Americans in general have mistaken beliefs about how foreigners view the United States. The misbeliefs stem in large part from circumstances and experiences of the entire American nation. But when it comes to shorter term beliefs about the current standing of the United States in the world, how incumbent American leaders are viewed abroad, and how recent U.S. policies are viewed, a couple of other factors that are infused with partisan politics account for most of the mistaken beliefs among Americans.

One such factor is the drumbeat repetition of certain themes that are invoked so often that they come to acquire the status of conventional wisdom and to be believed not only by much of the public that is exposed to them so often but also by those who, whatever their political motives in first invoking the themes, come to believe them as well. Such a theme has been the notion that the power of, and respect for, the United States has declined in recent years and that the incumbent U.S. administration’s “retreat” from the world has much to do with this.

Another factor is selective attention to the statements and reactions of a few foreign governments whose complaints say more about their own interests and objectives than about the trajectory of the United States. In recent years such attention has been given particularly to the complaints of Persian Gulf Arab states that naturally want the United States to take their side in ethnically and religiously stoked local competitions to which they are parties.

Fortunately there are more direct and reliable indicators of foreign views of the United States, U.S. leaders, and U.S. policies.