New surveys by Washington's prestigious Pew Research Center indicate international opinion of the United States has plunged during the past year. It says the war in Iraq widened the rift between America and Western Europe, inflamed Muslims, and weakened support for the war on terrorism.
Washington, 9 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Perhaps the most satisfying image of the Iraq war for some Americans came when a group of Iraqis, aided by U.S. Marines, toppled a giant statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad on 9 April.
As dancing Iraqis spat and stomped on the massive statue, the fall of Baghdad appeared complete. America had liberated Iraq from one of the world's most oppressive rulers -- with celebrations broadcast on television for everyone to see.
Yet two months later, new surveys by Washington's prestigious Pew Research Center, a private organization, show that rather than boosting America's image abroad, the Iraq war has actually made it worse, especially in the Muslim world.
Elizabeth Mueller Gross had a leading role in the surveys as special projects editor for Pew. Gross told RFE/RL: "The war with Iraq really seems to have hurt people's opinions of the United States around the world, and this represents a further decline from where they were in 2002, which in itself was a precipitous decline from 1999 and 2000."
The survey, called "Views of a Changing World 2003," in May questioned 16,000 people in 20 nations and the Palestinian territories. It was released along with a broader survey -- of 38,000 people in 44 countries -- conducted last year on attitudes toward globalization, democratization, and Islam's role in politics and society.
The report comes as U.S. President George W. Bush, fresh from a trip to Europe and the Middle East, is seeking to use his military victory in Iraq to promote democratic and economic reform across the Muslim world.
But Gross said the war may be hurting Bush's efforts. She points to last year's survey, in which Arabs overwhelmingly indicated they believe a Western-style democracy could take root in their country. "But after the war in Iraq, those numbers fell off significantly," she said. "One of the other unfortunate consequences of the war in Iraq in the Middle East seems to be a lower opinion of Western-style democracy."
Minxin Pei is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and is the author of a recent article in "Foreign Policy" magazine on anti-Americanism in the world. Last week, he debated the subject with scholar Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University in Washington. Pei explained his thoughts: "If you look at the polls released by the Pew Center, what you find is very, very striking. That is, a large part of anti-Americanism is generated by those people who admire American values."
Pei continued: "American nationalism, if you purely look at the aspect of its values, is quite universalistic: the idea of the rule of law and the idea of liberal democracy. But when American policy pursues a very narrow national-interest agenda, then people in other countries will immediately spot inconsistencies and contradictions between professed American ideals and actual American policies."
Fukuyama agreed that America's apparent hypocrisy plays a big role in generating negative opinion. But he said that a certain degree of hypocrisy is inevitable for America, which as the world's sole superpower is at times compelled to use force or other means to defend its way of life and interests.
Yet, Fukuyama said that while America may pursue its interests, its engagement in the world mainly rests on the foundation of ideals and moral impulse. "I think American engagement in the world cannot be taken for granted. It just happens that this is the way that we get interested in global events, is in this particularly moralistic way. But it has been the basis for our involvement in the Cold War. It's the reason that we have been willing to provide global public goods, like security, like a institutional structure for global free trade and other things that are really American contributions," Fukuyama said.
But the Pew survey shows that people in five of America's seven main NATO allies would like to develop security arrangements that are more independent of Washington. They are France (76 percent), Turkey (62 percent), Spain (62 percent), Italy (61 percent), and Germany (57 percent).
Gross of the Pew Center said a large number of people around the world felt more threatened by Washington after the war in Iraq. Fifty-four percent of Nigerians said they feared a U.S. attack on their country, followed by 47 percent in Pakistan, 43 percent in Russia, and 35 percent in Turkey and Kuwait, both of which are U.S. allies.
Arabs also overwhelmingly expressed disappointment that Iraq's military failed to show any real resistance. Ninety-three percent of Moroccans were let down by Saddam Hussein's quick collapse, followed by 91 percent in Jordan, and some 80 percent in Turkey, Indonesia, Lebanon, and among Palestinians.
A full 30 percent of French citizens were also disappointed by Iraq's military weakness -- the highest such figure in Europe, followed by 17 and 11 percent respectively in Spain and Italy, which were members of the U.S. "coalition of the willing."
Still, even people in countries that opposed the war said it may have improved Iraqis' lives. "People in most countries in Europe thought that the Iraqis were better off without Saddam Hussein, even though they didn't support the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But the people in the Middle East felt that the Iraqi people were worse off now," the Pew Center's Gross said.
Strikingly, last month's survey showed Osama bin Laden to be perhaps the most respected "world figure" in the Middle East, after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, and French President Jacques Chirac.
Bin Laden, whom Washington blames for the 11 September 2001 attacks that killed 3,000 people, was chosen by people in the Palestinian territories as the most likely world figure to do "the right thing." He was second in Jordan, Morocco, and Pakistan and third in Indonesia.
Except for a second-place rating in Kuwait, Bush did not figure on the list. Yet Chirac, who led international opposition to the war in Iraq, ranked first in people's confidence in Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco.
The survey also showed that views of both America and the American people have fallen off significantly in Western Europe since last year. Gross said support in Europe for the U.S.-led war on terrorism has also dropped off, notably by 15 points in France and 10 in Germany.
But the poll also noted a considerable increase in positive opinion of America since the war in Britain and Italy. The most pro-U.S. nation in the survey was Israel, where 79 percent said they viewed Washington favorably.