Politics is often described as a popularity contest. Even dictators and monarchs pay attention to popular opinion. That includes some of the worst tyrants in the last century, like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. All leaders try to create popular opinions that help them stay in power and generally get their way. Sometimes, however, leaders create popular opinions that assume a life of their own and even get in the way of leaders.
Case in point is the Middle East. While the United States has a “favorable” rating of over 50 percent worldwide, it is under 20 percent in the Middle East. This is the result of Arab government deciding to not accept, under any circumstances, the creation of Israel in 1948. Many Middle Eastern leaders have come to regret that decision, but it has become so strongly entrenched in popular attitudes that it has proved impossible, so far, to reverse. Some leaders have tried to, only to find rivals and Islamic radicals pouncing on them for being un-Islamic and a traitor. This pathological hatred of Israel reflected on the United States, which never wavered in its support for Israel, the only working democracy in the region (with the possible exception of Turkey, if you ignore several military coups and the current, increasingly unpleasant, Islamic party running the country).
Worldwide, the democracies tend to get along with each other and the in democracies the United States has much better popularity ratings. The two Cold War tyrannies, Russia and China, still foster anti-American sentiments, even though the U.S. made the first move to improve relations with China in the 1970s and rushed to the aid of Russia after the Cold War, and the Soviet Union, ended. While popular opinion in China and Russia is generally anti-American, the neighbors of both those countries tend to be hostile to their large neighbor and friendly towards the United States.
The lesson, “be careful what you start because you may not be able to stop it” is often ignored by national leaders and then regretted for a long time after.