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OP-ED: It might take decades to repair America's reputation

Frederic B. Hill
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

Respect for the United States across the world has registered a predictable pattern of highs and lows in rough convergence with the successes and failures of various administrations in the modern era.

Certainly the World War II period and the brief end of the 20th century "hyperpower" reign after the collapse of the Soviet Union stand out as the apex of respect and actual predominance.

Alternatively, the late 1960s and early 1970s during the Vietnam War and racial turmoil at home, along with the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, mark low points in international opinion of America.

But nothing compares with the damage that President Donald Trump has done to the standing and image of this country in four years as president.

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A recent international opinion poll underlines how Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign has become "Make America Alone" in the world — and brought respect for the United States to a historic low point.

The Pew Research Center surveyed 13,273 people in 13 countries — all friendly nations in Europe and Asia and found that favorable views of America have plummeted in the last two decades — most dramatically since 2016. And confidence in Donald Trump "to do the right thing in foreign affairs" is even worse.

For example, while 59% of South Koreans look favorably at the U.S., one of the highest approval ratings of any country, only 17% trust Trump with world affairs. In Germany, 26% have a positive view of the U.S. (down from 78% in 2000) but only 10% for Trump. Similar views were registered in Britain, France and Australia.

Of world leaders, Trump, Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping were rated the least respected. Trump had the lowest score, with a disapproval rating of 83%, behind Putin's 73% and Xi's 78%.

The Trump administration's hapless response to the coronavirus contributed to the low opinion. With the U.S. having 20% of deaths (220,000) yet less than 5% of the global population, only 15% of respondents felt the United States "had done a good job."

But the decline stems from far more than the administration's COVID-19 failure.

Trump's serial lying, his trampling on the rule of law, threats to cling to power if defeated in November and constant attempts to divide the country by embracing white supremacy are widely condemned around the world — not just in the U.S. The past American status as a beacon for values-based democracy has been shattered by Trump's conduct.

Trump's foreign policy has been distinguished by misshapen goals and few results — from his futile love affair with North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un to applauding and then bashing China's Xi to his submissive kowtowing to Russia's Putin. He has alienated America's closest friends and members of the NATO alliance. He still calls climate change "a Chinese hoax" — despite the opposite conclusions of most all scientists.

He has withdrawn the United States from one critical treaty after another, prompting Republican strategist Richard Haass to call Trump's foreign policy the "Withdrawal Doctrine."

The damage to America's reputation, notably our "soft power" — the appeal of our values, free speech, respect for human rights and a vibrant culture — may take decades to reverse.

Trump's achievements are scant. The two small Arab countries that recognized Israel already had extensive ties to the Jewish state. "Build the wall?" Mexico paid not a cent, and the administration lifted funds from the Pentagon for its partial completion.

Trump has had a revolving door of national security leaders, starting with respected individuals such as Gen. James Mattis and former GOP Sen. Dan Coats, now staffed by third-rate officials. Rather than strengthen the military, he has repeatedly insulted senior general and admirals as "dopes and babies." He has downgraded the role of diplomacy, sought to destroy the State Department and maligned CIA officers as "Nazis."

Four years ago, 50 national security leaders — all Republicans — forecast that Trump would be the "most reckless" and "most dangerous" president in American history. Today, 70 of these leaders, along with 489 military leaders, condemn his leadership.

Is it any wonder the United States is no longer respected in the world?

— Frederic B. Hill served as foreign affairs director to a Republican senator, Charles McC. Mathias Jr. of Maryland, and later conducted war gaming exercises on national security issues for the State Department.