Commentary: U.S. image abroad will recover

Anti-Americanism around the world will diminish in coming years, and not just because President George W. Bush – often portrayed as the symbol of cowboy diplomacy – is about to leave the White House.

Judging from a massive new report by the National Intelligence Council, the long-term forecasting group of the U.S. government's intelligence community, there are other trends that go much deeper than Bush's departure or the election of the first black president in U.S. history, that point to a gradual recovery of the U.S. image abroad.

The study, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, which was released last week and can be read on the Council's website, says that – ironically – the United States' decline from its status as the world's only superpower will help reduce anti-Americanism in coming years.

Between now and 2025, "the most salient characteristics of the 'new order' will be the shift from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a relatively unstructured hierarchy of old powers and rising nations" and non-state entities such as transnational issue groups and religions, the report says.

This means that the United States will be just a first among equals by 2025, and that China, India and Europe – in that order – will be not be very far behind it.

In that multipolar globalized world, the following factors should help reduce anti-Americanism, it says:

As for what the world will look like in 2025, the study says it is likely to be divided in three large blocs – North America, Europe and East Asia – while most South American and African countries, with the possible exception of Brazil, will continue to be on the sidelines.

Asia's economic powerhouses, China and India, will be the drivers of world economic growth in coming years. And Asian regionalism – the increased numbers of trade agreements among Asian countries – will be one of the most important economic trends, it says.

The world's eight largest economies in 2025 will be, in this order: the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Russia. With the possible exception of Brazil, "Latin America will continue to play a marginal role in the international system, except for its participation in international trade and some peace-keeping efforts," it says.

My opinion: Much of the anti-Americanism we have seen in recent years, especially in South America, where polls show some of the world's highest levels of anti-American sentiment, had much more to do with Bush's go-it-alone policies than with a rejection of U.S. values or culture.

With Bush making his exit, that sentiment may wane. Already, a poll of 24,000 people in 21 countries conducted earlier this year by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that the U.S. image has begun to rebound in many countries, including China, India and South Korea.

In coming months, we may see that trend accelerate with President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration, the transfer of Guantanamo detainee trials to mainland U.S. courts, the start of withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and more aggressive U.S. moves to help reduce global warming. And the long-term trends cited in the National Intelligence Council study could further help boost America's image abroad.

Granted, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and other narcissist-Leninist leaders will keep ranting against Uncle Sam, but that will only help expose them as demagogues looking for a conflict to justify perpetuating themselves in power. Obama has the biggest opportunity in decades to begin to restore America's image abroad. Don't waste it, Mr. President-elect.