Wednesday, February 27, 2019

“America First” is Toxic to Soft Power

Mike Pence just received a first-hand experience of the collapse of America’s reputation among allies at the annual Munich Security Conference when he offered the standard, “I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump,” and was met with deafening silence. It wasn’t the only rhetorical embarrassment the U.S. delegation received in Munich or at an earlier conference in Warsaw. The reviews from major editorials and news headlines were uniformly harsh:

  • “Pompeo and Pence Sent a Poor Message With Their Bumbling Tour of Europe” (editorial) (Washington Post, 2-16-17)
  •  “Deaf Ears in Europe” (Wall Street Journal, 2-17-19)
  • “Munich Security Conference: Transatlantic Differences Laid Bare at Annual Defense Powwow” (Politico, 2-17-19)
  • “Rift Between Trump and Europe is Now Open and Angry” (New York Times, 2-17-19)
  • “Angela Merkel Takes Direct Aim of Trump’s Go It Alone Policies” (Washington Post, 2-17-19)
  • “Vice President Pence Receives Awkward Silence in Munich After Offering ‘Greetings’ from President Trump” (Time, 2-17-19)
  • “Munich Security Conference Reveals Growing Rift Between U.S. and its Allies” (NPR, 26-16-19)

Europe’s leaders are reflecting their publics. After two years of “America First” policies and Donald Trump’s often hostile conference performances, America’s reputation is in tatters. The Country’s soft power, accumulated since the end of WWII, has been squandered.

The U.S. Has Lost European Public Opinion

Favorable views of the U.S. have declined dramatically with German and French publics since President Trump took office. Now, barely a third has favorable views, down more than 30 points from just two years ago.

 “America First” Looks Like “America Alone”

The soft power of a nation – its ability to persuade – is often linked to the image of the primary leaders. The silence at the Munich Security Conference is also explained by the low opinion President Trump is held in by the publics of U.S. allies. Only 9 percent of the French, 10 percent of Germans, 7 percent of Spanish and 28 percent of the UK publics have “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Trump is trusted in Israel (69%).

Pew and other international pollsters cite several factors that are key in a country’s reputation:

  • How does the public perceive the U.S. is treating its own citizens?
  • Is the U.S. dealing with international problems?
  • Does the U.S. consider the other countries’ views?

The U.S. is failing in all three of these metrics in many western European countries and especially in Germany and France.

After numerous international meetings, especially with European leaders, the polite reserve of diplomacy is over. The U.S. and Donald Trump are hearing what our historic allies think. There will be policy repercussions as they begin to assert more resistance to our expectations of joint actions and cooperation, for example, on Iran, in Syria and having missiles in Europe.

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