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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Context for Obama's Visit to the U.N.

U.S. President Barack Obama joins other world leaders at the United Nations this week to discuss progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals and U.S. involvement in foreign policy issues more broadly.

Here's some data to keep in mind amid the photo ops and sound bites:

  • Less than one-third of Americans in February said the United Nations is doing a good job of trying to solve the problems it has had to face. That's not a very positive assessment but it's the best it has been since 2005, suggesting its image is recovering from its involvement in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
  • Globally, views of U.S. leadership remain for the most part improved compared with 2008, when former President George W. Bush was in office. Still, new data from 2010 on Asia and Africa find some countries giving back some of the gains seen in 2009. These findings suggest Obama's global honeymoon is likely over and that views worldwide will be influenced by what the U.S. does going forward.
  • Iran and North Korea are also expected to come up in Obama's address, both regarding their nuclear ambitions and the prospect of tougher sanctions against them. Among 20 countries frequently in the news, Iran and North Korea are Americans' two least favorite. Six in 10 Americans see the military power of these nations as a critical threat to the vital interests of the United States.
Overall, the summit is an opportunity for Obama to publicly showcase U.S. efforts in foreign affairs -- the issue on which he currently does best according to the American public. Our lead story on Thursday morning will reveal how much trust Americans have in their government more broadly to handle both international and domestic affairs.

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