Published on Friday, June 24, 2005 by Inter Press Service
U.S. Image Abroad Still Sinking
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Washington's image in Europe, Canada and much of the Islamic world remains broadly negative, according to the latest in a series of surveys of public opinion in 16 countries sponsored by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (PGAP).
While some of the hostility, particularly in Muslim countries immediately after the 2003 invasion, has abated somewhat, the overall opinion of the U.S. public voiced by the citizens of Washington's traditional allies and in the Islamic world has continued to fall over the past two years, according to the survey and accompanying analysis.
Consistent with pre-U.S. election surveys of foreign countries last fall, the re-election of U.S. President George W. Bush is seen almost universally as tarnishing the country's image abroad.
Out of the 14 countries where the question was asked, only in Poland did a plurality of respondents say that Bush's re-election inclined to them think of the U.S. more favorably. Twenty-one percent of Polish respondents said they thought better of the U.S. as a result of Bush's re-election; 18 percent said it made them think of the U.S. More negatively.
In all other countries -- Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Jordan, India -- pluralities or majorities said Bush's re-election made them feel worse about the U.S. by margins that ranged from three to one to as more than five to one (Turkey).
Only in India, was the margin less -- 35 percent of respondents there said it made them feel worse about the U.S.; 28 percent said it made them feel better.
Remarkably, 11 of the 16 countries, including Washington's traditional European allies, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Jordan, and Indonesia, all rated China more favorably than the U.S.
''It's amazing when you have the European public rating the United States so poorly, especially in comparison with China,'' said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, who has co-ordinated the PGAP studies since they began in 1999.
Surprisingly, two countries that have had historically rocky relations with Beijing -- Russia and Indonesia -- also rated Washington less favorably in comparison.
Nonetheless, the survey found substantial improvements in Washington's image over the past two years in a number of the surveyed countries. In Russia, 52 percent of respondents rated the U.S. Favorably compared to 36 percent two years ago.
In Indonesia, 38 percent of the public gave the U.S. an overall favorable rating compared to 15 percent two years ago, an improvement which PGAP attributed in major part to the rescue and relief role played by the U.S. after last December's devastating tsunami.
Improvements were also found elsewhere in the Islamic world. In Lebanon, for example, favorable marks rose from 27 percent to 42 percent, and in Jordan, one percent to 21 percent. And while only 15 percent of Turks gave the U.S. a favorable rating in 2003, 23 percent did so this year -- down from 30 percent in the last PGAP poll for that country in May 2004.
Overall, however, solid majorities in all five predominantly Muslim countries covered by the survey still expressed unfavorable views of the U.S. in sharp contrast to the views expressed by predominantly Muslim countries surveyed by Pew just five years ago.
Washington is also seen as increasingly self-interested in its foreign policy in half of the surveyed countries compared to two years ago, particularly among its closest allies.
Asked whether Washington considers other countries' interests in pressing its policy goals, only 19 percent of Canadians said it did, compared to 28 percent in 2003; and only 32 percent of British respondents said so, compared to 44 percent two years ago.
In only three countries did a majority of respondents say that the U.S. did take into account other nations' interests: post-tsunami Indonesia (59 percent -- up from 25 percent in 2003); China (53 percent) and India (63 percent). (The question was asked in the latter two countries for the first time in 2005.)
Of the 15 foreign countries surveyed, India gave the United States the most favorable mark -- 71 percent; followed by Poland (62 percent), Canada (59 percent), and Britain (55 percent), and Russia (52 percent).
Significantly, U.S. citizens, who were also surveyed, appear to understand they have a significant image problem. Nearly seven in 10 U.S. respondents described the U.S. As ''generally disliked'' by people in other countries -- the most downbeat assessment of global popularity given by any national public in the survey.
By comparison, 94 percent of Canadians and 83 percent of Indians said they were liked abroad, while 32 percent of Russians and 30 percent of Turks said were liked by foreigners.
On specific issues relating to Iraq and Bush's ''war on terrorism,'' strong pluralities or majorities in all 16 countries except India and the U.S. Said that the world was more dangerous without former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Support for the war on terror has also slipped virtually across the board except in Indonesia, where it has reached 50 percent compared to 23 percent in 2003, Pakistan, where support has risen from 16 percent to 22 percent and Jordan (from 2 percent to 12 percent). The decline has been most dramatic in Spain, where support has fallen from 63 percent in May 2003 to 26 percent in 2005.
Asked about whether January's elections in Iraq contributed to a more or less favorable image of the U.S., European countries generally fell on the positive side of the ledger, while for predominantly Muslim countries, particularly in Indonesia, Turkey, and Lebanon, the elections actually appeared to have had a negative impact.
On the other hand, Bush's calls for more democracy in the Middle East were generally well received, except in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Turkey.
Majorities ranging from 50 percent (Spain) to 73 percent (Canada) of non-U.S. Respondents in NATO member-countries said they favored a more independent relationship vis-à-vis the U.S.
Similarly, majorities in all 15 countries, ranging from 51 percent (Canada) to 85 percent (France), said the world would be better if a group of countries emerges as a rival to U.S. military power. By contrast, 63 percent of U.S. Citizens said the world would be better off if Washington remained its only military superpower.
The notion that China, whose economic growth is seen by pluralities or majorities in each country as benign, could emerge as a counterforce to the U.S. draws a more-mixed reactions, however.
Majorities in only Pakistan and Jordan (77 percent), Indonesia (60 percent) and Turkey (56 percent) said they though China's emergence as a military rival to the U.S. would be good for the world. Only about one in five respondents in Europe agreed.
Washington is also seen as a military threat, particularly in the Islamic world. Large majorities ranging from 59 percent (Lebanon) to 80 percent (Indonesia) of respondents there said they were either somewhat or very worried that their countries could be a target for attack by the United States.
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