So, "the Leader of the Free World" is obsolete, a relic of the old Cold War. But the US used to stand for something. Our international support among people used to come from the belief that we stood for freedom and democracy (whether we actually did or not).
Now, with a supposedly liberal President, we hemmed and hawed on Egypt until the last minute, we almost saw a total massacre in Libya, we have in fact given tacit backing to violent suppression of pro-democracy movements in Bahrain, Yemen, and who knows where else (Saudi Arabia?). We have defended "stability", not democracy. Not the Free World, but the Stable World.
Even in the first Gulf War, it was all about not allowing the status quo to change. Iraq had a legitimate historical claim to Kuwait, which was taken away from them and made an independent sheikdom by the British to protect their naval bases and later the oil. The US was horrified that anybody might try to change the sacred order of things. Anybody other than us, that is.
The Iran hostage crisis came about mostly because Carter listened to Kissinger's advice that we had to give sanctuary to a dictator (the Shah), because he was OUR dictator (one of many). Mubarak in Egypt was another one of OUR dictators. My taxpayer dollars have been going to dictators all over the world, to equip their armies to use against pro-democracy movements.
We're not really interested in democracy in Iraq now, or Afghanistan (obviously), or (Allah forbid!) Saudi Arabia. We tut-tut about democracy in China. We have no credibility at all when we talk today about freedom and democracy in Cuba, or Russia, or North Korea, because no one believes we are looking out for anything except our own interests. Correction: the global financial interests based here.
Why do so many Islamic people hate the US? (1) Because we continued to support Israel no matter how brutal or illegal their actions toward the Palestinians, and (2) because we continued to support oppressive dictatorships from Egypt (until now) and Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf States) to Pakistan. Because we are allied with their enemies all around the world. The World Trade Center fell because it symbolized US-backed oppression all across the Islamic world.
We just missed a rare opportunity to prove otherwise. If we (i.e. Obama) had spoken out early, clearly, and impressively in support of the Egyptian revolution, the Libyan revolution, and the movement in Bahrain (at least), a lot of Moslems might have had second thoughts about donating money to Osama bin Laden.
ALL our leaders believe that US longterm strategic interests require that we support dictatorships and maintain "stability". They are all wrong. And they are putting all of us on the wrong side of history.