Favorable global feelings toward the United States have returned to 2002 levels, matching generally warm, pro-American sentiments measured just prior to the Iraq War: 64 percent of the planet's inhabitants tend to like America, according to numbers tabulated for NBC News by the Pew Research Center.
That equates to a 13-point rise in American favorability among the same 19 nations surveyed by Pew in 2007. The Pew team polled people in countries spanning from Pakistan, where only 11 percent of locals today back the United States, to Ghana, where 83 percent of the populace is pro-American, Pew figures show.
But that post-Iraq uptick in international American respect already is believed to be eroding and will ultimately decline, yanked lower by a complex Middle Eastern brew: how the U.S. government has reacted to Arab uprisings and the continuing disarray in Syria and Egypt, plus the U.S. military's wildly unpopular use of drone strikes against suspected Muslim militants, foreign policy experts contend.
In short: America appeared en route to at least reapproaching favorite-child status in the planetary family, but that moment may be slipping away. And the recent wave of U.S. embassy closings and Yemen evacuations—all caused by intercepted electronic communications between two al-Qaeda leaders vowing to do "something big" on Aug. 4—underscored the notion that modern Americans always will live under the shadow of jihadist threats, much like previous U.S. generations came to accept the decades-long reality of Cold War nuclear dangers, experts agree.
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"Much of this has to do with America's role as a superpower and, therefore, people blame you [for the world's ills], no matter what," said Shibley Telhami, a political scientist, professor at the University of Maryland and author of "The World Through Arab Eyes." "Witness the debate in Egypt. Witness the debate in Syria. Both governments and opposition blame the U.S. In some ways. Just because you are powerful and you have presence, influence and [foreign policy] interests there, you're an easy target.
"This comes with the territory of being a superpower," he said. "Even if we do something tomorrow that is for humanitarian reasons, people will say we're doing it to promote somebody or our national interests. If we intervene in Syria tomorrow to prevent atrocities, people will day we're doing it only to dominate Syria."
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But based on the improving U.S. favorability ratings in 23 of the 28 nations surveyed by Pew in 2007 and again 2013, isn't it conceivable that those pro-American attitudes will further bloom and perhaps take deeper root in other lands?
"I personally doubt it," said Telhami, who pins the latest increase in positive-American leanings to the U.S. military's departure from Iraq at the end of 2011.