Actions speak louder than words. Not only do you learn that growing up, but it’s reinforced in your daily life. You trust particular stores not because of their ads, but because of their product and their treatment of you (ok, maybe just one or the other). You trust friends, colleagues and bosses not because they say they have your back or your best interest in mind, but because they show it.
Positive perceptions of America were based on words and deeds (real or imaginary). This good will was the same as hard currency and fostered the belief that "who we are is self-evident" statements at the end of World War II and the Cold War when propaganda / public diplomacy funding was slashed.
With the global access of the informal media, rumor and perceptions outrun fact and reason. Fostering the image of the U.S. as not really interested in democracy is easy when stories like two today that highlight short-signed American diplomacy, public or otherwise. Unless smartly addressed in local and sympathetic media, formal and informal, or subject to a course change, we shouldn’t be surprised at what comes out of the conditions these stories foretell in 0-3 years.
From the New York Times, On Human Rights, U.S. Seems to Give Egypt a Pass:
The shift is not so much that American officials no longer mention human rights and democracy; it is more that they do not follow up to ensure results. Instead, there seems to be a tacit understanding whereby Washington criticizes Egypt’s human rights failings, Egypt takes umbrage at the “interference” in domestic affairs and little changes.
An aside, I take issue with this statement from the reporter: "Critics of the United States acknowledge that Washington faces resentment no matter what it does." This assumes what the U.S. does is meaningful and appropriate for the time and place. Citing resistance in Iran by U.S. pro-democracy moves ignores the timing, nature, and publicity of the support that mobilized and provided cover to the Iranian government’s crack down.
From Bloomberg, Bush Backs Ethiopia Leader as Terror War Trumps Democracy Push:
In 1998, President Bill Clinton hailed Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as the leader of an African renaissance. Today, human-rights groups say his security forces are raping and murdering civilians while fighting insurgents seeking autonomy in the Ogaden region.