European publics and its leaders welcomed America back into alliance diplomacy without the disruption and overt hostility of the last four years. Recent polls from alliance countries show a dramatic increase in confidence in U.S. leadership (75% alliance-wide) and favorability of the country (62%) (see America is Back), up at least 28 points in each case after the end of the Trump administration (Pew, May 2021).
But at the same time, there is considerable skepticism that American democracy is functioning well. More than half of the alliance publics now believe the U.S. is not a good example to follow. More than half (57%) say it used to be, but not in recent years, and only 11 percent of U.S. allies describe it as a “very reliable ally.”
Of course, America’s adversaries are fully aware of its weaknesses and exploit them at every opportunity. President Vladimir Putin in pre and post interviews at the latest summit with President Joe Biden, while denying suppressing internal Russian dissent, immediately points to Black Lives Matter and America’s racial turmoil as examples of worse behavior. Also, he references January 6 as an example of the U.S. government repressing dissent.
As U.S. intelligence documented, Russia, at least since 2016, has been using social media tools to emphasize American divisions, to denigrate American politicians and institutions, and to encourage chaos during U.S. elections. Hence, Russia both encourages U.S. division and chaos and then points to them to justify their behavior.