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America's Image Abroad

Pete Springer/OPB

America’s position as a solitary superpower was under new scrutiny in this G20 summit week, especially considering America’s role in the present economic crisis. And while much of the worldwide buzz over the election of the nation’s first African-American president has died down, we can’t help but wonder: how do people view the U.S. these days?

Bob Willner, executive director of the Oregon International Council, diagnosed the perils of American exceptionalism for me on the phone this week:

The fundamental problem is the U.S.’s viewpoint of ‘Our way or the highway’ and ‘We’ll do what we want no matter what.’ I think we have to maintain awareness of the fact that we live in a worldwide environment and can’t disregard other nations.

President Obama, whose European tour continues on Friday at NATO’s 60th anniversary summit, has certainly championed a new era of global interconnectedness. As he wrote in an Op-Ed before the London summit:

This G-20 meeting provides a forum for a new kind of global economic cooperation. Now is the time to work together to restore the sustained growth that can only come from open and stable markets that harness innovation, support entrepreneurship and advance opportunity.

The nations of the world have a stake in one another. The United States is ready to join a global effort on behalf of new jobs and sustainable growth. Together, we can learn the lessons of this crisis, and forge a prosperity that is enduring and secure for the 21st century.

But has our image improved? Undoubtedly, the election of our first African-American president has set a new course in world public opinion. But the Pew Center says that Obama may have an uphill battle fixing “Uncle Sam’s image problem.” Many people like the man, it turns out. They’re less sure about his policies.

How important is global image — for governance, for peace, for prosperity? What are the limitations of “going it alone”? When is consensus more trouble than it’s worth?

How do you measure global reactions to American power and policy? How have people reacted to you during your international travels?


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