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World: New U.S. Poll Shows Opinions Of America Increasingly Negative

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Is America's war on terrorism a guise to control Mideast oil and dominate the world? Did U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair lie about the Iraqi threat? Is Osama bin Laden a hero? According to a new survey of global opinions and attitudes, much of the world answers "yes" to those questions.

Washington, 17 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright spoke yesterday in Washington at a news conference marking the release of a new global survey by the independent Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

"What the poll shows is that the credibility of the United States is sinking,” Albright said. “And the numbers that reflect that the people believe that our leaders lied to them is something that I think is incredibly serious."

The survey, which comes one year after the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, polled people in nine nations from Western Europe to the Middle East. And the polls show discontent with America and its policies intensifying over the last year.

"The biggest gap is on the question of whether or not America takes into account the interests of other countries in making its foreign policies. Americans say 'yes,' the rest of the world says 'no.'"
A majority of people in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey -- all Muslim-majority countries with strong official ties to Washington -- believe America is waging its war on terror in a bid to control Middle Eastern oil and dominate the world. While that might not be surprising, majorities in France and Germany had similar suspicions. Only Americans, Russians, and Britons felt the war on terrorism was a sincere effort. Of the countries surveyed, only people in the United States believe the war in Iraq has achieved progress in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center, told the news conference that the sweeping survey reveals a deep-rooted mistrust of U.S. power and motives, whether in Western Europe or the Middle East. "We were expecting more positive attitudes than we found when we conducted the previous survey, which was in May of 2003," he said. "Rather, what we see is that mistrust of America in Europe is ever higher and that Muslim anger persists, even though it's abated somewhat."

Europeans are portrayed in the polls as ever more cynical about the U.S. government. A majority in the five European nations surveyed says it would be good for the European Union to be more independent in security affairs and become as powerful as the United States.

Kohut said Europeans want to check American power, while Albright said the trans-Atlantic partnership has reached the point of a psychological break. "The trans-Atlantic breach that was opened by the original choice to go to war in Iraq has, in fact, remained wide. And I'm concerned that the psychology of partnership that has prevailed for decades between Europe and the United States is being replaced by a psychology of dismissal on one side and a psychology of competition on the other," Albright said.

Meanwhile, people in the surveyed Muslim countries remain angry about U.S. policies and sometimes have a favorable view of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant blamed for the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States. The United States is hunting for bin Laden in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. But the survey shows about two-thirds of people in Pakistan see bin Laden in a good light. A majority in Jordan and almost half in Morocco had a positive view of him, Kohut said.

Osama bin Laden is viewed favorably by large percentages in Pakistan and Morocco, but not in Turkey. However, Kohut said, in Turkey, “we find as much as 31 percent of the public saying that they think of suicide attacks against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable." The survey also shows that about half in Pakistan said suicide bombings against Israelis in Israel and against U.S. troops in Iraq can be justified. Two-thirds or more in Jordan and Morocco say it can be justified in both situations.

Still, Kohut adds that though anger toward America in these Muslim-majority countries is still very high, it has dropped slightly since the previous survey in May. Meanwhile, solid majorities in Germany, Russia, France, Jordan, and Pakistan believe U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair lied about the weapons of mass destruction they claimed were in Iraq.

Patrick Cronin is a former Bush administration official who is now director of studies at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says the survey points out disturbing facts that will be hard to ignore in Washington. "Really, power ultimately derives from the ability to influence others toward a consensus," he said. "The United States has not done a good job about that. That's not a political statement, it's an empirical fact."

While support for the war on terror has dropped in most countries, Cronin and others noted that European attitudes could change in the wake of last week's bombings in Madrid, which have possible links to Islamic militants. The attacks, which killed 201 people, were followed by the surprise electoral defeat of Spain's ruling conservative party -- the first government that had backed Washington's war in Iraq to be booted from office.

In only one country did support for the war on terrorism rise: Russia, where 73 percent approve, nearly as many as in America. Albright, who now chairs the Pew Global Attitudes Project, attributed this to the close ties between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. She said those ties have given Putin the freedom to clamp down on Russian civil liberties and continue to abuse human rights in Chechnya without worrying about U.S. censure.

Finally, Kohut said the poll shows a disturbing chasm in the way America sees its position in the world and how the rest of the world views its role. "The biggest gap is on the question of whether or not America takes into account the interests of other countries in making its foreign policies," he said. "Americans say 'yes,' the rest of the world says 'no.' There's no narrowing of that gap. In fact, there's a widening of that gap."

(The full report by the Pew Research Center can be found on the web at http://www.people-press.org.)
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