The vast majority of the world’s citizens can see that America’s image has taken a beating under the leadership of President Donald Trump – but that majority does not include Trump or many in his administration.
To hear the president tell it, the United States is finally “respected again” on the world stage, a position repeated by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Monday that Trump’s “strengthening of relationships with a number of foreign leaders” is perhaps his greatest accomplishment in these first 500 days of his presidency.
The Los Angeles Times notes that Trump told the same story at the Naval Academy commencement ceremony:
"We are respected again, I can tell you that. We are respected again," Trump told the naval cadets. "A lot of things have happened. We’re respected again."
But such claims could not be further from the truth, and the world’s leaders are laughing at the very thought.
More troubling than their laughter, however, is their growing frustration. The leaders of America’s closest allies increasingly fear the U.S. is no longer trustworthy or globally-minded.
And with good reason: Under Trump, the U.S. has subjected world leaders to the president’s chaotic leadership style, struck an oddly friendly tone toward the world’s authoritarian leaders, exited the Iran nuclear deal, and imposed tariffs on its allies.
Trump's unilateral actions have come to be seen not as part of an “America first” policy, but more like “America alone.” He has proven himself an unreliable partner, many allies say.
Such feelings appear to be shared by the citizens of other countries as well:
Across 134 countries, the median approval of U.S. leadership dropped 18 points in Trump's first year, to a record low of just 30%, according to a Gallup survey released in January. That was before Trump's decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and impose tariffs on a number of allies, which further alienated many of them.
The finding echoed a Pew Research Center survey last year that found in all but two of 37 nations polled, Trump got far lower marks than President Obama; the exceptions were Russia and Israel.
Heather Conley, senior vice president and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times that Trump has ushered in “a breakdown of the system”.
"It feels like we are treating our allies with contempt, while we are feting our adversaries."
"After a year and a half, I think most of the major allies have concluded that, to be honest with you, there really isn’t a relationship that they can build,” Conley added. “Or they can build it, like President Macron has, but it does not necessarily mean that there is going to be outcomes that ... support the national interests of our European and Canadian allies."
Current and former diplomats find Trump’s claim of increased respect laughable as well.
"In the main, it's a preposterous claim to say the U.S. is better regarded in the world when we haven't had for many decades this many crises with our allies," said Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat under several presidents — serving as ambassador to NATO and Greece and as undersecretary of State — and now a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
On what basis, then, can Trump say America is finally respected again?
Trump's claim of newfound "respect" for America is apparently based on his belief that allies have long "taken advantage" of American largesse and military might, and that other nations now know he’s put an end to their game.
Understandably, America’s allies have not taken kindly to such a position.
As Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, put it last month, after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran deal, “With friends like the United States, who needs enemies?”