In the court of international opinion, it sometimes seems the US just cannot win. A string of surveys suggests growing resentment around the world over America's role as "global policeman".
But when Washington's squad cars fail to arrive at the scene of an incident, the US gets blamed for inaction.
Sudan is a good example. According to the UN, the tragedy in Darfur is "the world's worst humanitarian crisis".
Two UN security council resolutions, and much diplomatic huffing and puffing, have so far failed to end the suffering.
The Bush administration has not been silent, declaring this month that a genocide is in progress in Darfur. Under international law, that means it is legally obliged to stop it. But George Bush appears to have no plans for direct humanitarian intervention, either unilaterally or under UN auspices.
Many people may feel this is irresponsible. And indeed, criticism can be heard, not least from the Democratic presidential contender, John Kerry, that President Bush is neglecting a wide range of other international flashpoints as he focuses on November's elections.
The list includes North Korea's nuclear bomb making, similar worries about Iran, intensifying instability in Afghanistan, Russia's imploding democracy, the China-Taiwan stand-off, and the moribund Middle East peace process.
Yet while global expectations of the US remain high, international opinion surveys reveal a deep contradiction: Europeans and others who complain Washington is not doing enough in places such as Sudan or Palestine simultaneously favour a diminution of the global super-cop act of the US.
According to a poll conducted by the German Marshall Fund - Transatlantic Trends 2004 - 58% of Europeans say that, in theory at least, they want less US leadership in international affairs, not more.
And 76% disapprove of US foreign policy (up 20% in two years).
This year's Pew Research Centre's Global Attitudes Project found that in most countries, US leadership and motives were being increasingly distrusted; 78% of French respondents doubted that the US was intent on promoting democracy round the world. "There is even more scepticism for the motives for the 'war on terrorism' in predominantly Muslim countries," the Pew survey states. "By wide margins, the publics [sic] of Turkey, Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan question America's sincerity."
Instead, majorities there and elsewhere believe the principal US aim is world domination.
Intriguingly, however, US public attitudes coincide on many points with those of Europeans and Arabs/Muslims. Dismayingly for British Eurosceptics, the Marshall Fund poll found, for example, that 70% of US respondents would like to see a morepowerful EU showing greater international leadership.
Another survey, published this week by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (Global Views 2004), reports that more than three-quarters of Americans disapprove of the US behaving as a planetary law enforcer.
Most Americans think the that US should be more willing to work through the UN, that it should sign up to the Kyoto protocol on global warming as well as to the international criminal court, and also pay more heed to world court rulings.
The Chicago survey found Americans' support for maintaining US forces' bases in the Middle East to be falling sharply; and that "the US should withdraw its forces from Iraq if a clear majority of the Iraqi people wants this".
Strikingly, a majority of Americans also rejects the Bush doctrine of preventive, unilateral war, and, in even larger numbers, opposes "the use of US troops to install democratic governments in states where dictators rule".
Nor is this simply a revival of isolationism. While joining much of the world in rejecting the US role of global policeman, Americans make a distinction in situations such as Darfur. According to the Chicago poll, they "strongly endorse" use of force to prevent genocide and "favour using US troops for this purpose".
The public's message in the US, Europe and elsewhere seems broadly consistent: America's unmatched power, used wisely and sparingly, can be a force for good. When it is not, as in Iraq, the US ends up in the dock.
© 2004 The Guardian/UK