Obama's 'rock star' persona boosts U.S.

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's soaring popularity has significantly boosted attitudes toward the United States in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, surveys in 24 countries by the Pew Research Center finds. But animosity toward the U.S. in some predominantly Muslim nations remains deep and strong.

Across much of the world, the first five months of Obama's presidency essentially erased the battering the USA's image took during eight years of the Bush administration, according to the study by Pew's Global Attitudes Project released Thursday.

"People were just really happy to see Bush gone," former secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Democrat who co-chairs the project, said at a breakfast for reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama "is really a rock star as a politician," said John Danforth, the project's Republican co-chair who served as U.N. ambassador in Bush's administration. "But I guess my response is: So what? … How do you get from that to doing something?" He questioned whether nations would be any more willing to follow the U.S. lead on issues such as the war in Afghanistan or genocide in Darfur.

Whatever the impact on policy, there has been a transformation in views of the American president abroad. Confidence that Obama will "do the right thing in world affairs" was double that for Bush in China, triple in Japan and Mexico, quadruple in Jordan and Egypt. The contrast was even wider across Western Europe and in Turkey and Argentina. In France, 13% viewed Bush positively last year; now 91% express confidence in Obama.

Bush fared better than Obama in just one country surveyed. In Israel, 57% expressed confidence in Bush in 2007; 56 express confidence in Obama now. Obama's speech in Cairo last month aimed at the Muslim world increased the percentage of those in the Palestinian territories who said Obama "will consider our interests," but it eroded the number of Israelis who felt that way.

Attitudes toward the United States continued to be dismal in some predominantly Muslim countries. Just 14% of those surveyed in Turkey and 16% in Pakistan had a favorable opinion of the U.S.

Attitudes in the Middle East aren't likely to improve significantly until progress is made in resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, Albright said. "People are going to be looking for solutions — there's no question about that."

For the first time in the Pew study, there was more confidence in the American president that in al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in such predominantly Muslim countries as Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria and Indonesia. Last year, most Muslim countries rated bin Laden as high or higher than Bush.

Andrew Kohut, who heads the project, said views of the United States were driven more by confidence in Obama than approval of his policies. The president's promise to close the prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — opposed by most Americans — and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq drew broad international support.

However, most people in most countries, including Pakistan, oppose his decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.

The project surveyed about 27,000 people in 24 countries and the Palestinian territories from May 18 to June 16. The margins of error range from +/— 2 to 4 percentage points.