Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Mixed feelings on the U.S. image

The Pew Global Attitudes Project shows 2 basic trends for most countries involved--when Bush was President, the U.S. favourability rating dropped, and when Obama was elected, it recovered. Is it wrong to suggest that this had nothing to do with public diplomacy efforts, and everything to do with a perceived change in unpopular policies?

Note how I said a "perceived" change--if the policies don't actually change, i.e. if the prison at Guantanamo Bay doesn't actually close down soon, then those "gains may be fragile" like this report from last year notes. So far, it looks like the gains are holding up--if anything, the title of another 2010 report suggests that he's "more popular abroad than at home". Maybe the U.S. image crisis doesn't exist anymore, and the real 'image problems' are domestic...

One of my big questions that keeps coming up: do student exchanges like Fulbright even matter any more?
1) America is actually globally popular now--no image crisis to resolve, no 'hearts and minds' to win over
2) Students can go abroad without the help of the State Dept.--international study just isn't as special & expensive as it used to be
3) The internet gives us the tools to interact with foreign publics & communicate globally without even going abroad

I feel like such a traitor saying these things, though, because all of the literature sings the praises of the Fulbright Program and student exchange. It will create mutual understanding and world peace, it doesn't cost that much compared to what we spend on defense, etc. And on a personal level, I don't think it should be abolished. I think it's still nice that we spend taxpayer dollars on international education, even though students could just take out loans like I'm doing. But when the annual budget is being drawn up, how do you decide between something that's "nice" to do, and something that should be prioritised?

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