US Image Abroad Takes a New Turn South

Three years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the image of the United States in Europe and the Islamic world has resumed its postwar slide, according to the latest in a series of surveys of public opinion [.pdf] in 14 countries released here Tuesday by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (PGAP).

Support for Washington’s "global war on terror" has also declined, according to the survey of nearly 17,000 people, and confidence in the leadership of President George W. Bush is at its lowest ebb, as it is in the United States, as well.

And in 12 of the 14 foreign countries surveyed, strong pluralities of 44 percent (Russia and China) to majorities of up to 76 (France) percent said the Iraq war had made the world "more dangerous." The only exceptions were India and Nigeria, where pluralities of 41 percent of respondents said the world had been made "safer."

In addition to those two countries, the survey, which was conducted in April and May this year, included four Western countries – Britain, France, Germany, and Spain; five predominantly Islamic countries – Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Jordan, and Turkey; Russia, Japan, and China, as well as the United States itself.

The survey, which covered a range of issues, including attitudes toward global warming, avian flu, Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was the fourth in an annual series carried out by Pew since 2002 – just after the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan and just before the Iraq invasion.

Shortly after the invasion, the survey showed a stunning drop in favorable attitudes toward Bush and the United States, particularly among Washington’s European allies and in the Islamic world.

In France, for example, the percentage of respondents with a favorable opinion of the U.S. fell from 63 percent in 2002 to 43 percent in 2003; in Indonesia, it fell from 61 percent to 15 percent; in Jordan, from 25 percent to just one percent.

In a few countries, the decline continued through early 2004. But in many others, Washington’s image appeared to recover slightly by the middle of that year, and even more by the spring of 2005.

By then, for example, the percentage of Russians with a favorable opinion of the U.S. had grown from 36 percent immediately after the war to 52 percent; in Indonesia, it climbed back up to 38 percent; and in Jordan, to 21 percent.

The latest poll, however, shows a new deterioration in foreign attitudes toward the U.S. despite explicit efforts by the administration, especially Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to emphasize multilateral diplomacy over unilateral action.

Declines were particularly pronounced in Spain where the percentage or respondents with a favorable view of the U.S. fell from 41 percent last year to 23 percent; in Russia, where it fell from 52 percent to 43 percent; in Indonesia, from 38 percent to 30 percent; in Jordan, from 21 percent to 15 percent; in Turkey, from 23 percent to 12 percent; and in India, from 71 percent to 56 percent – an especially surprising finding given the recent breakthrough nuclear agreement between the two countries.

The only countries in which Washington’s image appears to have continued its rebound were China (from 42 percent favorable last year to 47 percent) and Pakistan (from 23 percent to 27 percent), where the improvement was no doubt helped by Washington’s high-profile rescue and relief operations after last year’s earthquake in Kashmir.

The U.S. image in Indonesia had also improved markedly as a result of its relief efforts following the December 2004 tsunami, only to resume its decline, however, over the year that followed.

That the resumption of Washington’s decline was due primarily to opposition to the Iraq war and the more general "war on terror" was made clear not only by the large pluralities and majorities (in 10 of the 14 countries) who said the world had been rendered "more dangerous" by the U.S. invasion, but also by the belief in all but two countries – Germany and Japan – that the "American presence in Iraq" constituted a greater danger to world peace than the presumed nuclear ambitions of Iran or North Korea.

Even in Washington’s closest ally, Britain, respondents rated the U.S. in Iraq as a greater danger than Iran by a 41-34 percent margin; among the predominantly Islamic countries, respondents rated Washington’s presence in Iraq from three times (Jordan) to seven times (Pakistan) more dangerous than Iran.

Yet the Bush administration could draw some consolation from the survey results on Iran, particularly in the attitudes toward both in European opinion.

Opposition to Iran developing nuclear weapons was overwhelming (from 82-95 percent) in Europe, Japan, and Russia, and ranged from around 60 percent to two-thirds in India, Nigeria, Turkey, and Indonesia.

That finding appeared consistent with the results of a survey of 33 countries released by the BBC in January that found that of the world’s major and emerging powers, only Iran was viewed more negatively than the United States.

The Pew survey, on the other hand, found that narrow pluralities in Egypt and Jordan and a majority in Pakistan, on the other hand, favored Tehran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

A bigger divide between public opinion in Islamic states and the West showed up in answers about the Islamist Hamas party’s recent election victory. While Western countries, particularly France and Germany, felt that it would be "bad" for the Palestinian people, Muslim public opinion was favorable by large margins – from 44-23 percent in Turkey, to 87-4 percent in Pakistan.

The survey also found far more sympathy for Israel in France and Germany than in previous surveys, and that France’s image has grown sharply negative in the Islamic world during the past year.

On global issues, the survey found what it called an "extraordinarily high level of attentiveness to bird flu disease," with more than 90 percent of respondents in all countries except Pakistan (82 percent) saying they had heard about the disease.

As to global warming, the survey found comparable awareness of the problem in the major industrialized countries, 80 percent or respondents in Russia said they knew about the issue, 78 percent in China, 75 percent in Turkey, and 57 percent in India. Elsewhere, awareness was less than 50 percent, and only 12 percent in Pakistan.

Surprisingly, a similar breakdown was found with respect to awareness about reported U.S. abuses against detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Nine in 10 respondents in western countries were aware of the reports; compared to two in three respondents in Russia, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey; and about one in four in Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and India.

In general, views of Bush and the United States were most favorable in Asia and Nigeria, where opinion was sharply divided on many of the subjects polled between Muslims and Christians. Bush was most popular in India, where 56 percent of respondents expressed confidence in his leadership, and Nigeria (52 percent).

In China and Japan, roughly one-third rated him favorably, followed by Britain, at 30 percent. His lowest ratings were found in Turkey (3 percent), Spain and Jordan (7 percent), Egypt (8 percent), and Pakistan (10 percent).

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.