By Andrew Bast
America is learning to love the United Nations all over again. After several years of flagging support, a new Pew Global Attitudes Project poll reports that 61 percent of Americans--up from 48 percent two years ago--hold a favorable view of the organization. Why the spike? The first, obvious answer: Barack Obama.
Four years ago, on the heels of the Oil-for-Food scandal, George W. Bush appointed John Bolton U.N. ambassador. It was an antagonistic move: Bolton was known for suggesting that 10 floors be lopped off U.N. headquarters. There was "relentless, negative pressure on the U.N.," says Timothy Wirth, former senator and now president of the U.N. Foundation. Obama made an abrupt about-face, installing Susan Rice as ambassador and raising her position to cabinet rank, and placing international cooperation at the center of his foreign policy--and American attitudes have clearly followed suit.
But there is a second, more unexpected source of the shift. In the past few years, American evangelical Christians have turned away from white-hot political issues like abortion and gay marriage to values like fighting poverty and helping the less fortunate. Popular pastor Rick Warren has launched the Peace Coalition to fight poverty and care for the sick around the world. Likewise, megachurch pastor Bill Hybels, head of the 12,000-strong Willow Creek Association, allied with Bono and his global humanitarian One campaign.
The shift has not been lost on the U.N. In 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sat down to dinner with evangelical leaders in Arlington, Va., and said, "More than ever, we need the National Association of Evangelicals ... and others in the faith communities to help the [Millennium Development Goals] to be achieved."
Despite the U.S.'s recent embrace of the U.N. on both the left and right, they could get even cozier--in decades past, approval ratings for the international organization have hovered at nearly 70 percent. Signs in that direction are positive: Congress voted in June to pay all its dues to the U.N. dating back to 1999, and Ban Ki-moon will host a U.N. climate-change summit in New York this fall. What looked like a divorce for the past eight years may end in a lovefest after all.