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This Week in PubHub: Views of the United States’ Global Role

July 24, 2010

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she wrote about international economic development.)

A few years ago, I heard a story about aid workers in Africa who were appalled by the U.S. government's decision to have the words "From the American People" stamped on all USAID-funded humanitarian aid supplies. A well-intended attempt to boost America's image abroad could backfire in certain contexts, they argued, exposing other aid workers and/or aid recipients to misdirected anger and resentment. So how does the world view the United States and its global impact in 2010? And how do Americans view their country's role in the world?

While the Pew Global Attitudes Project's 25-Nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey (2009) shows an improvement in favorability ratings for the U.S. since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, anti-U.S. sentiment remains strong in Turkey, Pakistan, and the occupied Palestinian territories. Support for American foreign policy was widespread, with the exception of sending more troops to Afghanistan, which a majority of those surveyed opposed.

U.S. and coalition engagement in Afghanistan post-9/11 is a key driver of America's image abroad, and the Open Society Institute and the Afghan nongovernmental organization The Liaison Office take a close look at the Afghan view of international forces operating in that country in Strangers at the Door: Night Raids by International Forces Lose Hearts and Minds of Afghans. Interviews with civilians in the southeastern provinces of Paktia and Khost, for example, reveal how the ongoing practice of night-time search and seizure operations causes deep trauma within Afghan communities, alienating the very people whose trust and cooperation are essential to creating some semblance of stability in -- and the eventual withdrawal of troops from -- the country.

How do American elites and Americans themselves see their country's role as the world's sole superpower? In America's Place in the World 2009: An Investigation of Public and Leadership Opinion About International Affairs, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reports that only 32 percent of the American public thought that the number of troops in Afghanistan should be increased, whereas 50 percent of Council on Foreign Relations members did. When asked to name America's most important international problem, the public ranked Afghanistan and Iraq third and fifth, respectively, while CFR members ranked them first and ninth. And only 3 percent of the public said "AIDS/health problems" was the country's top foreign-policy priority (ranking it eighth), while for CFR members the issue did not rank among the country's top dozen foreign policy priorities.

Views on the U.S. Role in Global Health Update: Summary, a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, examined the American public's support for U.S. international aid at a time of economic uncertainty and found that 47 percent of respondents believe the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid. At the same time, the percentage saying it is more important than ever for the U.S. to increase funding to improve health in developing countries rose from 23 percent (in March 2009) to 33 percent (in October 2009). Perhaps not surprisingly, those who think the U.S. is spending too little on global health are more likely to say that funding global health initiatives also helps protect Americans' health and that more funding will lead to meaningful progress in developing countries.

Where -- and how -- do you think international aid, foreign policy, and perceptions of America's role in the world intersect? And what role might foundations play in determining and/or shaping how the U.S. is viewed overseas? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. And be sure to visit PubHub regularly to check out new additions to the almost 350 reports on various aspects of international affairs/development already catalogued there.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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