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U.S.: Survey Shows Negative Attitudes Toward U.S. Policies On Rise Worldwide

  • Don Hill

An independent, nongovernmental research center in the United States says that a worldwide opinion poll shows a general and increasing dislike around the globe for U.S. foreign policy. Views range from a new warm regard for the United States in Russia, through disapproval in Europe, to outright hatred in the Middle East. One analyst tells RFE/RL not to take the positive Russian opinions too seriously, while another advises to take the Mideast views very seriously.

Prague, 5 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Washington-based Pew Research Center has just released the results of a massive public-opinion poll of 38,000 people in 44 countries. It shows, among other results, that a widespread distaste for U.S. foreign policy is growing, even in countries where attitudes toward Americans, generally, are positive.

The poll shows that virulent anti-Americanism is broad and dangerously deep throughout the Middle East.

Ahmed Versi, editor of "The Muslim News" in London, said he believes he knows the reasons behind this. Versi's influential newspaper is generally considered to be a moderate Muslim publication. "One is mainly the double standard that especially the American policy has towards the Muslim world, especially the Middle East. It has taken a very pro-, not only Israeli, but [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon line," Versi said.

Versi said the Israelis have illegally occupied Arab lands in Palestine and Lebanon and that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is proven to have weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, he said, the United States has threatened to take no action against Israel as it has against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Versi said that Arabs and other Middle Eastern Muslims think that the U.S. emphasis on the likelihood of Iraq's possessing weapons of mass destruction is both cynical and irrelevant. "I think that is not the issue here. The issue is, you have, on one hand, Iraq had occupied illegally Kuwait in 1990. And the world, and especially led by the Americans, forcibly removed Iraq from Kuwait using military means, and rightly so," Versi said.

Versi continued: "So, you know, people not only in the Middle East and not only in the Muslim world but [also] in other parts of the world will see [that] the reason for Americans wanting to bomb Iraq has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, nothing to do with human rights. It is to do with oil."

The Pew survey shows that most people in Turkey -- a NATO ally of the United States that has permitted its territory to be used to enforce no-fly zones over Iraq -- are overwhelmingly opposed to aiding any U.S.-led war with Iraq.

Versi said he thinks Turks believe, accurately, that the United States is unconcerned about the consequences for their country of a military intervention in Iraq. "Turkey has to live with Iraq all the time, while the Americans don't have to. Americans are thousands of miles away. Unfortunately, the United States is using and in a way undoubtedly [pressuring] the countries in the area to use their facilities and then [is] not taking into consideration the consequences of its actions," Versi said.

Versi said the consequences are likely to be severe. "I think that if there is an attack on Iraq, and if thousands of civilians are killed as they were killed in the 1991 war, I think that this time around there will be, well, not an uprising, but there will be a very violent reaction in the region, because this time Iraq is not occupying any Arab land," Versi said.

The Pew survey shows that since 2000, favorability ratings for the United States have fallen in 19 of the 27 countries where trend benchmarks are available. That includes most countries in Western and Eastern Europe. It emphatically does not include Russia, however, where 61 percent of those polled said they regard the United States and Americans favorably, up dramatically from 2000's 37 percent.

Russian sociologist Boris Kagarlitskii in Moscow warns about the dangers of taking such poll data too seriously. He told RFE/RL that the answers given by Russians to pollsters are notoriously unsound. "Ah, well, I don't know exactly, because it's very hard to tell anything about Russian public opinion, especially for the reasons that people usually don't tell the pollsters what they really think. That's one thing you shouldn't forget," Kagarlitskii said.

Kagarlitskii said the new favorable view of Americans may simply represent official policy. "Well, now the official line of the president [Vladimir Putin] is that Americans are our allies and friends. There is a considerable proportion of people [in Russia] who just think that if the government says that we must love somebody, we must love somebody," Kagarlitskii said.

The sociologist said Russian poll respondents commonly respond to questions by trying to say not what they think but what they think they are supposed to think. "Sociologists say, 'Russians started to love freedom,' for example. Fine. But why did they start to love freedom? First of all, you don't know what that means. They say in the opinion polls, 'Do you love freedom?' 'Yes.' Does it mean much? It means very little, in fact. But to make things worse, when you kind of ask them a kind of controlling question, 'Why?' and they say, 'Well, the government ordered us to,'" Kagarlitskii said.

In Washington yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush dismissed the anti-American results of the Pew Center poll. "I don't run my administration based upon polls and focus groups. I'm running this war against terror based upon freedom and doing my obligation to make sure our children can grow up in a free and safe society," Bush said.

The Pew study found that people around the world are dissatisfied with the state of the modern world. The threat posed by the spread of disease is the top global problem. Fear of religious and ethnic violence ranks second. The dangers of nuclear weapons came in third.

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