The rest of the world fell as hard for Barack Obama as Americans did.
Back in 2008, the same qualities in the 47-year-old senator from Illinois that excited U.S. voters enthralled people around the globe. He was a fresh face and a compelling orator. He had spent his childhood in the Asia-Pacific, and his skin color alone made billions of people feel a connection with him. Perhaps most importantly, he was not George W. Bush, the president who invaded Iraq. Obama promised “hope” and “change” and people believed he could deliver—that he would end wars in Muslim countries, improve America’s standing on human rights, even alleviate global poverty. “Yes we can!” shouted The Age, an Australian newspaper, when he won office. Just months later, the rookie president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a nod more to his promise than to anything he had accomplished.
Obama’s overseas poll numbers were stratospheric in those early days. In countries like France and Germany, more than 90 percent of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center expressed confidence that Obama would “do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Even in some Middle Eastern countries, where U.S. presidents are rarely liked, nearly half of the populace had high expectations for Obama.
But peace did not arrive in Obama’s time. Obama’s standing in much of the world seemed to sag each year as he struggled to fulfill his promises. America, after all, still has troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Middle East, revolutionary movements, including ones Obama overtly backed, have largely fizzled or bred violent anarchy. And Russia has ignored Obama’s warnings and asserted its influence in former Soviet states, sometimes at the point of a gun. Many saw in this picture a naive president and a United States of diminished standing. In Jordan, confidence in Obama fell from 31 percent in 2009 to 14 percent last year, the Pew surveys show. Some 86 percent of Britons expressed confidence in Obama in 2009; in 2015, it was 76 percent. Even in Kenya, where Obama has family ties, confidence in him stood at 80 percent in 2015, down from the mid-90s his first two years. The numbers don’t suggest deep antipathy toward Obama, but the heady infatuation that accompanied his arrival in office has changed into pervasive disappointment.