Huge study finds even allies see America as overbearing
December 5, 2002 Posted: 04:45:11 AM PST
By DAVID WESTPHAL
BEE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF
WASHINGTON -- The United States' standing with the rest of the world has taken a sharp downward turn in the past two years, reversing the initial pro-American reaction that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a massive new survey of global public opinion.
While unhappiness with the United States has grown strongest in the Muslim world, it also is a significant trend in Western and Eastern Europe and Latin America, according to the study.
"The image of America is slipping all around the world," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which conducted the survey.
Perhaps most worrisome to the administration, some of the biggest declines in U.S. prestige have occurred in Turkey and Pakistan, two countries that are critical in the administration's campaigns against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and against terrorism.
Kohut warned that worse might be ahead, with a potential war against Iraq likely to raise anti-U.S. sentiment.
In a follow-up survey last month, pollsters found overwhelming opposition in France, Germany, Russia and Turkey to the idea of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by force. The closest expression of support came from the British, who were evenly divided. Meanwhile, large majorities saw the United States as more motivated by Iraqi oil than by a desire to remove Saddam.
While unearthing abundant skepticism about the United States, the Pew study found a healthy wellspring of pro-American feeling in many nations.
Citizens in the majority of countries surveyed said they had a favorable impression of the United States and an even more favorable impression of U.S. citizens.
Overwhelmingly, they rejected the idea that the world needs a superpower counterweight to the United States. That's true even in Russia, one of the few places where the United States was viewed more favorably today than it was two years ago (61 percent vs. 37 percent).
President Bush, asked about the report Wednesday, suggested that the world watch what the United States is doing in Afghanistan. "Not only did we liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban," he said, "we remain in place with a lot of aid and a lot of help. ... And suffering is less because of the United States of America."
The president said he hoped the Muslim world was hearing his message "that we fight not a religion, but a group of fanatics which have hijacked a religion."
The Pew report marked one of the most extensive efforts ever to gauge worldwide opinion, with 38,000 people surveyed in 44 nations.
The questionnaire was translated into 63 languages and dialects and administered mostly in people's homes.
Some countries did not participate
Even so, the project was turned away by a number of governments, including Saudi Arabia and Morocco. In other cases, such as in Egypt, pollsters refrained from asking certain questions, fearing government reprisals.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who oversaw the project's executive committee, said the study pinpoints a worrisome course for U.S. foreign policy. "I think we are being isolated," she said at a breakfast meeting with reporters.
Albright acknowledged that she was "part of the problem" when, as secretary of state in the Clinton administration, she referred to the United States as "the indispensable nation."
But, given the nation's overwhelming world dominance today, she said, American officials must make a major effort to show it wants to be "part of the world rather than telling everybody what to do."
The report's authors said Americans must come to grips with the fact that they see their actions in a much more benevolent light than do others around the globe.
Three-fourths of Americans say U.S. foreign policy takes account of others' views. Among other nations, though, only in Germany and Uzbekistan do a majority hold that same opinion. Even Britons, by a 52-44 margin, say Americans don't listen to others on foreign policy.
Despite this avalanche of negative views, the new survey acknowledged that world opinion about the United States is a complicated stew. While complaining that U.S. influence is too overwhelming, most respondents said they welcome American technology and cultural exports such as music, movies and TV shows. A majority support the Bush administration's war against terrorism, but argue that the United States acts far too unilaterally.
Kohut said that because of the immediacy of global communications today, there's a "certain intractability" in the United States' ability to answer criticism of its vast influence.
Yet Albright said the country's leaders must figure out a way to deal with the fact that, in 19 of 27 countries for which there were comparable statistics, unfavorable views of the United States have risen in the past two years. Of utmost concern, she said, is that the most strongly anti-American sentiment is coming from the Muslim world.
Islamic countries war on terrorism
According to the survey, unfavorable opinions of the United States range as high as 69 percent in Egypt and Pakistan and 75 percent in Jordan. By similar margins, Islamic countries oppose the U.S.- led war on terrorism.
On the issue of suicide bombings, the study turned up a wide range of views among Muslims. Asked whether the bombings are justifiable in defense of Islam, 73 percent of Muslims in Lebanon said yes. In Turkey, 13 percent supported the idea.
It's not just on foreign policy that the United States differs sharply from other nations. The survey points to huge differences in quality of life.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans said they were content with their quality of life. In most other countries, though, large majorities expressed dissatisfaction. In China, India and Russia, for example, three countries that make up 40 percent of the world's population, fewer than 1 in 4 said they were content with their quality of life.
But the tables are flipped when it comes to thinking about the next generation. Asians, for example, are more bullish about their children's futures than are Europeans or Americans.