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Obama Faces Backlash Abroad Amid Libyan Turmoil

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Sri Lankan Muslims burn an effigy of President Obama during a protest rally against the allied forces' air strike in Libya, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 25. (AP)

Two years ago, President Obama was cheered in the Middle East and around the world as he toured capital cities on a diplomatic mission of reconciliation following an administration defined by two wars. 

Last week looked a little different. 

Crowds shouted "down with Obama" in Mali, burned him in effigy in Sri Lanka and, in Spain, brought back a slogan once used to attack George W. Bush -- "no more blood for oil." 

Obama's decision to enter Libya in hopes of preventing a slaughter at the hands of Muammar al-Qaddafi could, despite its best intentions, accelerate a public-opinion shift in some quarters of the world away from the U.S. president. 

That shift has been under way for some time. Though polls showed Obama's popularity soaring as he prepared to deliver his speech to the Muslim world in Egypt in the summer 2009, that affection appeared to have waned by the following year. International polling conducted last summer showed confidence in Obama plummeting in key Muslim countries. 

The U.S. intervention in Libya could compound the public-relations trouble the Obama administration is having in the Middle East. His efforts to jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have fallen by the wayside, and new violence rocked Jerusalem last week; he has not closed Guantanamo Bay as promised and has, to the contrary, brought back military tribunals in a limited capacity; and the administration has struggled in Pakistan to smooth things over after a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistani men allegedly trying to rob him. 

As the U.S. aligns with European allies for a crippling military campaign against Qaddafi, it's still unclear whether the broader Muslim community will support the intervention or turn against it. 

Though the Arab League gave its endorsement to a no-fly zone before one was imposed, the organization later expressed concern about the possibility of civilian casualties. 

The administration, though, has stressed that the U.S. military is involved solely to protect the lives of Libyans, not to pick and choose leaders in the Middle East and North Africa. It is no doubt mindful of global perceptions, as officials try to downplay the United States' role in the conflict while denying the intervention qualifies as war. 

Former Obama adviser Rob Shapiro suggested that, if certain things fall into place, the intervention could burnish the president's image. He stressed that the U.S. is not at war and instead is leveraging an international alliance to stop a dictator without occupying the country. 

"The United States is no longer the out-of-control cowboy," Shapiro told Fox News. "Instead, we build global coalitions. We get the support of the Arab world. We get the support of Africa. We get the support of Europe." 

Shapiro acknowledged, though, that if Qaddafi remains in power when the sand settles, the mission may not be gauged a success. 

"(Obama) has the maximum global support for this, and the question is, what's the outcome?" he said. 

As Obama prepares to deliver a speech to the nation Monday evening about Libya, some lawmakers urged him to be more up front about the need to get rid of Qaddafi. They suggested that the United States, as a result of the intervention, certainly could improve its standing in the Middle East. 

"We have taken a side in Libya, and it's the right side. And we ought to be open about it," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., told "Fox News Sunday." 

He said this is an opportunity for the United States to side with the "Arab spring," claiming last weekend's intervention averted a "humanitarian disaster." 

Expectedly, some of the protests against the United States' actions have come from nations, like Sri Lanka, that have ties to Qaddafi's regime. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, another Qaddafi ally, also slammed the Obama administration and its allies for the air strikes. 

Plus there were calls from Bolivian President Evo Morales and a controversial Russian politician for the Nobel Committee to take back Obama's Peace Prize. 

The question is whether the objections will be seized upon by the broader Muslim community, which continues to view the U.S. government with skepticism. A poll of nearly 4,000 people in Arab nations released last August by a University of Maryland professor showed just 16 percent were hopeful about Obama's Middle East policy -- compared with 51 percent the year before. 

Elsewhere, the U.S. image may still be strong. The Pew Global Attitudes survey last year showed that western Europeans had an overwhelmingly positive view of the United States, despite the steady decline in that perception among Muslim countries. 

A new Gallup poll of people in more than 100 countries also showed the United States getting the highest marks of any world power regarding the performance of its leadership.