Australians have suffered a dramatic loss of confidence in the ability of the US to manage international affairs amid growing dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush and his conduct of the Iraq war.
The first survey of attitudes by a centre set up by the Howard Government to improve relations between Australia and the US has found a significant deterioration in the way Australians feel towards the US.
That level of confidence has almost halved in just six years - from 66 per cent in 2001 to 37per cent today, coinciding with the Iraq war.
And almost three-quarters said Australia's involvement in the war on terror had made it a terrorist target, a view at odds with that asserted by John Howard.
The survey of 1213 Australians in July was carried out by the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. The centre was set up this year with $25 million from the Howard Government to be "the prime Australian source of information and commentary on the US".
While the Iraq war has damaged Australians' view of the Bush administration more than anything else, the survey found continuing support for the US alliance: 92 per cent expected the US to continue to be a close security partner and 79 per cent considered the alliance important to Australia's protection.
But 48 per cent said it would be better for Australia if a more independent stance were taken.
This contrasted with an opinion poll from 1975 showing only 26 per cent wanted a more independent relationship.
Because of the Iraq war and Mr Bush's performance, Australians' opinion of the US has hit a 30-year low.
Asked to name something they disliked about the US, the largest response was about the President himself.
The large number who believed Australia had become a terrorist target due to involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan reflects the view expressed three years ago by Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty that the nation is now a greater target - a view which almost cost him his job.
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Mr Keelty's view on another subject is also endorsed - he told a conference two weeks ago global warming was the No.1 threat to Australia's security.
Seventy-six per cent of respondents viewed global warming as "equally serious" or "more serious" than Islamic fundamentalism and 69 per cent wanted Australia and the US to set clear targets for reducing greenhouse gases.
A large number also believed the threat of Islamic fundamentalism had been exaggerated.
The US Studies Centre seeks to have bipartisan representation on its board.
Former Labor leader Kim Beazley and former Liberal frontbencher Michael Baume are members.
Last night Mr Beazley said confidence in the US had suffered because of the war in Iraq. "When you have a bad, failed policy, that is the result you get," he said.
"It's no coincidence that the last time Australians had this level of confidence (in the US) was in the early 1970s with another war (Vietnam)."
The acting chief executive of the US Studies Centre, Alan Dupont, said the "dramatic falling away" of confidence in the US in handling international affairs was due not just to Iraq but "the way the Bush administration generally plays here in Australia".
While 64 per cent opposed the war in Iraq, 50 per cent were opposed to Australian involvement in Afghanistan, posing a problem for Labor should they come to power as Kevin Rudd has said he would maintain support for troops in Afghanistan.
Professor Dupont agreed many of the results were at odds with public statements by Mr Howard but "you can see that a vast majority of Australians do believe we've become more of a target because of our involvement in the war on terror, but notwithstanding that they still register strong support for the security relationship with the US".
© 2007 The Australian