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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Rumsfeld on the World’s View of America

Donald Rumsfeld wrongly denied that the U.S. is viewed more favorably under President Barack Obama than it was under President George W. Bush. In fact, residents of several nations including Britain, Germany, France and China view the U.S. more favorably, according to a survey released last year by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

Rumsfeld, who served as Defense Secretary under Bush, told CNN’s Candy Crowley that he didn’t think there was any evidence to support claims that residents of other nations have a more favorable opinion of America than they used to:

Crowley, Feb. 20: The president’s supporters say that in two years he has been able to return this country to a status of being liked across the world in a way that America was not liked during the Bush administration, that he has once again made America a beacon. Do you agree with that? Do you think that the U.S. is now looked at much differently than it was, and much more positively than it was during your tenure?

Rumsfeld: No, and I don’t think there’s data that supports that. I think he has made a practice of trying to apologize for America. I personally am proud of America.

Crowley: Well, he seems to be quite popular overseas in a way that President Bush was not. The streets aren’t full of people burning him in effigy. There does seem to be a new — a chance to look at America in a different way than it did during the Bush administration. You don’t think that’s true.

Rumsfeld: I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think that there’s data that would support that.

But there is support for such claims. Pew reported in June 2010 that President Obama was pretty popular around the world. "In turn, opinions of the U.S., which improved markedly in 2009 in response to Obama’s new presidency, also have remained far more positive than they were for much of George W. Bush’s tenure," the report said.

In fact, in 16 out of 19 nations (not including the United States), those surveyed had a more favorable view of America in 2010 than they did in the last year of Bush’s presidency. Here is the Pew Research Center’s chart:

In France, Germany, Spain, Indonesia and Argentina, the two-year increase in favorability was 20 percentage points or more for each country. The two-year upswings in Russia, Britain, Japan, China and Nigeria were 11 percentage points, 12 percentage points, 16 percentage points and 17 percentage points, respectively.

Pakistan (down 2 percentage points) and Egypt (down 5) were the only two nations where America’s favorability rating declined from 2008 to 2010. India’s rating of the U.S. remained unchanged over the two years after a 10 percentage point decrease from 2009 to 2010 followed a 10 percentage point increase from 2008 to 2009. There was no data in 2008 to compare with Brazil’s and Kenya’s ratings from 2010.

Actually, America’s ratings in France, Germany, Spain, Lebanon, China, South Korea, Argentina, Kenya and Nigeria were never higher during the Bush years than they were in 2010. And in Poland, Russia, Indonesia and Japan, you have to go back to 2002 to find better ratings under Bush than the U.S. received in 2010.

The Pew Research Center report also provides support for the observation that Obama "seems to be quite popular overseas in a way that President Bush was not," as Crowley put it. For 2010, in every nation for which 2008 data were available, Obama received higher marks — even dramatically so — in confidence that he "will do the right thing in world affairs" than Bush did his last year in office.

Rumsfeld said later during the same interview with Crowley, "I could be wrong." And he was.