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U.S.: Perceived Unilateralism Leads Most In Foreign Polls To Prefer Kerry Over Bush

  • Andrew Tully

Coordinated polls conducted in 10 countries show that American prestige is continuing to weaken, especially among its traditional allies. The surveys were conducted by leading newspapers in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and South Korea. Majorities of respondents in eight of the 10 countries say they would like to see U.S. Senator John Kerry defeat President George W. Bush in the U.S. election on 2 November. The two exceptions are Israel and Russia.

Washington, 18 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The main objection to America's current leadership can be summed up in one word -- unilateralism.

Marina Ottaway is an analyst with the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a private policy research center in Washington. She points not only to the war in Iraq, but also U.S. President George W. Bush's rejection of the Kyoto protocol on climate change, his steel tariffs, and his decision to withdraw the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Ottaway says people around the world see Bush as taking a unilateralist course in foreign affairs -- a course she says too often causes more problems than it solves, even for America, such as the persistent bloodshed in Iraq.

"Europeans really cannot identify with this position. What Bush is trying to project is an image of toughness, and that does not go down very well in Europe. I think they feel that he may be tough, but the fact is that he is mishandling most of the situations," Ottaway says.

Of the 10 countries polled, only citizens in Israel and Russia said they would prefer to see Bush re-elected -- in both cases, by about 2-to-1. Ottaway says it is easy to understand the Israeli support, but she says the poll results in Russia are harder to fathom.

"I think the case of Russia is a little more interesting because Bush has not done anything for Russia in particular, but Bush has not been particularly critical about the way Russia has been handling the problem of Chechnya. In other words, Bush has been willing, to some extent, to buy into the argument that the war in Chechnya is part of the war on terrorism and that the Russians have the right to be tough the same way that the United States has the right to be tough," Ottaway says.

Ottaway says the principal benefactor of Bush's attitude has been Russian President Vladimir Putin, but she adds that the people of Russia are frightened because of attacks, attributed to Chechens, they have suffered in the past five years. Therefore, she believes the Russian people also see themselves as beneficiaries of Bush's policy.

Murhaf Jouejati says he, too, understands why Israelis prefer Bush. Jouejati -- an analyst at the Middle East Institute, another Washington think tank -- says simply that Bush has done the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud Party.

Jouejati says Bush has not always been effectively engaged in the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He says the Bush administration delayed introducing the so-called "road map" for peace, giving Sharon the opportunity to voice his reservations about it.

"Even with [Sharon's] reservations, the Bush administration never pushed, really, to implement the road map, or Bush's vision of peace, which is a two-state solution, so that in the end, the views of President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have been, I think, in total concordance, in total harmony," Jouejati says.

Jouejati, who is a native of Syria, says this does not mean that Israelis dislike Kerry. He points to the senator's many expressions of support for Israel, for the so-called "security barrier" that Israel is building to isolate Palestinian territories, and for many of the Israel settlements on these lands.

Still, Jouejati says, Israelis prefer Bush simply because he has a proven record of support for their cause.

From an Arab perspective, Jouejati says a Kerry administration promises little more to advance peace in the Middle East:

"It is more of the same, I think, with one difference. The difference is John Kerry is on record [as] wanting to deal with international issues in a multilateral fashion, whereas Mr. Bush does not very much like to act in a multilateral fashion but far more unilaterally. Moreover, Mr. Bush does not like to go through such niceties as international law and the United Nations," Jouejati says.

But Jouejati says this multilateral approach does not guarantee that Kerry would be as evenhanded as President Bill Clinton was during the 1990s. He says that when Clinton became president in 1993, he inherited an ongoing peace process from his predecessor, George H.W. Bush.

Jouejati says that if Kerry is elected, he will have no such incentive because Bush has effectively killed the Middle East peace process.