did it with class.
“In the end,” Mitchell suggested, “Obama’s rhetoric on foreign policy did turn out to be hollow. But it was beautifully hollow.”
And as the Trump era gets underway, more and more of us are probably going to miss that.
*Researchers caution that this favorability rating on Obama’s foreign may underestimate the true figure. For the safety of research staff, surveys were not circulated among Al Qaeda-dominated and ISIS-dominated areas in the Middle East. Since these groups expanded their territory considerably as a result of Obama’s interventions, they may tend to hold a more favorable view of Obama’s foreign policy decisions than the average among other respondents.
Note: The study cited in this article is entirely fictional and all of the sources quoted within are also fictional in nature. However, all links are offered within point to relevant (non-satirical) news and opinion pieces on the topics discussed.