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US image in world slips as conflicts deflate Obama euphoria

Even with President Barack Obama fresh off a trip to Africa and headed in late summer for a trip to Russia, people outside the United States take a less favorable view of America than they did right after he became president.

Surveys from different parts of the world show the initial goodwill toward the U.S. from the international community after Obama assumed office has waned and recent headlines point to some reasons why -- Revelations of U.S. international surveillance, the manhunt of information leaker Edward Snowden, drone strikes in foreign countries and the continued unrest in Syria have exposed the traditional fault lines of international relations.

The ebbing of world regard for the United States since 2009 was predicable given the extravagant expectations that people in some countries had of Obama when he was first elected.

Right after Obama won in 2008, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in working to end apartheid, gushed, “It can't be true that Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, is the next president of the United States. But it is true, exhilaratingly true. An unbelievable turnaround.”

He added, “The Bush administration has riled people everywhere. Its bully-boy attitude has sadly polarized our world. Against all this, the election of Barack Obama has turned America's image on its head.”

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The Obama euphoria was capped by the Nobel Prize just nine months into his presidency. The Nobel committee said "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

Obama has “created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.”

But in a recent BBC World Service Country Rating Poll in 12 countries in which the survey has been conducted since 2005, the long-term trend line shows a net negative rating for the United States. The rating is calculated as the percentage of people with “mainly positive” views of the United States minus the percentage of people with “mainly negative” views.

The rating had bottomed out in 2007 at a net negative 30, climbed above zero after Obama was elected and then began to fall in 2012 – although it is still far higher than in 2007. That 12-nation survey included China, India, and Russia.

In a larger survey conducted between December 2012 and April 2013 of more than 26,000 people in 21 countries, 45 percent had a mostly positive view of the United States while 34 percent had a mainly negative view of the United States.

“Views in China have worsened (since last year): only one in five Chinese respondents (20%) hold positive views (down nine points). With 57 per cent holding negative views (up nine points), China has the third-most negative attitude towards the USA, after Pakistan (stable at 64%) and Turkey,” the report from the BBC World Service said.

A Gallup survey of public opinion in 130 countries published in March reached similar findings. It showed a decline in foreign views of U.S. leadership from 49 percent approval in 2009 to 41 percent last year. The sharpest falloff in the Gallup survey came in European countries, where 47 percent approved of U.S. leadership in 2009, but only 36 percent approved last year.

Not surprisingly regard for the United States is lowest in places where U.S. drone strikes have occurred, such as Yemen, where 59 percent disapprove of U.S. policies and Pakistan where 79 percent disapprove. On Wednesday, at least seventeen people, believed to be militants, were killed in a U.S drone attack in the North Waziristan tribal region in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border.

In Egypt which is heavily depended on U.S. foreign aid and military sales, 62 percent of Egyptians disapprove of the United States.

President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit in this file photo from June 17, 2013. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

But the Gallup survey also found that some of those who have benefited from U.S. support and liberation have a very positive view of America: nearly 90 percent of those surveyed in Kosovo approved of the United States. It was partly due to policies of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that Kosovo became an independent nation in 2008.

The wide data collection efforts of the National Security Agency and Obama’s use of drones to kill terrorists in Yemen and other nations seem to be tarnishing the American image among Europeans.

Reacting to report in the German magazine Der Spiegel that the NSA conducted surveillance of European diplomats, French President Francois Hollande said Monday, “We cannot accept this kind of behavior from partners and allies.” In an apparent signal of its displeasure, the French government moved Wednesday to suspend trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union for two weeks.

Without confirming or denying the Der Spiegel report, Obama said Monday intelligence gathering was simply a part of real world politics: “I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders.”

In a recent commentary on the European disillusionment with Obama, Financial Times foreign affairs analyst Gideon Rachman said, “It has gradually dawned on President Obama’s foreign fan club that their erstwhile hero is using methods that would be bitterly denounced if he were a white Republican."

In 2008 Obama was "the vessel into which liberals all over the world poured their fantasies," Rachman said. Disenchantment was bound to happen.