The Cable

Muslims, Americans down on Obama’s foreign policy

More than a year after Barack Obama's landmark speech in Cairo, where he laid out his vision to repair relations with the Muslim world, Muslims are growing weary and disillusioned with the U.S. president and his international policies, according to a new survey.

Obama's favorability ratings in all seven Muslim-majority countries surveyed dropped from 2009 to 2010, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found.  He suffered a 10-point drop in approval in Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt, the location of the speech. In Pakistan, where Obama has given billions of dollars in new aid but where he has also approved a massive campaign of aerial drone strikes, his personal support is now at 8 percent.

The number of Lebanese who support Obama (35 percent) is less than the number of those who support suicide bombing (39 percent).

"Among Muslim publics -- except in Indonesia where Obama lived for several years as a child -- the modest levels of confidence and approval observed in 2009 have slipped markedly," the report reads. "And while views of Obama are still more positive than were attitudes toward President Bush among most Muslim publics, significant percentages continue to worry that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country."

Even among the Indonesians, who have a personal connection to Obama, his approval dropped from 70 percent to 65 percent, perhaps because he twice canceled planned presidential visits there.

The greatest disapproval from all 22 nations surveyed was came on Obama's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A majority of respondents also disapproved of his handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama continues to enjoy high levels of support in Western Europe and East Asia. Ratings of Obama are also overwhelmingly positive in Japan (76 percent), South Korea (75 percent), and India (73 percent). In China, 52 percent of respondents expressed "at least some confidence" in him.

In the United States, his numbers on foreign policy have slipped. Last year, 74 percent of Americans surveyed expressed "at least some confidence" in Obama's ability to handle world affairs. This year, that's down to 65 percent. The survey's writers attribute the drop to a shift among Republicans, whose support for Obama's foreign policies dropped from 49 percent to 32 percent.

But even among Democrats, the number of respondents who expressed "a lot of confidence" in Obama's stewardship of international affairs fell from 74 percent to 56 percent in one year.

So which country's residents are happiest with their leaders right now? China.

"China is clearly the most self-satisfied country in the survey," the report stated. "Nine-in-ten Chinese are happy with the direction of their country (87%), feel good about the current state of their economy (91%) and are optimistic about China's economic future (87%). Moreover, about three-in-four Chinese (76%) think the U.S. takes into account Chinese interests when it makes foreign policy." 

The Cable

Will Obama hit the ‘reset’ button on U.S.-Japan relations?

Now that Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has fallen on his sword, and the United States Japan have an opportunity to "reset" their relationship, which suffered due to the personal discord between Hatoyama and President Obama and the lingering dispute over a base in Okinawa. But will they take it?

For now, the battle over the Futenma air station seems to be tabled, with the new prime minister, Naoto Kan, pledging to largely stick to the deal struck in 2006. But there are lingering doubts as to whether either Washington or Tokyo is ready to revamp the rest of the alliance, which needs an update as it crosses the 50-year threshold.

So far, Kan seems to be sounding the right notes.

"The new prime minister has done everything possible to underscore the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance," an administration official close to the issue told The Cable. "This is a very complex set of interactions but we're reassured by what we've heard so far from Prime Minister Kan."

Japan hands in Washington note that Kan, in his swearing-in remarks, affirmed the U.S.-Japan alliance as "the cornerstone" of his country's diplomacy and pledged to honor the 2006 agreement. But Kan also said he would place equal emphasis on improving ties with China.

That struck many in Washington as a sign that the Democratic Party of Japan, which took power last year for the first time, is still hedging against what party leaders see as an Obama administration that just isn't giving Japan the respect and attention it feels it deserves.

As for the recent cooling in relations, "I don't think it's over, but a change in leadership is a chance to reset," said Randall Schriver, former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia. The U.S. problem with Hatoyama was personal, based on his style and inability to meet his own deadlines, resulting in a lack of trust, Schriver said.

"Japan's a democracy and Hatoyama brought himself down," said Devin Stewart, senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

So is everything OK now that Kan is in charge?

Not exactly. The new prime minister's comments on China suggest that Washington and Tokyo aren't yet on the same page regarding larger issues of security, economics, and diplomacy.

"The relationship is bigger than Futenma, but that's all we talked about," Schriver said. "So somebody has to raise this to the next level and start to talk about the broader regional issues and that's got to be us."

Kan's not likely to take the lead on trying to revamp the alliance, mainly because he has to focus on Japan's economy and keeping his party's control of the parliament.

"Prime Minister Kan is treading on the eggshells left behind by Hatoyama," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia security program at the Center for a New American Security, the think tank founded by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. "He has to carry his party into uncertain July elections whose outcome may determine the next ruling coalition, the next cabinet, and possibly even the next steps on military basing."

And Kan has every reason not to want to reopen the Futenma issue, which Hatoyama seemed to resolve just before he resigned.

"The tough decision had been made," said Tobias Harris, former DPJ staffer and author of the blog Observing Japan. "Now all Kan has to do is say that he stands by the status quo and hope that Okinawan resistance gradually loses steam as the two governments hammer out the details."

Some Japan experts in Washington lament that the DPJ is still not getting a lot of respect in Washington. At a conference this week being hosted by CNAS, the theme of alliance renewal is front and center.

But will new ideas get a fair hearing?

Not only are there no Okinawans invited, the one DPJ lawmaker speaking is Akihisa Nagashima, a powerful lawmaker for sure, but also a well-known hawk with long ties to the Washington "alliance managers" who still hold the reins of the relationship.

"It's clear that the voices of a ‘status quo' U.S.-Japan security relationship will get the most air time at this meeting," argues the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons.